Busy Phoenix test sees more than 5,000 laps banked

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In total, the Verizon IndyCar Series’ open test at Phoenix International Raceway consisted of four sessions: two during the day and two during the evening, each lasting three hours. There were 23 car/driver combinations that turned laps (of note: 21 cars were entered, but Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi each took laps in the other’s car).

Because of the number of sessions and cars participating, the lap count was expected to be relatively high. Several drivers completed more than 100 laps in at least one session, with a handful even doing so in multiple sessions.

Among the notable drivers to break the 100-lap barrier was Graham Rahal, driving a lone entry for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “I don’t know why, but our guys like to pound laps, so that’s all right. We’ll just keep driving when they tell me to,” he quipped after the Friday evening session, in which he turned 114 laps.

For Rahal, the track time as a single-car entry over the weekend was paramount in maximizing the team’s efforts. “One of my concerns is always just stalling out,” he explained. “As a single car, you see the amount of laps we’re pounding here, and we have to. I mean, we’re trying things on tires we probably shouldn’t be running on, but we have to try to do things because as a single car you’re only getting knowledge from one source.”

Another driver who enjoyed a heavy workload was Josef Newgarden on his first major outing in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Newgarden accounted for 99 laps on Friday night and 114 laps on Saturday night. For Newgarden, it presented a great opportunity to spend more time with his new team. “The Verizon 2 car team is all new to me, so they’re not new to each other, so there’s great continuity there, but I’m new to the group,” he detailed. “So they’re trying to understand me and I’m trying to understand them.”

Dale Coyne Racing driver Sebastien Bourdais also cracked the 100-lap mark during a session, putting 103 laps of work in on Saturday night. For Bourdais, it was an opportunity to get reacquainted with Craig Hampson, with whom he won four consecutive championships in the Champ Car World Series between 2004 and 2007, and run through a myriad of changes to the chassis. “The guys did a great job. I don’t recall that I’ve ever gone through so many changes, big changes on the car over a two-day test, and we got out of this with a very happy car,” said the Frenchman.

However, the prize for the most laps turned goes to defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud, who totaled 303 laps across both days, including a whopping 124 on Friday night. For Pagenaud, it helped knock the rust off. A stalwart at the Rolex 24 in past years, Pagenaud elected to forego a driving opportunity at the 2017 edition of the endurance classic, especially after a busy off-season. “It’s been a busy winter with the championship and all the appearances everywhere in the world,” said Pagenaud, who did a tour of France, among other appearances, following his championship run. “It was good for me to get some time off, stay with my family. That’s something I really needed.”

For Pagenaud, the Phoenix test marked his first significant driving duty since the Petit Le Mans in early October. “This year I just didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do for my program and for being pretty focused with Penske at attacking another title,” he said of his decision to forego the Rolex 24, though he did attend as a spectator.

The 21 drivers who participated at the Phoenix test completed 5,134 laps across all four sessions. The next open test takes place at Barber Motorsports Park on March 21, just over a week after the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Rolex 24 at Hour 8: Acuras, Cadillacs look strong in GTP; tough times for Tower in LMP2

Rolex 24 at Daytona
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The premier hybrid prototype era of the Rolex 24 at Daytona began with a relatively smooth start Saturday through the Hour 8 mark.

Though two of the new Grand Touring Prototype cars fell out of contention within the first six hours, seven cars representing four big-money manufacturers were setting the pace (albeit conservatively at times) after eight of 24 hours in the endurance race classic.

The Cadillacs of Alex Lynn (No. 02, Chip Ganassi Racing) and Jack Aitken (No. 31 of Action Express) held the top two spots with a third of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship completed.

RUNNING ORDER: Standings through eight hours l By class

Brendon Hartley was running third in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura, followed by Nick Tandy in the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport 963, Renger van der Zande in the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac and Tom Blomqvist in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura.

The No. 24 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8 ’s No. 24  was the first GTP car a lap down, but in better shape than its sister. The No. 25 BMW pulled off track for major repairs near the end of the first hour and was classified 133 laps down in 59th in 61 cars.

Misfortune also befell the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport, which was forced into the garage for a battery change with 18 hours and five minutes remaining. The 963 was 19 laps down in 22nd.

But all things considered, the debut of the GTPs had belied the hand-wringing and doomsayer predictions that had hung over Daytona the past two weeks. Cadillac Racing’s three V-LMDh cars had avoided mechanical problems (needing only typical body repairs for the front end of the No. 01 and rear end of the No. 31 for minor collisions in heavy traffic throughout the 61-car field).

