BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The initial pre-season test for all 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series participants brought new excitement with the introduction of the Chevrolet and Honda bodywork aero kits.
Twenty-three drivers eagerly tested March 16 on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park road course.
“It’s really a new era,” Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud said before the first session.
The two-day test is designed to prepare teams and drivers for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 29 (3 p.m. ET, ABC), which will mark the competition debut of the road/street course and short oval aero components.
While development is still underway for each driver in the high-downforce platforms, performance gains are already noticeable as teams have begun tailoring the cars to specific preferences in conjunction with optimal track performance.
Pagenaud, driving the No. 22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet, topped the morning lap time chart at 1 minute, 7.7456 seconds. His time was six-tenths of a second quicker than the 2014 Verizon P1 Award-winning time of new teammate Will Power. Scott Dixon, who has finished second or third in the five races at Barber Motorsports Park, lowered the lap time in the waning minutes of the low-80-degree afternoon at 1:07.4805. Pagenaud was second quick in the afternoon at 1:07.5329.
Dixon holds the track record of 1:06.7750 set in Round 1 of qualifying on April 6, 2013.
“I think both cars (Chevrolet and Honda) are very different, which for the fans and series will be exciting. Honestly, I don’t care what it looks like as long as it’s fast,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. “It’s been a significant change in drivability or how to attack the car with all the downforce. We’re working with balance issues, weight distributions and just trying to feel out some of the changes with the aero kit and the loads changing significantly with the corner speeds. All in all, a decent day. We still have plenty to test tomorrow and try to find some extra things for when we come back for the race in April.”
Power, the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion in the No. 1 Team Penske Chevrolet, was third overall (1:07.5495). Teammates Juan Pablo Montoya (1:07.6266) and Helio Castroneves (1:07.7703) were fourth and fifth on the end-of-day results. Ryan Hunter-Reay, who handled the bulk of the on-track development work in the six manufacturer test sessions between October and January, was the quickest Honda driver (1:07.8494).
“It’s almost like you’re starting with a new car,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2012 series champion. “To make the DW12 kit work in its format, you had to make it turn and do things a certain way. Now the aero kit puts load on the car in a certain way and its own way.
“It’s a work in progress, which is what testing and development is about. We have another day here at Barber and testing next week at Sebring, but you feel when you’re in the car that every lap is critical because you’re one step closer to the season beginning. Once the season starts, there’s no more testing. We have a lot of bits to work out.”
Aero kit testing will remain at Barber Motorsports Park through March 17, beginning at 11 a.m. ET and concluding at 7 p.m. ET. Teams will continue development of the package next week in private testing at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway and NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, La.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet): “Barber is a very fast track and it’s one of the tracks where you will see the most out of the new kits. When it gets fully rubbered up and we try to run as much downforce as possible it will be very physical around this place. It’s going to be quite a challenge. I already feel it in my neck.”
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda): “Today was good. We got through a lot of things we wanted to test. It’s kind of frustrating not being the quickest Honda now that we have been a couple of times. I think we’re creeping up on this though. At the end of the day, on the theoreticals, we’re quickest so we need to put the lap together. I think one of the things we’re suffering with a little bit is the consistency of the car from one lap to the next and that’s what we’re going to have to work on tomorrow. We’re working through a lot. The guys are working extremely hard and I think things are looking pretty good.”