IndyCar: Dixon leads opening day of Barber test in official aero kit kickoff

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Scott Dixon led the quartet of Team Penske cars on the first day of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ official test at Barber Motorsports Park. The full release from INDYCAR is below:

The initial pre-season test for all 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series participants brought new excitement with the introduction of the Chevrolet and Honda bodywork aero kits.

Twenty-three drivers eagerly tested March 16 on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park road course.

“It’s really a new era,” Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud said before the first session.

The two-day test is designed to prepare teams and drivers for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 29 (3 p.m. ET, ABC), which will mark the competition debut of the road/street course and short oval aero components.

While development is still underway for each driver in the high-downforce platforms, performance gains are already noticeable as teams have begun tailoring the cars to specific preferences in conjunction with optimal track performance.

Pagenaud, driving the No. 22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet, topped the morning lap time chart at 1 minute, 7.7456 seconds. His time was six-tenths of a second quicker than the 2014 Verizon P1 Award-winning time of new teammate Will Power. Scott Dixon, who has finished second or third in the five races at Barber Motorsports Park, lowered the lap time in the waning minutes of the low-80-degree afternoon at 1:07.4805. Pagenaud was second quick in the afternoon at 1:07.5329.

Dixon holds the track record of 1:06.7750 set in Round 1 of qualifying on April 6, 2013.

“I think both cars (Chevrolet and Honda) are very different, which for the fans and series will be exciting. Honestly, I don’t care what it looks like as long as it’s fast,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. “It’s been a significant change in drivability or how to attack the car with all the downforce. We’re working with balance issues, weight distributions and just trying to feel out some of the changes with the aero kit and the loads changing significantly with the corner speeds. All in all, a decent day. We still have plenty to test tomorrow and try to find some extra things for when we come back for the race in April.”

Power, the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion in the No. 1 Team Penske Chevrolet, was third overall (1:07.5495). Teammates Juan Pablo Montoya (1:07.6266) and Helio Castroneves (1:07.7703) were fourth and fifth on the end-of-day results. Ryan Hunter-Reay, who handled the bulk of the on-track development work in the six manufacturer test sessions between October and January, was the quickest Honda driver (1:07.8494).

“It’s almost like you’re starting with a new car,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2012 series champion. “To make the DW12 kit work in its format, you had to make it turn and do things a certain way. Now the aero kit puts load on the car in a certain way and its own way.

“It’s a work in progress, which is what testing and development is about. We have another day here at Barber and testing next week at Sebring, but you feel when you’re in the car that every lap is critical because you’re one step closer to the season beginning. Once the season starts, there’s no more testing. We have a lot of bits to work out.”

Aero kit testing will remain at Barber Motorsports Park through March 17, beginning at 11 a.m. ET and concluding at 7 p.m. ET. Teams will continue development of the package next week in private testing at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway and NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, La.

Day 1 Results

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

Follow @KyleMLavigne