IndyCar teams assess value of rain-plagued Indy 500 test

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones

INDIANAPOLIS – In a sport where teams of engineers pour over reams of data from computer models and simulations, spend time calculating equations they hope will give their race cars and drivers the winning edge, there is one variable teams in the NTT IndyCar Series have no control over.

The weather.

That was the case in Wednesday’s “Open Test” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 103rd Indianapolis 500.

Instead of seven hours of uninterrupted testing time on the 2.5-mile oval, the veteran drivers received 95 minutes of track time. Rookie drivers and Indy 500 “one-off” drivers were on the track for 90 minutes. That amounts to the same amount of practice time teams would receive on the first day of a regular NTT IndyCar Series race.

But this is the Indianapolis 500, where teams will use as much practice time as they can get to prepare for the biggest race in the world.

A normal Indianapolis 500 “Open Test” allows teams to work off a checklist of race setups and suspension configurations they will test as they develop a fast race car that can begin practice for the Indy 500 on May 14. It’s during the practice days that teams “trim out” their race setup for speed in qualifications, and race-ability for the race itself.

Because of Wednesday’s rain-plagued, shortened test session, many of those teams only got one-third of the boxes checked off their testing checklist.

“It was productive in terms of that was a brand new race car for us and we shook it down and we made sure the electronics worked and it runs and it shifts and the data system is fine and it felt OK,” Craig Hampson, Sebastien Bourdais’s race engineer at Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan, told NBC Sports. “The baseline setup feels like the car last year so all of that is good.

“But in terms of, did I get anything crossed off the test list?’ No, I got nothing at all crossed off the test list. We’re a little behind on the plan, but it’s the same for everybody. It was also very cold, and that is not representative of what the weather will be like in May. It was just a good shake-down. The car is one piece, we’ll put it away and come back in May.”

With subtle changes to the aerodynamic package at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway offering teams more adjustability to the car, Wednesday could have been a very busy day for the 30 drivers who took to the track in testing. After determining a baseline, that’s when teams can begin to experience and actually “test” the changes of the car.

Because that did not happen, once the veteran’s session was halted and the rookies finished out the day by running until more rain brought out the checkered flag just past 7:30 p.m. ET, the cars were loaded up and taken back to the various IndyCar race shops.

The majority of the teams are based in the Indianapolis area. But one of the “Power Teams” – Team Penske – is based in Mooresville, North Carolina. That’s 560 miles away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Another competitive team, Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan, is based about 230 miles away in Plainfield, Illinois – a far western suburb of Chicago.

Carlin is based in Delray Beach, Florida, a 24-hour drive from Indianapolis. AJ Foyt Racing has two shops for each of its two drivers. Tony Kanaan’s car is prepared a few blocks away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at a facility on Main Street in Speedway, Indiana. Matheus Leist’s car is prepared at main shop in Waller, Texas – outside of Houston.

For those teams, Wednesday’s shortened test became another expense item on the team’s ledger.

“Most of the teams are based in Indianapolis, but for us, this is a huge pain,” Hampson said. “To pack everything up, bring it all down here, unload it into the garage, run for one-third of a day, now we have to put it back in the truck, transport it back to Chicago, work all next weekend.

“For a non-Indy-based team, this is big drama.”

Many of Coyne’s employees were going to drive up Interstate 65 to Chicago and be back at the shop for work Thursday morning at 7 a.m.

Team Penske’s crew members were able to fly back to North Carolina on the team’s charter plane or commercial airlines.

“I don’t think it’s any quicker to sit in security and fly back to Charlotte than it is to drive back to Chicago, if I’m honest,” Hampson said. “There are challenges not being based in Indianapolis.

“For those of us who aren’t, ‘Just here’ it is a lot harder.”

Coyne’s team is one of the mid- to smaller teams in the series, so its budget is affected adversely when testing at Indianapolis gets impacted by weather. The same can be said for A.J. Foyt Racing, although one of its two entries have the shortest trip from the shop to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“We didn’t get one-third of the way down on our checklist,” AJ Foyt Racing Vice President of Racing Operations Scott Harner told NBC Sports. “We had a few mechanical issues on the 14 car (Tony Kanaan) that held us back today. It would have been nice if the weather had cooperated.

“It’s a tough day where we didn’t get much done. Indiana weather can change every 10 minutes, and it does. For teams that are out of state, you are spending tens of thousands of dollars to get up here. Team Penske spent a hell of a lot of money to come up here.

“For the local teams, you aren’t spending as much other than buying lunch so that helps to be located here. That’s just part of it.”

Despite the rain-shortened session, IndyCar Director of Aerodynamic Development Tino Belli said it was still “better than not doing it.” IndyCar and its teams still collected data that can be useful when practice begins in a few weeks for the Indianapolis 500.

