The first substantial testing ahead of the 2019 NTT IndyCar season took place on Tuesday at Sebring International Raceway in Florida. Eleven drivers turned laps on the short layout of the famous circuit, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports‘ James Hinchcliffe ending the day as the fastest driver.
Five teams attended the test at Sebring, using up one of their allocated days of testing for the whole of the 2019 season. Alongside Hinchcliffe was his new for 2019 team-mate Marcus Ericsson. Joining the Schmidt Peterson drivers would be the four Andretti Autosport drivers, as well as the drivers from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing. Chip Ganassi Racing were also in attendance, but rookie Felix Rosenqvist was not joined by his reigning champion team-mate Scott Dixon.
After the nine-hour test concluded, Hinchcliffe led the way on the time-sheets with a best lap time of 51.37-seconds, with just under a tenth of a second separating him from second-placed Zach Veach in the #26 Andretti Honda. After climbing out of his car, Hinchcliffe said in an interview with RACER that being first was nice but, more importantly, he had “learned a lot” over the day’s running.
“It doesn’t hurt,” Hinchcliffe said on Tuesday. “This was one of those tests where, across the 5 car, we had a really big list — some ridiculous things you’d never try on a race weekend — and it was important too stick to that and not get lost chasing a fast lap time. We stayed committed to it, found some things that were quick, some that weren’t, and we learned a lot.
“The best takeaway of the day is we stuck to our plan and got better. It’s the first time we’ve all worked together since there was a lot of shuffling on the team side in the off-season. It was a pretty solid day.”
Rahal’s Takuma Sato was third fastest ahead of the two Andretti team-mates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi.
Ed Jones made his on-track debut as an Ed Carpenter Racing driver and duly put himself in sixth place by the end of the day; less than half a second off of Hinchcliffe in first place. Jones would go on to state in interviews that changing from Honda to Chevrolet engines for this season had been one of his main points of acclimatization during the day.
Two rookies were next on the time sheets. Ganassi’s Felix Rosenqvist was seventh fastest ahead of fellow Swede and fellow rookie Marcus Ericsson. For Marcus, it was his second IndyCar test at Sebring in the Schmidt Peterson #7 Honda, but SPM’s general manager Taylor Kiel stated after the running concluded that the track conditions had made Sebring “a completely different track” than they had experienced in December.
“It was starting from square one for Marcus in terms of car set-up.” Kiel said, “But that’s not a bad thing, because it’s important to us that he is totally comfortable in the car whatever the conditions.
“We want him to know what particular changes to the car will do and therefore what to ask for when we get to St. Pete, or Long Beach or Barber. So we did what we did at his first test – set up a straightforward test plan with a lot of big-ticket items that we wanted him to feel.”
Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot was ninth-fastest in Tuesday’s test. Marco Andretti was just behind in tenth place, with Graham Rahal completing the runners and riders in eleventh place. The eleven drivers would end the day separated by just under nine-tenths of a second.
Of course, lap-times must be taken with a sizable grain of salt as the Sebring short circuit is not really representative of any circuit on the actual 2019 calendar. Additionally, drivers will not have been going for out and out pace during the day, instead wanting to get used to their cars and their potential new teams ahead of the season-opener in March.
Another small test is set to take place at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on February 8. Following that, the first full official test will take place from February 12-13 at the Circuit of the Americas.
The 2019 NTT IndyCar season will get under-way with the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, March 10.
2019 NTT IndyCar Series – Sebring pre-season test – results:
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