Takuma Sato and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing lead the way in Phoenix open test

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Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

The Verizon IndyCar Series held its first full pre-season test last week at Arizona’s ISM Raceway. This was the first time this year that all the teams and drivers were able to get on track at the same time and it was also the first official oval test for many of the drivers in their 2018 cars.

A combined total of 6027 laps were run by the twenty-three participating drivers during the two-day test, with an extra 617 laps added on if you include the additional rookie test that took place on Thursday.

As with pre-season testing in any series, accurate conclusions are difficult to make as to what the pecking order may look like for the upcoming season. However, it was certain that Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing had a productive test. Over the four sessions held on Friday and Saturday in both day and night conditions, the team managed to top every single one. Reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato topped three of the four sessions held on the 1.5-mile oval, with team-mate Graham Rahal taking the remaining session for himself.

By the end of the four sessions, the combined time-sheet had Takuma at the top with the fastest time of the test. A 19.379 in the final session put him just under one-hundredth of a second faster than second-placed Will Power for Team Penske. Sato even managed to complete the most laps of any other driver over the two days, with 384 circulations of ISM Raceway to his name. Power was second on that list too, with thirty-eight fewer laps completed than Sato.

“The open test was very successful, I would say,” Sato said. “Lots of things done and lots of things to be tried, and I think over the course of two days we learned a lot. Great car, definitely more exercise for the drivers, definitely busier with low downforce.

“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.”

Tony Kanaan may have been just six laps off of being the driver with the least number of laps completed, but he made his 146-laps count. He set the third fastest time of the test in the #14 Chevrolet of his new team A.J. Foyt Enterprises. Reigning series champion Josef Newgarden was just behind Kanaan on the time-sheets in fourth, with Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti and Alexander Rossi completing the top seven; all separated by just a tenth of a second.

Credit: Chris Jones / Courtesy of IndyCar

Scott Dixon was on track before anyone else on Thursday when he was drafted in by IndyCar officials to conduct track testing of a windscreen prototype. During the four group tests, Dixon managed to set the eighth fastest time, but he was also one of the unfortunate few drivers to have hit the wall during the test. His incident, which occurred half an hour before the final session came to a close, was the most significant of the four days. Thankfully the New-Zealander was uninjured and was released from the care centre shortly after undergoing precautionary checks.

2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud was ninth fastest ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay in tenthSebastien Bourdais and Ed Jones finished the test just outside of the top-ten in eleventh and twelfth respectively. Just behind Jones was the fastest rookie of the test, Matheus Leist. The Brazilian completed 240 laps during the four sessions, but he also made contact with the wall on three occasions as he got to grips with his #4 Honda.

Pietro Fittipaldi‘s contract was confirmed in the days leading up to the Phoenix test. His running, which began in Thursday’s rookie test, was the first time that he has driven on an oval in a single-seater. He finished the test with the fifteenth fastest time in his #19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda; just under a tenth of a second slower than team-mate Bourdais. Two more rookies were just behind Fittipaldi, with Robert Wickens and Zach Veach taking the sixteenth and seventeenth fastest times.

Series newcomers Carlin continued to gain valuable pre-season testing mileage with their drivers Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton. The pair were the eighteenth and nineteenth fastest drivers with a combined total of 538 laps completed between them. Gabby Chaves was just behind in twentieth in the #88 Harding Racing car as the team, like Carlin, prepare to make their first full-time assault on the championship.

Reigning Indy Lights champion Kyle Kaiser propped up the time-sheets in twenty-third with a best lap of 20.236 seconds after 140 laps of ISM Raceway. The Californian, who will race in four events this year for Juncos Racing was nine-tenths of a second off of Takuma Sato’s time at the top of the board.

With the Phoenix open test now done and dusted, pre-season testing will move on to Florida’s Sebring International Raceway later in the month. The teams and drivers have just under a month to prepare for the season-opening race of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series. Round one, the Grand Prix of St Petersburg, will take place on March 11.

Verizon IndyCar Series – Phoenix pre-season test – combined lap times:

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