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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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F1 Preview: 2018 German Grand Prix

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The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

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