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Friday Sebring Spring Training Report

Courtesy of Speed.com

The IZOD IndyCar Series ended its week of Spring Training at Sebring with a blend of the predictable and the unexpected.

To the surprise of very few, Team Penske was the fastest during split Monday-Tuesday test segment, while Target Chip Ganassi held sway over the Thursday-Friday portion of the event. But within both camps, the fastest drivers weren’t the usual suspects.
For those expecting Ganassi’s Dario Franchitti or Graham Rahal, or Penske’s Will Power to assert themselves in the final pre-season open test, a certain New Zealander and a Brazilian had plans of their own.

Ganassi's Scott Dixon topped the Friday afternoon session with a lap of 51.79, meaning the Kiwi led three of the four sessions Thursday-Friday, while Helio Castroneves did just the same on Monday-Tuesday, leading three of four sessions.

Dixon and Castroneves were fortunate to run trouble-free while Franchitti lost most of Thursday morning to fitment issues and Power ended both days prematurely with engine bay fires.

Dixon matched his 51.79 from Thursday morning, giving an early glimpse of what might be a more familiar sight from the two-time series champion in 2012.

"Overall it was a good day for Team Target,” he said. “We made a big suspension change at lunch time, and I actually didn't like all of that stuff, but we came out around 3 p.m., and didn't have time to go back on those things, so we stuck with it. We made steering changes and damper changes and seem to find a bit of a compromise for what we had. Today was more a day of learning about the new car and trying to soak up as much as we can before St. Pete."

Franchitti ran second with a 52.01 and echoed Dixie’s comments.

"We're trying to learn the new car, what might break on them, where the weak spots are, how to make them go fast,” he said. “Honda is learning very quickly too so we're just trying to get through all of this stuff just now. I'm very happy with the two days we've had, obviously the first two days for me right from break-in, we had a lot of questions coming in to this test and we got answers to most of them, so hopefully we can put the pieces together for St. Pete and onwards."

KV Racing’s Rubens Barrichello led the Chevrolet-powered teams once again, posting the third-fastest lap with a 52.22 and felt he made big strides in understanding the nuances of an Indy Car versus Formula One machinery.

“I was able to see how the car reacts coming in on warm tires and leaving on cold tires and seeing where to position the car, all things that are very different to what I am used to,” he said. “Overall though, we have had a very good two days of testing.”

A.J. Foyt Racing’s promising pre-season continued Friday afternoon as new driver Mike Conway and his new engineer, Don Halliday, produced a lap of 52.22—just .001 behind Barrichello—which was good enough for fourth.

Ganassi’s Graham Rahal was fifth with a 52.46 and shared his thoughts on the limited returns the Sebring short course offers teams in terms of useful setup information.

“The track here at Sebring doesn't really resemble any place that we go,” he said. “It's bumpy like a street course, but it has so much grip that it's not realistic. We're pleased with the performance and looking forward to going to Barber and St. Pete. I think we'll be awfully competitive, so it's good."

Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Takuma Sato was sixth, posting a 52.55-second lap as he and the team continued to jell.

“It was another good day,” he said. “The wind stayed calm and the track condition was quite consistent so we were able to evaluate various setups and collected good data. It was limited what you could do with one car, but we achieved a good number of laps and the test went very smoothly so it was productive.”

Panther Racing’s JR Hildebrand took seventh with a 52.65, adding another Chevrolet-powered car to mix as he and engineer David Cripps made steady progress with the Dallara DW 12 package.

“We felt good all day today and made it through a lot of stuff the last two days,” he said. “We did back-to-back new tire runs this morning and the quick time we ran–for the time of the day it was–and on used tires wasn’t too bad.”

.0033 behind Hildebrand (the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights Champion) was Josef Newgarden, the 2011 FILS title winner. Newgarden turned a 52.65 in only his second day behind the wheel of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Honda-powered entry, making his eighth-fastest lap that much more impressive.

“It’s pretty cool,” said the 21-year-old native of Tennessee. “It’s an Indy car! Not many people get to drive an Indy car in their life, and I think it’s pretty phenomenal that I get to work with this great group. I really feel that way. I’m just really excited to be with these guys.”

Ganassi’ Charlie Kimball trailed the SFHR car with a 52.73 and KV Racing’s E.J. Viso rounded out the top 10 with a 52.79.

