This may only have been a test, but the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series stars treated their final tune-up with the respect it deserved, going out and trying to post quick times, attempting long runs, practicing pit stops and generally behaving...
This may only have been a test, but the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series stars treated their final tune-up with the respect it deserved, going out and trying to post quick times, attempting long runs, practicing pit stops and generally behaving like it was a race weekend.
By the time these final two sessions were complete at 4PM Mountain time, Scott Dixon, wearing the #1 plate afforded a champion posted the top time of the meet here at Phoenix International Raceway, the fast one-mile oval west of the city of Phoenix.
Trumping the other 17 Indy car drivers on hand, Dixon hung a morning lap of 20.1438 seconds (178.715mph) in his #1 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota, yet still feels there's plenty of work to do. "The car was a little better today," he related. "We sat down and worked out some of the problems but I'm still not overly happy" with the balance. "There's still a lot of work to do. I think [when the season gets underway] you'll see the same teams, cars and drivers pretty much at the front again."
Second in the morning, for the day and in the combined two days of practice, Sam Hornish Jr. turned a lap of 20.1993 seconds (178.224mph) in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota and declared himself "happy with the car. We worked a bit on qualifying trim and I'm happy with the handling," Hornish said. It took Hornish 24 laps to achieve his mark; he lapped the mile 37 times in the morning.
Sam's teammate Helio Castroneves, driving the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota achieved the third best speed of the meet, also this morning, at 20.6929 seconds (177.367mph). For the second day, Castroneves worked on qualifying settings in the morning and ran long runs in the afternoon. "It seems to be going well," he related. "With the lack of downforce [due to new rules], it's a struggle to go flat out here. In the past it had been a piece of cake to run flat but it might be tougher here now."
Fourth on the speed charts went to Dario Franchitti's #27 Archipelago Dallara/Honda, based on his Wednesday afternoon lap. The Scot's teammates showed well during this Phoenix practice. Dan Wheldon (#26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda) was fourth today and fifth overall, while Bryan Herta (#7 TBA Dallara/Honda) rated fifth today and sixth overall. Tony Kanaan, driving the #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda from the same Andretti Green Racing stables came seventh in the two-day test, sixth for today.
Getting settled with the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet, Tomas Scheckter logged the fifth quickest time this afternoon, giving him seventh place for the day and eighth overall. His longest run was interrupted by two yellows and the South African cut a tire during one of those caution periods. The Panther team made a change this afternoon that didn't work, then went back to their earlier settings, and Scheckter was "pretty pleased with the car."
Greg Ray ran 116 laps today, getting comfortable with his #13 Panoz G Force/Honda and earned the eighth fastest lap today (in the morning) and ninth overall. Darren Manning, who acknowledged he wanted to take his time getting up to speed in the #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota was sixth this afternoon after languishing to the bottom of the charts, placing him tenth for the meeting. Manning's time of 20.4777 seconds (175.801mph) showed the gap from first to tenth really isn't that large.
While he was fastest on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway oval late last month, Alex Barron and the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet team had issues here in Phoenix. Trying different settings during the test, they landed in 10th for the day and 11th for the four sessions held here.
After a miserable Wednesday at his home track, Buddy Rice and his #15 Pioneer/Argent Mortgage Panoz G Force/Honda team had a much better day today. "We finally got in a full day (248 laps) and tried a lot of things with the car. Plus we practiced pit stops and long fuel runs," good enough to get the Phoenix native P12 for the total combined test.
Ed Carpenter wasn't pleased with Wednesday's test either, but made his way to 13th today and overall, setting his fast lap in the #52 Red Bull Dallara/Chevy of 20.6916 seconds (173.984mph) in the morning session. Mark Taylor is still learning a lot about his #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevy and the new playing field of the IndyCar Series. He was 14th overall.
Scott Sharp turned a total of 158 laps today in the #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota, good for 15th. A.J. Foyt IV's 16th place in his #14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota came in fits and starts as the Foyt team spent a lot of time trying new settings.
The two Japanese drivers in the IndyCar Series brought up the rear. Kosuke Matsuura was 17th in the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda, citing throttle problems in his car. Birthday boy Tora Takagi, who turned 30 today and got the traditional American cake-in-the-face treatment, was slowest today, logging only 76 laps on the Phoenix oval.
Now the test season is complete and, for most of the experienced teams, the shortness of the pre-season leaves them wondering how they can make up the time. With in-season practice mostly prohibited and only these two two-day tests to prepare, it's a crap-shoot when the season begins on Leap Day, February 29th in Homestead, FL.
Dixon believes the new Phoenix track configuration might be responsible for fewer passing attempts when the IndyCar Series returns to the Valley of the Sun for their second race of the year on March 21st, not just the aero rules. Of the new package, though, he said: "It takes so much adjustment out of the cars. You have fewer options. I think it'll be very difficult to do any real passing next month."