AVONDALE, Ariz. – Yes, it’s only a test session, but Marco Andretti was fastest during the second of two three-hour test sessions on Friday for this weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series Prix View at Phoenix International Raceway.
Last year, five of the top-10 speeds in the night session were Hondas and this year, it was seven of the top-10, including the top six.
Andretti’s best speed in the No. 27 hhgregg Honda of 189.122 was almost two mph faster than his best speed in this session last year, 187.678. From a timing standpoint, that’s a time of 19.4541 seconds compared to 19.6038 seconds last year.
Earlier in the afternoon, Andretti described some of the changes coming to his No. 27 team, with Bryan Herta his new strategist and with Eric Bretzman taking over as technical director for the team.
“It’s too early to tell about anything. Probably these two days will still be early as hell, but good so far, steady, really having fun working with Bryan (Herta), and even having Eric Bretzman there has been a good addition, as well,” Andretti said.
“We’ve been pushing it. That’s for sure. All I can say is the only thing that I think can help is just closing the holes up on the bottom of the floor. But that’s just me.”
Graham Rahal was second, having experimented with an earlier version Honda aero kit rear wing package for his No. 15 United Rentals Honda, at 188.642 mph. Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais and Charlie Kimball completed the top-six Honda sweep, with JR Hildebrand best of the Chevrolet runners in seventh.
Several yellow flags flew for track inspections, but there were no mechanical ailments or incidents during the session.
Arguably the most interesting part of this one was that Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay briefly swapped seats at Andretti Autosport, Rossi taking laps in the No. 28 DHL Honda and Hunter-Reay stepping into the No. 98 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda, to see where each other was from a setup standpoint.
Rossi (24 laps) and Hunter-Reay (11 laps) added those laps to their laps in their primary cars to provide 23 car/driver combinations that took place in the session.
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.