If there was one thing that was apparent Wednesday, it was that the people managing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, got it right, very right.
Drivers, without exception, gave glowing reviews to the newly engineered road course at the Brickyard.
Coming off of the first three races of the new IndyCar season, contests on the street courses at St. Petersburg and Long Beach, followed by a road course run at Barber Motorsports Park, the Grand Prix at Indianapolis appears to be the right race, at the right venue, at the right time.
Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan turned the ceremonial first lap of the new 2.439-mile, 14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, but he was quickly was joined by 24 other eager Verizon IndyCar Series drivers during an Open Test. It didn’t faze the drivers that they were crossing the Yard of Bricks on the front straight in a clockwise direction.
Five hours of track time provided drivers and teams an opportunity to get a baseline for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis practice sessions May 8, when lap times will be considerably more crucial. The three rounds of qualifications are May 9 and the standing start for the 82-lap race is at 3:43 p.m. (ET) May 10.
Less than 24 hours later is the initial practice for the 98th Indianapolis 500 – in a counter-clockwise direction on the 2.5-mile oval.
Reigning series champion Scott Dixon jumped to the top of the time chart on the last of his 46 laps in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car at 1:09.5969, while Simon Pagenaud was third (1:09.7544) in the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports car and posted the most laps (57). Three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves (1:10.0209) was fourth in the No. 3 Verizon Team Penske car, and Ryan Hunter-Reay (1:10.0237) was fifth in the No. 28 DHL car for Andretti Autosport.
The top 19 cars were separated by less than a second.
Will Power, the pole sitter three days earlier for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car, topped the morning session time chart at 1:11.2128 seconds as teams and drivers made multiple car adjustments to pair with the hardest compound of Firestone primary tires (also to be used at Mid-Ohio in August). The alternate red tires, which trade more grip for quicker degradation, will be available for race weekend.
The new track received high marks for its flow and racability, which will be enhanced when more tire rubber is laid in the turns. Section times included 196 mph down the front straight into the sharp right-hand Turn 1 and 184 mph on the Hulman Boulevard straight entering the left-hand Turn 7.
Defending Verizon IndyCar Series Champion, Scott Dixon (in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet said: “I’ve obviously got a big smile on my face. The track was so much fun today. The thing they captured, it’s a demanding circuit. The cars all seem very close which is going to create some fantastic racing. These big straights, I think Brazil is probably the only other time we’ve had a straight similar length like this. You’re actually a lot lower here. The sections, especially (Turns) 7, 8, 9, 10 keeps you on your toes. I’m really impressed with how everything’s gone. Even the curbing, they’ve done a fantastic job.”
“Driving the car it doesn’t feel strange because you’re focused on hitting your marks. But every time I’m on pit lane and looking at the cars going out it just doesn’t look right,” said Ryan Briscoe, who was second quickest overall at 1 minute, 9.6558 seconds in the No. 8 NTT Data car for Ganassi Racing. “It’s just a lot of fun to drive and fun to be learning a new track. Passing is going to be really good because the brake zones are so big and heavy, Turn 1 and down the Hulman Boulevard straight into Turn 7 will be big passing zones. You come out of Turn 4, sort of a medium-speed corner, and then flat out through a chicane going up through the gears almost as fast as the front straight into another big brake zone. You have those two corners and overall it’s really fast and flowing and lots of changes of direction.”
Juan Pablo Montoya, Indianapolis 500 winner in 2000 and a six-time competitor on the road course while racing in Formula One stated: “First I have to say that the track is phenomenal. They did a great job with it and it’s a lot if fun. The No. 2 Verizon Chevy was pretty solid today. We have some areas that we want to work on when we get back, but we have a good place to start. Some areas of the track have low grip and some have a lot of grip. So we just need to find that balance for the race.”
Originally laid out for the Formula One race from 200-07, the road course underwent a $5 million reconfiguration and infrastructure upgrade that includes new viewing mounds for spectators looking over the oval Turn 2. Hundreds utilized the vantage spots during the test day under mostly cloudy skies.
The test marked the first time that Justin Wilson made clockwise laps at the facility since his 2003 Formula One appearance when he finished eighth for Jaguar Grand Prix. “It’s a challenging track, trying to get the power down and get the entries just right,” said Wilson, driving the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing entry. “I think this new track is going to be a lot better. The corners leading into the back straight give you a lot of options and so does the corner leading into the front straight, so you can definitely try and set something up and the straights are long enough that you can definitely make something happen.”
Added Hunter-Reay, the race winner at Barber Motorsports Park: “I’m really excited about the course; it’s a lot of fun in the race car. Big, long straights leading to tight corners will lead to plenty of passing. I think it’s going to make for a great show.”
Graham Rahal, in the No. 15 National Guard Honda, who had done the initial testing of the course several week ago, explained in depth his testing for the day: “This is one of the best road courses we go to. I had a blast out there. The last section – Turns 7, 8, 9 and 10 are a hoot. The speed on the straight is up over 190 mph and it’s the fastest place we go already and we didn’t expect that at all. When we pulled out to do our install lap I came in and told them I thought we were out of gear already so that’s why we didn’t run the first hour and 20 minutes. I think the race will be really good, there will be a lot of passing. We (drivers) all gave our input. I told them what I thought and Kanaan clearly had a lot of voice in this as did Briscoe who was here with me at the initial test and gave Derrick (Walker) some ideas of what we thought needed to be done. Pretty much what we mentioned then is what we have now. It is really fun. I hope we get a great crowd because I can tell you we will put on a good show here. The thing that makes this different is that it’s IMS. This place genuinely cares about making a good race track. The curbs are phenomenal as is the layout. Unfortunately our day ended early when we had a problem with something engine related.”
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Data and Photos Courtesy of IndyCar — Photos by Chris Jones and Chris Owens