IndyCar: Rahal pleased after two-day test at Barber Motorsports Park

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Defending Verizon IndyCar champion Will Power led the way in a two-day test session at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., over the weekend, with a time of 1:07.3118 (123.010 mph).

While it was more of the same for the Penske driver, who won the pole for last year’s race at the 2.38-mile, 17-turn circuit, Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was happy with how his No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda performed during the 149 laps it turned over the two-day session.

Rahal placed seventh on the time chart with a time of 1:07.6203 with a speed of 122.448 mph, making him the fastest of the Honda powered cars.

“It’s nice to finish in the top (seven) here, which has been a place we have struggled at before,” Rahal said afterward.

Rahal should be pleased. In last year’s race at Barber, the ninth-year driver started 17th but finished 18th. In four career races at Barber, Rahal’s average finish is 15.4 with his best being a fourth place run in 2012.

“We’ve got a little work to do for sure though, but I’m pleased with our result because a lot of the guys had a lot more tires than us at the end,” Rahal said. “They just kept running new tires and we had one shot at it and to do a 1:07.62 felt nice.

“Today our objective was to try a ton of stuff as learn as much as we could about the aero and I think they’ve done a heck of a job,” Rahal continued. “We test at Sebring on Monday and Tuesday and its going to be an interesting animal with the fact that it’s going to be pretty grippy after the 12 hour race, but at the end of the day I’m just looking forward to turning some laps.”

In 2014, Rahal had one podium finish in 18 starts with an average finish of 15th.

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.