February 21, 2012 | By Marshall Pruett - SPEED
Barber Test Update, Monday
Courtesy of Speed.com
Cold ambient temperatures delayed serious running at Alabama's Barber Motorsports Park until the latter half of Monday's activities, and by the end of the day, Team Penske's Will Power sat atop the unofficial time sheets with a 1:11.2-second lap in his Dallara DW12-Chevrolet.
The Aussie earned pole position for the race last April in the previous generation Indy car with a lap of 1:11.4.
“It felt great today,” Power told SPEED.com. “Tires obviously make a lot of difference. I’ve done a [1:0]9.2 here before a few years ago, but you can really only compare based on what tires you’re on, I guess. We didn’t turn a lot of laps--I didn’t get out until later in the afternoon--but you can feel that everything is continually improving with the car, the engine--everything.”
Reigning champion Dario Franchitti had his day end in a less fulfilling manner as the Scot had a high-speed off at Turn 1 in his Honda-powered Target Chip Ganassi Racing entry.
A combination of new tires, a cool track and the rush of turbo power snapped his car sideways, sending his Dallara skating into the wall with the right side of the car.
Franchitti told SPEED.com he was unhurt in the crash, and that his mechanics were able to affect quick repairs to have the car ready for Tuesday, the final day of running at Barber.
Scott Dixon fared better than his teammate, but didn’t get in much running as the team overcame a few issues and also spent time converting his car over from the standard suspension to try the updated a-arms produced by Dallara to alleviate some of the DW12’s excessive rear weight bias.
“I got in about an hour on the new suspension towards the end of the day,” said the Kiwi. “I think the big difference on the new suspension will be seen on the ovals. On the road course, it still feels like you want more weight on the front of the car, but we’ll keep working with it to see what we can learn tomorrow.”
Justin Wilson got the chance to turn his first meaningful laps in Dale Coyne's Dallara DW12-Honda, and reportedly came within a half-second of Power's best lap.
“We got about 50 laps in and make a little bit of progress,” said Wilson. “There’s obviously a lot of work to do to make it into something that suits my style. It’s an interesting puzzle to try and understand this new car.”
The Formula One, Champ Car and IndyCar Series veteran said he’s trying to apply all of his experience to help the Coyne team find its way to the car’s sweet spot as quickly as possible.
“It’s got a lot of downforce, and we all know about the weight distribution issues, so we’re just looking at how to work with what it does well and to find solutions for areas that can be improved,” he said. “It has a lot of mid-corner understeer right now, and we’re just looking for a way to help cure that without hurting the tires. Working with [DCR engineer] Bill Pappas again is great; it’s like we’ve just resumed where we left off in 2009, so I’m sure we’ll get the car sorted before long.”
Wilson’s last taste of turbo power came at the Champ Car series finale at Long Beach in 2008, and after four seasons of using Honda’s naturally aspirated V8 engine, he said it’s taking time to adjust to the different power delivery characteristics of Honda’s single-turbo 2.2-liter V6.
“Around here, you really feel it push you back into your seat, which is more than I expected,” he explained. “It takes some time to get the timing down—to time when you want the power to come in with how you apply the throttle—but it’s becoming more natural the more laps I do.”
His teammate, James Jakes, completed very few laps on his first day in the DW12 after Honda Performance Development called for a precautionary engine change. Jakes completed installation laps at the end of Monday with a new engine in preparation for a full day of activity tomorrow.
As Power mentioned, tires played a major role in the speeds produced so far at Barber. With Firestone offering a variety of compounds to choose from as it zeroes in on a preferred race tire, teams found differences of more than one second per lap depending on which tires were used.
Sam Schmidt Motorsports’ Simon Pagenaud told SPEED.com he and the team spent the day working through a variety of setup options, rather than trying to set lap records.
“I’m pretty happy with the day,” he said. “We made a lot of changes…a lot of changes. The car ran flawlessly and we were pretty quick, too, but that wasn’t a goal. We still have to try different stiffness and softness levels, but we’re getting a handle on it.”
While some teams struggled when changing between the sticky 2011 Motegi tires and the harder 2011 Barber tires on Monday, Pagenaud was pleased that he and his engineers found a balance that minimized the drop in performance between sets.
“We were close on lap times from one set to another—I’m pretty pleased about it,” he continued. “And at the end of the day, we’re all going to be racing here on the same tires. That’s what sports car racing taught me. Just focus on what you’re doing and what feels right for you. That’s what I’m going to aim for. I’m not worried about being P1 tomorrow or trying to maximize one type of tire. I just want to come out of these tests with a clear understanding of which direction we’re heading, and I think the team is going a very good job of that already.”
Rahal Letterman Lanigan also made its 2012 debut with new driver Takuma Sato as Luca Filippi, his possible RLL teammate, looked on.
With Monday serving mostly as a shakedown for the team's DW12-Honda, the Japanese driver was satisfied with how their program went.
“It was a good start, especially since it was our very first day,” he said. “It was nice to see all the boys and engineers and run through the things we prepared over the winter. Although it was a little bit of a slow start since the car was just shook down but I think that is natural. I am pleased to see the car runs straight away and we were able to check that every function is working. Barber is a very challenging track. There is a lot of work to do but we will go over the data tonight and continue to work on it tomorrow.”
A.J. Foyt Racing's Mike Conway, along with Penske's Helio Castroneves and Ganassi's Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball also turned laps on Monday.
Check back on Tuesday for the next testing update from Barber.