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

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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