“We have things to go through, but when the weather is warmer, practice will be more relevant than it was today,” David Faustino, Will Power’s race engineer at Team Penske, told NBC Sports. “It’s still worth coming here, just to get the drivers’ heads back in the game.

“They still have to try. I think it’s always worth trying. Those are the breaks, though.”

IndyCar champion Will Power completes ‘Victory Lap’ at ceremony in Indianapolis

Will Power Victory Lap
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment

INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power went on his “Victory Lap” last week to celebrate his second career championship as the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series champion.

It began with several media interviews in Monterey, California, the day after he won the championship with a third-place finish in the Sept. 11 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

From there, it was off to Los Angeles for more interviews and personal appearances that included a VIP Tour at the Petersen Automotive Museum, several appearances on SiriusXM and lunch at The Ivy, where the Team Penske IndyCar Series driver was treated to Wagyu Beef.

“It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life,” Power told

From L.A. back to Power’s North Carolina home, near Team Penske’s home base of Mooresville, there was one stop left on Sept. 17 — the Victory Lap Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, an invitation-only banquet where Power and his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet crew at Team Penske were honored for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship.

They didn’t even have to check into a hotel and spend another night on the road. Power and his team left on a Team Penske plane from the Statesville, N.C., airport at 4 p.m. ET Saturday to fly to Indianapolis. On arrival an hour later, a limo bus took the team to IMS.

Power led the 2022 season with five NTT P1 Awards for pole, earning the NTT P1 Award as the best qualifier of the season for the fifth time in his career. Power also made history with his 68th career pole, breaking the all-time mark held by the legendary Mario Andretti.

Power and Scott Dixon also became just two of only five drivers to complete every lap of every race in IndyCar Series history.

“What a year,” Power said as he was awarded his personal Astor Cup trophy (the second in his collection after the 2014 championship. “What a phenomenal year coming off one of my worst seasons personally. We came back with a vengeance.

“I want to thank Roger and Kathy Penske for everything they have done for me over the years. I wouldn’t be standing here and have the numbers I have without what Roger has done for me. I’m given a car every week that is capable of winning the pole, races, championships, and Indianapolis 500s. I’m so grateful for that.

“Also, to Greg Penske, you are there every week now at every event and I know we will be in good hands moving forward with the Penske Family.”

There are many on Power’s team and at home, that helped support Power throughout his career. None is bigger than Power’s wife, Liz, who told Power before the season that he would win the championship and break Andretti’s record.

“I must thank my wife. I’m so lucky to have a wife with that crystal ball that can tell me what is going to happen,” Power said. “I can’t think you enough, babe. I love you so much and you have been a big support to me my whole career. We’ve been together 17 years, and I’ve been in the series 17 years. She has been such a huge support to me. The mother of our child and she is a fantastic mother.

“She can’t tell the future. She just had faith in me.”

Liz Power’s premonition came true and that allowed Power and his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet team to celebrate Penske’s 17th IndyCar championship and 42nd title in the racing team’s history.

“The 12 crew this year, I’ve never had such a great group of guys,” Power said. “Trevor Lacasse (chief mechanic) is such a calm guy, but he does such a meticulous job on the preparation of the car. He is very, very good at keeping the whole crew happy. It feels as if there is no pressure on us. That’s a huge part in getting the most out of people. It was our first year together with you as a crew chief. What a great year to start our relationship.

“Dave Faustino (Power’s longtime engineer), we’ve worked together for 15 years. He’s almost like a wife to me, a partner … apart from sleeping together. We have a very good working relationship. Sorry Dave, I’m an awkward person and you are not.

“The things we have been through in our years together, it’s crazy that we continually improve and get better. We are standing on the podium after winning the championship and we are talking about the car, the race, and the tires. We weren’t talking about the championship.

“We never stop. The other boys were laughing at us, but I’m already thinking about next year.

“Ron Ruzewski (Team Penske IndyCar Managing Director and strategist) on the radio, always calm. He has actually made me a calm person. I rarely get upset on the radio anymore.”

Power also recognized the fans who helped boost attendance at many venues on the schedule this season as NBC Sports enjoyed its largest IndyCar audience yet.

“This series is growing,” Power said. “With open wheel racing now so popular because of Formula One, it’s really our time to push and put money behind it and go now and take IndyCar to another level because we have the best racing product in the world.

“I have to thank my teammates and (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric. I can’t tell you how hard we push each other. We are ultracompetitive and love each other and push each other hard, so thank you.”

Power won the championship by 16 points over hard-charging teammate Josef Newgarden, who finished second in the standings for the third year in a row.

“Overall, I’m filled with a lot of pride for our team and what we were able to do this year,” Newgarden said in his banquet address. “Any year that you step in the championship, you can easily see the challenges it presents everybody.

“It’s a very difficult challenge for the teams and drivers. To be a part of it, make it through it and for us at Team Penske, to topple it, is a very big deal. We’re all competitive.

