FORT WORTH, Texas (May 3, 2016) – The following is an event recap with photo and video links from Tuesday’s test session at Texas Motor Speedway featuring 15 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers preparing for the Firestone 600 on Saturday, June 11.
Fifteen drivers representing five Verizon IndyCar Series organizations participated in a one-day private test session that was scheduled for 9 a.m.-6 p.m. CT on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval. The drivers were on hand to gather data and information in preparation for the Firestone 600 on Saturday evening, June 11, and represented more than two thirds of the entire Verizon IndyCar Series full-time starting field.
Those drivers that participated in the test session were Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske; Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton of Chip Ganassi Racing Teams; Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport; Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden of Ed Carpenter Racing; and Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
The teams also tested with the new dome skids, a safety feature that mounts beneath the Dallara DW12 chassis and runs the full length of the floor, on the 1.5-mile oval. The dome skids are in place for superspeedways such as Texas Motor Speedway as a safety device to create additional downforce and diminish the chances of the car becoming airborne in the event of a high-speed slide or spin.
While the majority of the test session was held with cars running individually or spaced in small groups, the teams agreed to run some group sessions for data beginning in the final two hours of the test. The group sessions were as large as 10 to 11 cars and the results showed the ability to run and pass in multiple lanes and extremely close side-by-side racing as exhibited particularly by Munoz and Montoya running up front early in the group session.
It is not surprising that a Team Penske driver would be atop the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings after four races, but it is unexpected that it happens to be the least accomplished of the powerhouse quartet. Simon Pagenaud has hit full stride in his second full season at Team Penske after coming over from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to join three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves, two-time Indy 500 and CART champion Juan Pablo Montoya and Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power.
Pagenaud opened the season with a pair of runner-up finishes and then followed with back-to-back victories at Long Beach and Barber Motorsports Park, respectively, to give him a commanding 48-point advantage over Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon.
“I’ve got to give him some foie gras, some wine so he can slow down a little bit,” Castroneves joked. “Good for him. The last year it was tough coming from a different team. This year he has been right up there and he has put himself in position and has taken advantage. Right now there is no question he is the man to beat.”
After multiple-win seasons and top-five finishes in the series championship with Schmidt Peterson in 2014 and ’15, Pagenaud struggled in the transition to his new organization. He was winless and finished 11th in the championship last season with Penske. A year later, he finds himself as the driver to beat at the outset of the season.
“There is not much (difference),” Pagenaud said. “It’s the exact same people. We just started from scratch last year. I joined the team and it was the first time Team Penske started a fourth team. We had to pull some mechanics from the other cars and get some new mechanics from other teams. We got Kyle Moyer, who came to be my strategist. The only known quantity was Ben (Bretzman), my engineer, and myself.
“But it takes a lot more than that to be competitive in INDYCAR racing. You need to be so perfect on the race weekend to win a race because competition is so high that you need to get everything right. It takes time. It’s just like joining a new company. It takes time to understand what your colleagues might mean. It takes time and the dynamics started last year. We had a lot of bad luck last year. There is luck and bad luck in racing. This year is the opposite – we’ve had good fortune. But we are also very strong. We will keep going and stay humble. It’s a long season.”
What They Are Saying
“It’s definitely a tricky place. It’s fun and I think you can see that by what everyone is doing. Everyone is out trying a lot of different things. Josef said some guys are working on qualifying stuff. When we come back here, we practice in the morning and qualify in the heat of the day and then practice. It’s hard to not get any non-traffic running when we come back here. I think you see a lot of guys trying to get part of their set-up sorted out so that when they come back they can focus solely on the race.” – Ed Carpenter on Texas Motor Speedway and Tuesday’s testing.
“I love this track, always have. I have always done well here except for last year. I think the key is to have multiple lanes. That will create a really good race as we saw in Fontana. The more lanes there are, the more clean air you can find. That’s the key.” – Will Power on what he expects when the Verizon IndyCar Series returns for the Firestone 600.
“I’ve got really strong teammates that keep me on my toes every day. You go into the race weekend feeling they are going to kick your ass and you are just fighting to not get your ass kicked. I think we all feel the same way.” – Juan Pablo Montoya on the strength and depth of Team Penske.
“They make a difference. My car is pretty loose here. It was really loose during testing at Indy. The guys that tell you it doesn’t make a difference are lying to be honest. There is obviously some politics going on. The Chevy guys don’t want the sidewalls, but we need it. It definitely affects my car a lot, but we are going to keep working hard and put our heads down and try to make the best of it. I hate that this has become a topic of conversation. We should be talking about how great the Indy 500 is; instead we are talking about dome skids. Nobody even knows what the heck that is.” – Graham Rahal on the dome skids that the teams tested Tuesday at Texas Motor Speedway and that also will be used in the Indy 500.
“I’m not going to go into a Honda versus Chevrolet dispute, but my thing is that I was the one upside down last year (at Indy) and no question that’s what we are looking for with safety. It doesn’t matter what car it is; we are looking to make sure that when you have the dome skid when the car is sideways. It adds at least 500 to 1,000 pounds more downforce, which means you are going to keep the car on the ground. That’s basically what we are doing. I feel the IndyCar Series is doing the right thing to test that. The dome skid is not going to hurt the quality of the racing. Right now, there seems to be a big challenge between Chevy and Honda with the aero kit. I think this is more about that. I still don’t think it’s going to hurt.” – Helio Castroneves on the dome skids.
“I hope not!” – Tony Kanaan’s joking reaction to the question if teammate and four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was getting better at this stage of his career.
Team Penske driver Will Power will be looking to win the pole position for the fourth consecutive year at the upcoming Firestone 600. He has won the last three poles to move him into a tie with Tomas Scheckter as the all-time leader for INDYCAR pole positions at Texas Motor Speedway with three. Power’s best finish in that pole-winning stretch was runner-up to winner Ed Carpenter in 2014 when the Australian led a race-high 145 laps.
Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon is the defending champion of the Firestone 600, earning his second career win at Texas Motor Speedway last season. His other win came in 2008 when he went wire-to-wire after winning the pole. Dixon is one of five drivers with multiple victories at Texas Motor Speedway. Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves leads the way with four. … Chevy was represented at the test by 10 drivers (Penske, Ganassi, Carpenter) while Honda had five (Andretti and Rahal, Letterman, Lanigan). … The test session was the first appearance on Texas Motor Speedway’s high-banked, 1.5-mile oval for Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton. Castroneves has made the most career starts among the drivers that tested Tuesday, with 18. Dixon and Tony Kanaan are next at 16. … The weather for the test session was sunny and in the mid-70s throughout the day. The average temperature for the June 11 race date of the Firestone 600 hovers around 90 degrees.