February 22, 2012 | By Marshall Pruett - SPEED
Barber Test Update, Tuesday
Courtesy of Speed.com
The 11 drivers completing the final day of testing at the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park road course were met with slightly warmer conditions on Tuesday, which ended with Ganassi Racing’s Graham Rahal posting the fastest lap of the day.
After the track dried from a quick spell of rain, teams got down to business, with Rahal’s 1:09.96-second lap around the 17-turn facility in his Dallara DW12-Honda also serving as the best of the two-day test.
Rahal’s time was shadowed by Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon, who turned a 1:10.07 at the end of the day while sampling Dario Franchitti’s sister Target car.
“We went out pretty early,” Rahal told SPEED.com. “It sprinkled a little bit around 9 a.m., but we were out by 10. We ran a little bit more today than we did yesterday, but that being said, we spent more time going through some big changes today. Overall, things are running really well and the Honda engine has been really good.
"The car has a lot of grip and there’s still a long way to go. The car’s impressive. Over the past couple years, the times I’m running now here are way quicker [based on using similar tires].”
As Rahal continues to establish himself within the Ganassi organization, his comfort level with the new car and the direction he and engineer Martin Pare are headed is also growing at an impressive rate.
“Everything went well,” he affirmed. “We’re making really good strides. We’re just trying to find what the car likes and what it doesn’t. We had a little bit of both today; we’re working hard and methodically on everything we’re doing.
“And I think we’re starting to figure the car out. It’s been tricky. You can kind of get it into the ballpark, but the fine tuning seems to be a bit harder. That’s the way it is and we’ve got to make the best of it, but I think we’re doing pretty good with everything right now.”
Just as teams found on Monday, the different soft and hard Firestone tire compounds being evaluated make direct comparisons between lap times a challenge. The general impression given by drivers was that the harder (and slower) Barber 2011 compound didn’t seem to suit the DW12, while the softer Motegi 2011 tires seemed to complement the car’s more nimble handling traits.
Based on driver feedback, it’s believed the Barber 2012 tires will be modeled off of the softer Motegi compound. In addition to tire testing, a new ECU software revision from McLaren also underwent calibration and development at Barber.
Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves was third-fastest on Tuesday, posting a 1:10.27 to teammate Will Power’s 1:10.3.
“I felt today a lot of cars went under the pole position (1:11.4) from last year, and that proved the car is fast,” Castroneves told SPEED.com. “It’s still new, it’s still a way’s [to go] to develop it, but I feel extremely competitive now. Everybody is turning similar times—fast times—and it was good competition between Chevy and Honda. They are pushing each other very hard, and you see this in the times. We still have many things to improve like the drivability, but I’m really excited.”
The open-wheel veteran also commented on how much the busy 2012 testing schedule reminded him of his days in CART.
“It’s been quite a long time since we’ve had this kind of action,” he said. “People are testing here and Texas and Sebring and Sonoma…it’s great to have this engine competition because everybody is out testing and learning. It reminds you of the old days when it was like this all the time. It’s pretty cool. That’s what we need. We didn’t used to be driving for six months [between seasons], so this is keeping us active and fresh and fit.”
Splitting the two Chevrolet-powered Penske cars was A.J. Foyt Racing’s Mike Conway, who led Monday’s running with a 1:10.7 and lowered it to a 1:10.29 on Tuesday.
The Rahal Letterman Lanigan team learned a lot during its first test with its DW12-Honda and its new driver, Takuma Sato, who ran a best of 1:11.57 today.
“We got a lot of running in, more today than yesterday, and we learned a lot about the car,” said Jay O’Connell, RLL’s technical director. “We tried different setup directions to see how sensitive the car is because it’s a new animal. The test here shows us that we are getting to understand the new car and we’re looking forward to getting another two days in Sebring to keep learning and getting dialed in with a different set up. Barber was about working on road course setup and Sebring will be more about street course setup to get ready for the first race in St. Pete.”
Dale Coyne Racing’s James Jakes spent most of Monday on the sidelines, and used Tuesday’s activities to get acclimated to his DW12-Honda and his new engineer, John Dick.
“It was a bit of a disappointment yesterday; we only got to do a few laps, but this is the first time I’ve driven since October so we spent some time shaking out the cobwebs and shaking down my car for the season,” he said. “I did 65 laps, I believe, and it was a good day. I needed it. March 25th is coming ever closer.”
Jakes, a veteran of Dallara machinery from his time in Euro F3 and GP2, said Dallara’s DW12 chassis was immediately familiar to drive.
“It feels a lot like the cars in Europe--left-foot braking, the clutch is on the steering wheel, carbon brakes; it was nice from that standpoint,” he explained. “It was nice to get back to that kind of technology and I look forward to using it here in the IndyCar Series.”
Working with the returning Justin Wilson also gave the 24-year-old Briton a glimpse of what the two can achieve within Coyne’s fortified program this year.
“It was good,” he said. “I’ve known Justin a little bit from England. I think we have very similar driving styles, which will work well. With him coming on board, and the new engineers Dale brought on and Honda joining on, it was the logical choice to stay here.”