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Wrapup: ISM Raceway open test

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This past weekend’s open test at ISM Raceway created quite the busy for the teams and drivers of the Verizon IndyCar Series. Between three days of running and five sessions in total – one for rookies on Thursday and the remaining four featuring the entire field on Friday and Saturday – the 23 drivers who participated completed over 6,600 laps around the one-mile oval in Phoenix.

The three-day test also produced plenty of storylines ahead of the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Below is a recap of various happenings from the weekend.

The Wind(screen) of Change

Several years of work to create more cockpit protection culminated on Thursday when Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon debuted the much-anticipated windscreen on his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda.

And even though it was the first time it ran in a “real world” setting, everything seemed to go off without a hitch.

“No gamestoppers,” Scott Dixon quipped after sampling the windscreen. “I think it’s a little bit different looking through something that’s so thick. But I thought it would have messed with distortion a lot more. But, there was nothing like that. There was no problem with reflection. The weirdest thing was how quiet it is. You have no buffeting, the car feels very smooth.”

He did, however, reference one area that needed improving. “Cooling, need some cooling, just because you get no airflow through the car. But, yeah, kudos to (INDYCAR).”

Joe Horton, Director of Safety and Engineering for INDYCAR, was very pleased that this first test went off as well as it did. “Scott’s first impression in the laps he did were really, really good. For him to get out and say really no problems, that’s exactly what we were shooting for,” he revealed.

Horton added that the issue of airflow was not surprising, and is something they’ll address going forward. “Probably could use a little airflow in the future. We knew that because all the positive pressure on the face was taken away. But, no, it was really good. Scott was excited. He said no showstoppers, we’ll fix a few things and move on.”

Currently, there is no timetable for when the windscreen will be race ready, but the initial impressions reveal a positive impact.

Highlights from the windscreen test can be seen here.

Honda, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Shine

The Hondas struggled somewhat on short ovals and even some of the high-speed road courses as their aero kit produced more drag than Chevrolet’s. However, the universal 2018 aero kit negated that disadvantage, and Honda teams performed considerably better at ISM Raceway than in the past on short ovals.

Most notably, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing swept the weekend and saw either Takuma Sato or Graham Rahal at the top of the time sheets at the end of every session. Sato was actually fastest in three of the four sessions and turned the fastest lap of the weekend.

Sato displayed confidence that this test is proof that the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team will be a major force in 2018. “We did qualifying simulations and race traffic runs. I think the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team is really strong, so I’m really looking forward to two more road course tests and hopefully we’ll be ready for St. Pete,” said last year’s Indy 500 winner.

Allen Miller, Race Team Principal with Honda, was a little more subdued in his optimism, citing that testing and racing are different animals, but was nonetheless pleased with the results.

“This being a test weekend, you can’t read too much into the results, and there is still a lot of work for us to do prior to the start of the season. But we are very satisfied with the results from these last two days here at ISM Raceway,” said Miller. “We’re looking forward to the start of racing next month in St. Petersburg, and to seeking our fifth victory in the last seven years at the Indianapolis 500.”

The Night Time Was the Right Time (for Driving)

As previously mentioned, over 6,600 laps were completed across the three days of testing. However, most of those laps were completed on Friday and Saturday night. The two nighttime sessions combined for nearly 4,000 laps – 3,961 to be exact – with 2,257 completed in the Saturday night session alone.

This does not come as much of a surprise. April’s Phoenix Grand Prix (April 7, NBCSN), will roll off at 9:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. local time. With the night sessions beginning at 8:00 p.m. ET, 6:00 p.m. local time, each presented conditions that were expected to be more of a match to what they’ll face during the race.

Rookies Solid on Debuts

Four drivers made their IndyCar or oval debuts at ISM Raceway, five if you include Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot, who has not yet competed in a Phoenix IndyCar race.

However, all experienced trouble-free runs for the most part. Only Matheus Leist encountered problems on-track, with Saturday night being particularly adventurous for the 19-year-old Brazilian driver, as he drifted high and lightly brushed the wall on three different occasions. He also went for a quick spin during the Friday night session.

Still, none of the rookies had major incidents that resulted in damage and were able to gain valuable experience. Below are selected quotes from some of them, taken in between sessions on Saturday, describing their weekends.

Robert Wickens (No. 6 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda; 16th fastest lap overall, 261 laps completed)

“So far so good. I’m feeling more and more comfortable with every session here at ISM Raceway, so that’s nice. It seems like we can’t really improve from 13th (laughs). We’ve been 13th in every session so far, I think. At least I’m feeling more comfortable; I think the car is going in the right direction. I’m looking forward to this last night session in the Lucas Oil Honda.”

Pietro Fittpaldi (No. 19 Paysafe Dale Coyne Racing Honda; 15th fastest lap, 285 laps completed): “I’m gaining more experience with each day. Like yesterday, the team is doing a good job and helping me get up to speed. We’re trying different things on the No. 19 Paysafe car so I can experience them and see what the changes do on the oval, especially on the longer runs when you have used tires to simulate a race run, and we also ran a bit in traffic. I think we made a good step forward in this session and I’m confident we’ll make another step in the evening session.”

Zach Veach (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Andretti Autosport Honda): “Good afternoon session in the No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda just trying some of our test items. I’m just gaining experience and laps still at this point. I think we’re looking pretty good with what we have, so I’m excited for this evening.”

Spencer Pigot (No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): “We are still working on getting more speed out of the car. I am looking forward to running in more race-like conditions tonight and getting more experience with that. We’ve got a good plan going into this evening and I’m ready to get back to work.”

Results from each session are linked below, including the combined results.

Rookie Test
Friday Afternoon
Friday Night
Saturday Afternoon
Saturday Night
Combined Results

 

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.