Lotus DRR’s Oriol Servia was fastest of the three Lotus-powered cars Friday afternoon, cracking the 53-second mark with a 52.91

"Yesterday, I wasn't too happy,” he said. “We didn't make the progress that we had wanted to. The truth is, when you are trying new things that you haven't tried before you cannot always hope that they will be better. Today on the other hand, we did make some progress on both the car and engine. We will see, there is still quite a bit of improvement left to be made by St. Pete, but all we can do is just keep trying."

Tony Kanaan’s two days of frustration came to an end with a lap that nearly matched Servia’s, but fell short by .0017, leaving the KV Racing driver 12th with a 52.91-second lap.

Bryan Herta Autosport’s Alex Tagliani posted a 53.15-second lap in his Lotus-powered car, and cited the growth of BHA’s team structure as the most positive aspect of Spring Training.

"Obviously we wish we were faster but we knew exactly where we were losing most of our lap times,” he said. “Overall though, my team worked very well together and I look forward to working with these guys for the 2012 season."

Ed Carpenter took almost one second off his best lap from Friday morning with a 53.47 in the afternoon, and came away feeling positive about his team’s on-track debut.

“All in all, it was a good two-day start for the team,” he said. “We had a few hiccups during the two days but we wanted to get in some testing for the car, engine and the crew. We missed some time each day with a couple of teething pains as everything was new. You always want to be better, but for the amount of new stuff that we’re dealing with, from the car, to the engine to all the new people, I was encouraged by the team effort this week.”

Dragon Racing’s Katherine Legge took over the team’s Dallara DW12-Lotus from teammate Sebastien Bourdais in the afternoon session, turning 45 laps with a best of 53.81 seconds to round out the 15 runners.

"We're a ways behind even the other Lotus teams," Legge told SPEED.com, "but we're making good progress. I'm happiest that the team is really coming together quickly; everybody is pulling in the same direction, which is important at this early stage."

Ganassi's Dario Franchitti is quickly becoming more in-sync with his new Dallara DW12-Honda, posting the fastest time Friday morning with a 52.14-second lap.

With his new right-foot brake pedal assembly in place, the four-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion says finding the last little bits of speed with the car is now possible.

"It's just learning and more learning," he told SPEED.com. "We're looking for those small bits of time that weren't there before with the old [brake pedal] setup. That's the main thing we're focused on at the moment."

One of Franchitti's new rivals, ex-Formula One man Rubens Barrichello, continues to lead the Chevrolet-powered KV Racing team on the time charts, posting a 52.16 to slightly trail the Scot.

Panther Racing's JR Hildebrand has crept up to the pace in testing at Sebring, and found more speed Friday morning, running third with a lap of 52.20 seconds in the sunny, 80-degree Florida weather.

Scott Dixon, Franchitti's teammate, set the fourth-fastest lap with a 52.22-second tour, followed by A.J. Foyt Racing's Mike Conway in fifth.

Conway's 52.38-second lap gave Honda a 1-2-4-5 in the morning session.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan's Takuma Sato made it 1-2-4-5-6 for Honda with a 52.384 (to Conway's .382), and KV's E.J. Viso went seventh with a 52.69-second lap.

Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's Josef Newgarden made steady improvement overnight, placing eighth on the team's second-ever day of running with the Dallara DW12-Honda with a lap of 52.83 seconds.

Ganassi's Charlie Kimball was slightly behind his fellow Firestone Indy Lights graduate with a 52.87-second lap in his Honda-powered entry, and Bryan Herta Autosport's Alex Tagliani closed out the top 10 with a 52.93-second lap, the first of the Lotus-engined cars.

Like the SFHR team, BHA is in its second day of testing with its car and ran a rather impressive lap to encourage the Lotus camp.

Lotus DRR's Oriol Servia was the first driver in the 53-second bracket, posting a 53.22-second lap and Graham Rahal, who has been towards the top at most tests during the off season, was back in 12th.

Sebastien Bourdais took over from Katherine Legge in Dragon Racing's Dallara DW12-Lotus on Friday morning, turning a 53.29-second lap.

Tony Kanaan's frustrating test continued as the 2004 IndyCar Series champion placed 14th with a 53.50.

Ed Carpenter rounded out the running order with a lap of 54.35 seconds.

IndyCar's Spring Training is set to conclude at the end of this afternoon's session.

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