Drivers, Firestone get jump start on 2017 Indy 500 with IMS tire test

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This time of year is similar to summer school final exams for drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Several drivers have or will take part in a number of tests as the schedule moves into the final quarter of the season.

Last Thursday, numerous teams tested at Pocono Raceway. Thursday, more will test at Watkins Glen.

And Monday, several teams took part in a closed Firestone tire test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The test was to examine different compounds to potentially be used in next year’s Indianapolis 500 and compare them with the tires used in this year’s 500.

Among drivers that participated were Graham Rahal, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Juan Pablo Montoya, reigning Indianapolis 500 champ Alexander Rossi and Ed Carpenter.

“Kind of a typical tire test, really,” Dale Harrigle, chief engineer and manager of race tire development for Bridgestone Americas said during Monday’s test. “A couple right-side compounds, we have a couple construction options.”

Hunter-Reay and Carpenter were the primary drivers in Monday’s test, while the other participants also contributed their feedback, as well.

“We’re always developing our car and setups; they’re always developing their product,” Hunter-Reay said of Firestone. “It’s just great testing Firestone tires because I always have 100 percent confidence in them. There’s not going to be any big surprises out there. It’s just constant development, going faster and faster.”

Added Carpenter, “For me, I know I love doing this. … It’s always a great opportunity to work with Firestone and test tires. When we come to these tests, there’s a lot of controlled runs. Every run we do is the same amount of laps and they brought quite a few different types of tires here.

“Sometimes it will be one tire, sometimes it will be a couple tires that are different from the control tire which was the 2016 Indy 500 race tire. You work through those changes, jump back to a control (set), just give them feedback on what you’re feeling. I don’t really like to know necessarily what I’m testing, I just like to go out and feel what the car is doing and give them that honest, raw feedback.”

The day-long test started with short runs in the morning, followed by data examination, driver feedback and then long runs in the afternoon.

Admittedly, the mood Monday was somber, as drivers recalled one of their fallen competitors, Bryan Clauson, who died Sunday after being involved in a Midget car crash in Kansas Saturday night.

Clauson finished 23rd in this year’s 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, lived in suburban Indianapolis and was close to a number of drivers in the IndyCar series.

“It’s a difficult situation for everybody to go through but our job today is to focus on this car,” Rahal said. “We came back here to test to try to improve as much as we can. In light of everything else, this is what we’ve got to focus on right now.”

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IndyCar Power Rankings: Pato O’Ward moves to the top entering Texas Motor Speedway


The NBC Sports IndyCar power rankings naturally were as jumbled as the action on the streets of St. Petersburg after a chaotic opener to the 2023 season.

Pato O’Ward, who finished second because of an engine blip that cost him the lead with a few laps remaining, moves into the top spot ahead of St. Pete winner Marcus Ericsson and Alexander Rossi, who finished fourth in his Arrow McLaren debut. Scott Dixon and St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who led 31 laps) rounded out the top five.

St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who started first at St. Pete after capturing his second career pole position) Callum Ilott (a career-best fifth) and Graham Rahal entered the power rankings entering the season’s second race.

Three drivers fell out of the preseason top 10 after the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – including previously top-ranked Josef Newgarden, who finished 17th after qualifying 14th.

Heading into Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through the first of 17 races this year (with previous preseason rankings in parenthesis):

NBC Sports’ IndyCar Power Rankings

1. Pato O’Ward (5) – If not for the dreaded “plenum event” in the No. 5 Chevrolet, the Arrow McLaren driver is opening the season with a victory capping a strong race weekend.

2. Marcus Ericsson (7) – He might be the most opportunistic driver in IndyCar, but that’s because the 2022 Indy 500 winner has become one of the series’ fastest and most consistent stars.

3. Alexander Rossi (10) – He overcame a frustrating Friday and mediocre qualifying to open his Arrow McLaren career with the sort of hard-earned top five missing in his last years at Andretti.

4. Scott Dixon (3) – Put aside his opening-lap skirmish with former teammate Felix Rosenqvist, and it was a typically stealthily good result for the six-time champion.

5. Romain Grosjean (NR) – The St. Petersburg pole-sitter consistently was fastest on the streets of St. Petersburg over the course of the race weekend, which he couldn’t say once last year.

6. Scott McLaughlin (6) – Easily the best of the Team Penske drivers before his crash with Grosjean, McLaughlin drove like a legitimate 2023 championship contender.

7. Callum Ilott (NR) – A quietly impressive top five for the confident Brit in Juncos Hollinger Racing’s first race as a two-car team. Texas will be a big oval litmus test.

8. Graham Rahal (NR) – Sixth at St. Pete, Rahal still has the goods on street courses, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan remains headed in the right direction.

9. Alex Palou (4) – He seemed a step behind Ericsson and Dixon in the race after just missing the Fast Six in qualifying, but this was a solid start for Palou.

10. Will Power (2) – An uncharacteristic mistake that crashed Colton Herta put a blemish on the type of steady weekend that helped him win the 2022 title.

Falling out (last week): Josef Newgarden (1), Colton Herta (8), Christian Lundgaard (9)