The Verizon IndyCar Series saw the full grid take to track at Barber Motorsports Park in what was more like one and half days thanks to weather delays.
Day one was almost completely written off thanks to bad weather around the Alabama track, however series returnee Juan Pablo Montoya made the most of the day for Team Penske alongside team mates Helio Castroneves and Will Power.
“I’m trying to learn how to get more out of the car and we’re getting there,” said Montoya, the 1999 CART champion. “It was good today, but there’s a couple of places that I need to do a little better job and be a little cleaner, but we’re getting there.”
Alongside three more new faces on the grid for 2014 Montoya will be hoping that this practice session bodes well for both the opening round of the 2014 IndyCar season at St Pete next week and the Barber round in five weeks time.
One man who is hoping to go one better than his four runner up spots at the track is series champion Scott Dixon, who is feeling positive about his testing experiences: “This early in the season to get miles is the important thing.
“Everybody has their first new engine spec of the four for the season so there’s a lot to be learned on drivability, there are some brake options that are being circulated that we need to get through, and really it’s just about getting ready for that first race that is less than two weeks away. There’s a lot to be achieved.”
As Dixon hinted, engines are going under a massive overhaul in this the third year of the new spec Dallara DW12. Chevrolet’s engine is remaining unchanged but Honda’s unit is receiving a second turbo charger to give it an extra kick in order to completely keep pace with Chevy.
For some drivers though it isn’t engines that are the problem but tyre degradation: “With the treatment that was done to the track last year with some grinding it improved lap times but it also took a toll on the tires, so you need some sort of compromise,” Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe said. “The other big compromise at this track is setup-wise the low-speed corners you’ll be dealing with a lot of understeer and some of the other corners the rear slides out. So you want a nice, stable rear and a well-connected front.
“We have a good basis to go on, but Firestone has a new tire this year and in testing at other places it’s been considerably quicker. I think we’ll be testing the limits of arm strength around here.”
On the second day of testing the start was also delayed due to the cold conditions and mist around the circuit, but once again it was a solid Penske day with Will Power locking in a Team Penske 1-2-3 after setting a time of 1:07.6 – almost a tenth faster than Montoya who himself was only a hundredth faster than Castroneves.
“Coming back to Barber, hopefully we found a happy place,” said Power, who’s won the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber twice in its four years. “Obviously the temperature will be a lot different, and I think that brings out imbalances in the car. It was so cold today and there was so much grip that I think it was hard to get good reads on changes.
For rookie and quick Brit Jack Hawksworth, the test was a solid learning day, finishing one second back on Power in 19th place: “We had a really solid couple of days. The weather made it difficult because of a few stoppages, but it’s our first test together on a proper road course – Sebring’s more of a street circuit track – and I thought we worked through some really good stuff today. The BHA guys did a really great job and I’m pretty happy with where we’re at. We’ll make a couple of tweaks but I’ve not seen anything yet that worries me, so we’re in good shape.”
Indeed the entire 22 car field was covered by two seconds on the second day, a testament to the development of the cars up and down the paddock.
www.TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk will have a full report from the first event of the season the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg on March 30th.