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Thursday saw busy test day for IndyCar, MRTI at three tracks

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This is the last off weekend before the Verizon IndyCar Series heats up with a three-race in three-week stretch at Pocono Raceway, Gateway Motorsports Park and Watkins Glen International.

It doesn’t mean teams from IndyCar nor the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires haven’t been busy though, with Thursday proving a pivotal day across three different venues in preparation for the stretch runs of the 2017 seasons, and the preparation for the 2018 season.

NEW 2018 INDYCAR HAS ANOTHER SOLID TEST IN IOWA

After runs at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2.5-mile superspeedway) and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (2.238-mile permanent road course), the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit had its first run on a short oval Thursday, the 0.894-mile Iowa Speedway. And like the first two runs, it was another solid day for drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Oriol Servia in the Chevrolet and Honda-powered cars, prepared by Team Penske and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and overseen by INDYCAR itself.

“It’s interesting how you can run the same lap time and in one (downforce level) you’re completely flat out and the other one you are lifting (off the accelerator in the turns),” Montoya said in a release. “We’re trying to understand what’s the best way to bring the best racing.”

Servia added, “It was very consistent, especially if we end up going on the lower downforce package. You have to drive it, which is fun. You have to lift and you’re still doing the same lap speed (as with more downforce), which is interesting. Exact same lap speed. I was able to run a decent distance behind Juan Pablo, and the car just loses a little bit of grip but (with) a four-tire kind of slide. It’s not like the front loses a lot of (grip) or the rear loses a lot, which is the problem with the current car.”

INDYCAR’s Bill Pappas, INDYCAR vice president of competition/race engineering, remained pleased with the drivers going through the checklist.

“Again, the idea was to check off boxes and we did all the boxes we wanted to,” he said. “We wanted to analyze the downforce level we’ve been running here the last couple years versus what we thought was a target lower downforce, and both drivers responded favorably to the lower downforce. They thought they were able to drive the car a bit more, rather than hanging on, so that was very encouraging. As far as running in traffic, the car never felt like it was going to get away from them – spin out or have any issues with stability. They were both very happy about that.”

There’s also more here from The Gazette‘s Jeremiah Davis, a local Iowa reporter who was at Thursday’s test.

SEVERAL TEAMS TEST AT WATKINS GLEN

The Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport teams, at least, got a key day of running in at Watkins Glen International ahead of the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen, which takes place Labor Day weekend from Sept. 1-3.

Both Scott Dixon and Marco Andretti, who have been overseas in recent weeks during IndyCar’s couple-week break, were among those testing. Dixon has owned Watkins Glen throughout his career with four wins there, three straight from 2005 to 2007 and then last year in one of his most dominant weekend performances there last year. Andretti finished fifth three straight years there, from 2007 to 2009, and was 12th last year.

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INDY LIGHTS, PRO MAZDA HEAD TO GATEWAY

After the Verizon IndyCar Series had its first test on the repaved Gateway Motorsports Park last week, it was the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires’ series turn on Thursday for an open test – and an important one at that.

Indy Lights has just two races left, Gateway and Watkins Glen, while Pro Mazda has three – the same two venues but with Watkins Glen a doubleheader race rather than a single race.

For Juncos Racing’s Kyle Kaiser, who tested along with Nicolas Dapero, Gateway represents a huge opportunity. The Californian holds a 42-point lead and can clinch the title at Gateway so long as he leaves with a 34-point lead or greater (leaving with a top-five finish should do the trick). Kaiser got his first career win on the flat one-mile oval at Phoenix last year and hopes a similar setup can translate.

“The new pavement is very different and a lot faster,” said Kaiser. “There’s a ton of grip out there. So, everything we had from testing here in the off season, we pretty much threw away and we’re starting fresh. With the smoother asphalt you can run the cars a lot lower, which generates a lot more downforce. Race conditions probably will be similar to today. We’re getting a good baseline and we can work off that for the race.

“But I’m coming in to win this race. It would be a great race to win. I love the track. I feel really quick out there. I think we’ve got the car to win this race.”

Beyond the full-time competitors, Chad Boat was also back in action in a fourth Belardi Auto Racing entry, as he attempts a second crack at his series debut. Boat was meant to debut at Iowa Speedway but didn’t receive medical clearance from INDYCAR after a midget car accident earlier in that week.

USF2000 TESTED AT THE GLEN, AS WELL

Earlier this week, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series tested at Watkins Glen. Rinus VeeKay, who’s chasing Oliver Askew for that series’ championship, had this save.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.