Its stiffest competition seemed to be the Acura ARX-06s, which led more than 100 laps in the first eight hours.

Pole-sitter Tom Blomqvist built a sizeable lead in the No. 60 (which won last year’s Rolex 24) while leading the first 60 laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course.

“That was my longest time in the car since we got it,” said Blomqvist, who led the car to the IMSA premier championship last season. “We’re driving it into the unknown now. We’ve done everything we can. We know it’s a strong, fast car, but there are so many things to learn it almost feels like we’re winging it. It’s a constant learning curve, for both me as a driver but for the whole team. We’ve had a good start to the race, but there’s a lot of race to go and anything can happen.”

The No. 60 lost positions when Helio Castroneves spun just short of seven hours remaining but later soldiered back into the lead with Blomqvist.

“That was a wild ride,” Castroneves said. “I just got caught up in the moment and I’m not sure what happened. It locked the rear so unexpectedly. Certainly, the car is fast. There’s a lot of traffic. It was very, very difficult. The Acura has good pace so far, and we are learning a lot in a short time.”

Two days after predicting the race would be an “old-school endurance race” with conservative driving and setups, Simon Pagenaud said his forecast has been realized.

“Totally,” the Meyer Shank Racing said after completing his first turn behind the wheel of the No. 60 shortly before Castroneves’ incident. “It’s been rare that I’ve been saving equipment this much here. In any of my experience in sports car racing, I’ve rarely driven this cool, basically trying to protect everything. It’s what we’ve got to do. And we’ve got the advantage having pace with the Acura.

“So for us, this time of the race, we’ve just got to build the foundation of our race. There’s really no need to dive into the Bus Stop on somebody right now. Six hours to go is a whole different story. If we’re there, there’s no problem. We’ll do it. We have the capacity to do that, which is honestly such a luxury. But at this point to me, we’re just going to save the equipment, get there and see where we are because the car is extremely fast.”

Pagenaud was involved in one when he was warned by IMSA stewards for “incident responsibility” on a spin involving the No. 8 Tower Motorsports LMP2 that is being co-driven by Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin (two of the 10 active IndyCar drivers in the 2023 Rolex 24).

Tower driver-owner John Farano was in the car at the time, but Pagenaud joked he thought it was Newgarden, his former IndyCar teammate at Team Penske.

“I thought the Tower car, that must be Newgarden,” Pagenaud cracked. “Was it him? Don’t tell me. I know it was him. Doesn’t matter. Let me just take it. I’m going to say it’s him. Please tell him I said that when you see him.

The 2019 Indy 500 winner and 2016 IndyCar champion chalked up the run-in with Farano as “a misunderstanding. He hesitated passing the car ahead of him and gave me the left side, so I dove in on the outside, and he basically released the brake and hit my rear. So you could say it’s on me. You could say it’s on him. Honestly, I was confused as to what happened because I just saw him spin in the mirror. I don’t think we had contact.”

It already was a long day for the No. 8 Tower, which had to pull off the track on the first lap. A water bottle fitting leaked onto the ORECA LMP2 07’s electronic control unit, which malfunctioned. The team lost 10 laps while being towed to the pits and repaired as the first yellow flag flew less than five minutes into the race for the incident.

By the time Newgarden handed off the car to McLaughlin, the No. 8 still was nine laps down with eight hours to go.

Last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona LMP2 winner, which also featured two IndyCar stars in Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward, rallied from five laps down, but Newgarden lamented missing three opportunities to regain a lap under yellow.

“We’re trying to chip away at it; it’s just difficult,” the two-time IndyCar champion said. “I feel solid, and it’s very fun to be in the mix the first time. Very special to be out there in the action. Just wish we were on the lead lap. Our pace was solid. We were strongest on track, but that’s going to change in the later hours with the hot shoes in the car. It’s not going to be easy to pull laps back on this field. It’s a very stacked contingent. They’re all good teams, lot of good drivers. Put ourselves in a hole not a good situation to be in, keep fighting at it. Felt like our pace was good.

“It’s not looking good now. You get toward the end of race, you won’t gain laps back on pace. There are too many good teams and drivers. … We need 8 or 9 yellows to go our way. It just doesn’t look good. But never say never. What if all the GTPs just blow up? I don’t know what’s going to happen. They look really good right now. This is not what everyone predicted. Let’s see. You just never know in racing.”