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.
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.