Indy Lights: Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe sample new IL-15

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A pair of Verizon IndyCar Series veterans have given high marks to the Indy Lights’ new car for 2015, the Dallara IL-15, after a test session yesterday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Three-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe logged a combined 80 laps on IMS’ 2.4-mile road course with the machine. Afterwards, Dixon thought the IL-15 would serve as “a fantastic stepping stone” to the top level of North American open-wheel racing.

“The performance is very good; it is very durable and no problems,” Dixon said of his day in a release. “I actually spun a couple of times with the initial setup we had on it but going through the changes, the car reacted well.

“I think we probably went through 10 or 12 changes on the car. It reacted in a way you would think. All in all, it was good. Just a few hours, but nice to drive.”

Dixon also said that the relevance of the new car in regards to technology will make Indy Lights a stronger series than it has been in recent years.

“I think the biggest thing for us right now –  for Indy Lights and for IndyCar – is that it is updated ten-fold over the last spec,” he said, referring to the 2002-spec chassis that had been in place.

“Adding the paddle shifts and the technology that has been applied to this car makes it relative to a lot of other formulas. It will definitely attract a lot of Europeans and even more Americans to the series.”

Hinchcliffe also reported a trouble-free day inside the cockpit of the IL-15. He said that the new car will be a better way to prepare up-and-coming drivers for the demands of the DW-12, the Verizon IndyCar Series’ chassis since 2012.

“…With the DW12, it is really a good time to introduce a new chassis for Indy Lights, introduce a turbo-charged engine,” he said. “And I think the drivers are going to get a much better feel of what they are going to be jumping into with the DW12 – dealing with turbo-charged engines and the characteristics of that and a little bit higher downforce.

“For me, Indy Lights has always been a great tool to develop young drivers and really prepare them for IndyCar, and this is just the next step in that progression.”

Testing continues today for the IL-15 on the IMS oval with Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves behind the wheel. You’ll see him in the last bit of social media below.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds