This is the last off weekend before the Verizon IndyCar Series heats up with a three-race in three-week stretch at Pocono Raceway, Gateway Motorsports Park and Watkins Glen International.
It doesn’t mean teams from IndyCar nor the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires haven’t been busy though, with Thursday proving a pivotal day across three different venues in preparation for the stretch runs of the 2017 seasons, and the preparation for the 2018 season.
NEW 2018 INDYCAR HAS ANOTHER SOLID TEST IN IOWA
After runs at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2.5-mile superspeedway) and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (2.238-mile permanent road course), the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit had its first run on a short oval Thursday, the 0.894-mile Iowa Speedway. And like the first two runs, it was another solid day for drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Oriol Servia in the Chevrolet and Honda-powered cars, prepared by Team Penske and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and overseen by INDYCAR itself.
“It’s interesting how you can run the same lap time and in one (downforce level) you’re completely flat out and the other one you are lifting (off the accelerator in the turns),” Montoya said in a release. “We’re trying to understand what’s the best way to bring the best racing.”
Servia added, “It was very consistent, especially if we end up going on the lower downforce package. You have to drive it, which is fun. You have to lift and you’re still doing the same lap speed (as with more downforce), which is interesting. Exact same lap speed. I was able to run a decent distance behind Juan Pablo, and the car just loses a little bit of grip but (with) a four-tire kind of slide. It’s not like the front loses a lot of (grip) or the rear loses a lot, which is the problem with the current car.”
INDYCAR’s Bill Pappas, INDYCAR vice president of competition/race engineering, remained pleased with the drivers going through the checklist.
“Again, the idea was to check off boxes and we did all the boxes we wanted to,” he said. “We wanted to analyze the downforce level we’ve been running here the last couple years versus what we thought was a target lower downforce, and both drivers responded favorably to the lower downforce. They thought they were able to drive the car a bit more, rather than hanging on, so that was very encouraging. As far as running in traffic, the car never felt like it was going to get away from them – spin out or have any issues with stability. They were both very happy about that.”
There’s also more here from The Gazette‘s Jeremiah Davis, a local Iowa reporter who was at Thursday’s test.
SEVERAL TEAMS TEST AT WATKINS GLEN
The Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport teams, at least, got a key day of running in at Watkins Glen International ahead of the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen, which takes place Labor Day weekend from Sept. 1-3.
Both Scott Dixon and Marco Andretti, who have been overseas in recent weeks during IndyCar’s couple-week break, were among those testing. Dixon has owned Watkins Glen throughout his career with four wins there, three straight from 2005 to 2007 and then last year in one of his most dominant weekend performances there last year. Andretti finished fifth three straight years there, from 2007 to 2009, and was 12th last year.
INDY LIGHTS, PRO MAZDA HEAD TO GATEWAY
After the Verizon IndyCar Series had its first test on the repaved Gateway Motorsports Park last week, it was the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires’ series turn on Thursday for an open test – and an important one at that.
Indy Lights has just two races left, Gateway and Watkins Glen, while Pro Mazda has three – the same two venues but with Watkins Glen a doubleheader race rather than a single race.
For Juncos Racing’s Kyle Kaiser, who tested along with Nicolas Dapero, Gateway represents a huge opportunity. The Californian holds a 42-point lead and can clinch the title at Gateway so long as he leaves with a 34-point lead or greater (leaving with a top-five finish should do the trick). Kaiser got his first career win on the flat one-mile oval at Phoenix last year and hopes a similar setup can translate.
“The new pavement is very different and a lot faster,” said Kaiser. “There’s a ton of grip out there. So, everything we had from testing here in the off season, we pretty much threw away and we’re starting fresh. With the smoother asphalt you can run the cars a lot lower, which generates a lot more downforce. Race conditions probably will be similar to today. We’re getting a good baseline and we can work off that for the race.
“But I’m coming in to win this race. It would be a great race to win. I love the track. I feel really quick out there. I think we’ve got the car to win this race.”
Beyond the full-time competitors, Chad Boat was also back in action in a fourth Belardi Auto Racing entry, as he attempts a second crack at his series debut. Boat was meant to debut at Iowa Speedway but didn’t receive medical clearance from INDYCAR after a midget car accident earlier in that week.
USF2000 TESTED AT THE GLEN, AS WELL
Earlier this week, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series tested at Watkins Glen. Rinus VeeKay, who’s chasing Oliver Askew for that series’ championship, had this save.