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/AndrettiTV.com 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.”

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)