“The tough thing about being in a championship fight, especially with teammates is we all want to be the best. That’s how it should be. We are competitive people and want to be the best. But it’s a team sport.

“Will, tremendous season, great, great job. I think the world of everybody on our team. It’s a big group. I’m so happy for all of you on the 12-car crew. There is so much we can take into next year.”

Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was unable to attend the banquet because of the Goodwood Festival in England but sent congratulations to Power via a video message.

“I really want to congratulate Will Power,” Dixon said. “You drove a tremendous season this year. Even with some of the lows that you had, some of the mistakes with qualifying, you bounced back tremendously. I know how tough these championships are and to see you do it in the style that you did it in the last race of the season, massive congratulations.”

Power’s championship formula included one victory, nine podiums and 12 top-five finishes. Teammate Josef Newgarden was second in the championship with five wins but only six podiums.

Cindric saluted Power’s season in accepting the championship team owner award.

“Will, you took it to another level this year,” Cindric said. “You are the complete package. You completed every lap, had nine podiums, finished out of the top 10 just four times, broke Mario Andretti’s record, and you did it all without cussing at the officials on national TV.

“One complaint I do has is while most of us think you might be from another planet, you never told us your wife was a fortune teller.”

Cindric also honored the seasons of Penske drivers Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, who won three times in his second full season (“You are one of only two full-time IndyCar drivers that has driven for us in the past 23 years that hasn’t won an Indy 500 or an IndyCar championship. Your time is coming.”).

Kyle Moyer was named team manager of the year (his fifth time and Penske’s sixth). Pennzoil presented Lacasse with the chief mechanic of the year for the first time, the sixth time for Team Penske. The No. 12 crew also won the Firestone Pit Performance Award for the most pit stop performance award points in 2022.

Power, Newgarden and McLaughlin delivered nine of Chevrolet’s series-leading 11 victories this season, helping Chevy win the Manufacturer Award for the seventh time since it returned to the series in 2012 and the first time since 2017. Jim Danahy, U.S. vice president, Competition Motorsports Engineering for Chevrolet, accepted the award on behalf of his team.

Christian Lundgaard was honored as the 2022 NTT IndyCar rookie of the year. Lundgaard, from Denmark, scored one podium, two top-five finishes and seven top-10s in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He edged David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD by 18 points in the standings for first-year series drivers.

Christian Lundgaard (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

“It’s been a tough season and looking at how it panned out, we struggled so much at the beginning of the season and how we were able to turn it around means so much to me and the team,” Lundgaard said. “It’s the one thing that you only get one shot at. I’m happy to have it.

“Being the first Dane at the Indy 500 certainly helps. Competing here for me is quite important and also special. To win this award and to be here in future years means so much to me. I have a chance to compete for wins and championships.

“This team gave me this opportunity at this track one year ago. We came back and got redemption. We got our first podium here. This year was 40 years ago that Bobby Rahal won the same award. It’s pretty special to keep it among the team.”

Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist was honored as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion after a dominant season for HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing. Lundqvist won a series-high five races in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry and clinched the Lights championship with a race to spare, ending with a 92-point advantage over Sting Ray Robb. HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing owners Henry and Daiva Malukas accepted the team championship.

“I’m very proud of that,” Lundqvist said. “It’s cool to see. We are starting to look to the future, and this might not be doing too bad. It’s been great. As most of you can guess with Henry and Daiva Malukas (team owners), it’s been an incredible journey. So much fun that we’ve had. To be on the grid this year was so much of a struggle for us. I didn’t even know I would be doing this until January.

“To be able to pull out the season that we had, I cannot thank this team enough. We will celebrate this for a long time. I’m so happy and proud about that.”

Outgoing IndyCar Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Geoffrey Billows also was honored as he is leaving that role while battling cancer.

“When I think of Dr. Billows, I think of two words,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said. “One is selfless and the other is tough. He’s gone through a lot these last couple of years, and he didn’t want anybody to know. He’s an amazing man, and we are very grateful for what you have done.”

Dr. Geoffrey Billows with IndyCar president Jay Frye (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

Billows was presented with a framed checkered flag signed by all drivers in the series as well as other IndyCar officials and dignitaries.

“I was not expecting this at all,” Billows said. “This means so much for me to be part of this family for the past 30 years. I’ve been presented with opportunities I never thought I would ever have. I can’t tell you how much I love all of you guys and care for all of you guys.

“Thank you so much. I want to also thank my wife, Tammy, who has been a pillar of strength as I continue on this journey with cancer for the past two years as well. You will still see me as a consultant because I love this too much to quit altogether.”

When the evening concluded, Team Penske boarded a bus to the airport for the short return flight to Statesville. They were home by midnight.

Power’s Victory Lap was complete.

“The best thing about this is I get to sleep in my own bed tonight,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500