IndyCar Test Notes: Justin Wilson building chemistry with new crewmates

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Considering the cold, misty conditions that impacted the last two days of Verizon IndyCar Series testing at Barber Motorsports Park, Justin Wilson reckons that when the series goes back there in late April for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, “probably half the things we think we learned will get thrown out the window.”

Nonetheless, Wilson did a solid job this afternoon and was second-quickest today in the No. 19 DCR Honda at just .0038 of a second behind Team Penske front-runner Will Power.

He said that he plans to take the result “with a pinch of salt,” but is still pleased at how he and a whole new cast of characters at DCR – led by new engineer Michael Cannon – are getting along ahead of the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 30.

“We like the progress that we’ve made to the car and the work that the team is doing,” he said. “It’s a complete new set of guys, working with Michael Cannon, that just keeps getting better and better every time we run.

“The last two days have been all about gelling as a team, coming together more than anything else, so I think that helps us going into St. Pete.”

Wilson led the Honda contingent, which for the second day in a row split the Top 10 testing times with Chevrolet-powered drivers.

Among the other Honda drivers in the Top 10 were Takuma Sato (fourth, 1:07.3314), Ryan Hunter-Reay (seventh, 1:07.4495), James Hinchcliffe (eighth, 1:07.4639), and Simon Pagenaud (10th, 1:07.5235).

Jack Hawksworth landing in the No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda may have been somewhat of a surprise, but the young British competitor has acquitted himself well as the fastest rookie in the Barber test.

Hawksworth posted the 12th-fastest time overall in the combined two-day run at 1:07.6542. He was also able to run 100 laps across the two days, gaining valuable track time as he prepares for his Verizon IndyCar Series debut in less than two weeks.

“We had a really solid couple of days,” Hawksworth said of his test. “The weather made it difficult because of a few stoppages, but it’s our first test together on a proper road course – Sebring’s more of a street circuit track – and I thought we worked through some really good stuff today.

“The BHA guys did a really great job and I’m pretty happy with where we’re at. We’ll make a couple of tweaks but I’ve not seen anything yet that worries me, so we’re in good shape.”

Another rookie, Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz, ran the most laps of anyone during the Barber test with 121 laps in total. Overall, he was 16th-fastest in the No. 34 Cinsay/ Honda (1:07.9437), but the Colombian feels like the best is yet to come.

“I’m definitely more comfortable at this test than previous ones…I think we’ve made a lot of progress, and today was better than yesterday,” Munoz said. “Each time I get in the car is better than the last, so I’m just really looking forward to St. Pete.”

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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