February 27, 2012  |   By Marshall Pruett - SPEED

Power Posts 1:16.98 Lap To Lead Sunday At Sonoma

Courtesy of Speed.com

Reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti owns the outright series lap record at Infineon Raceway with his 1:16.47-second run to pole in 2010, but that could change when the series returns in August for its first race with the new turbo-powered Dallara DW12 chassis.

Team Penske’s Will Power--Franchitti’s championship nemesis since the 2010 season—came within a half-second of the Scot’s lap record on Sunday, posting a 1:16.98 in chilly conditions and standard tires.

With the benefit of the faster Firestone Red tires used in qualifying, Power reckoned the 2012 Indy cars could go even faster.

“I think by the time we come back to race at Infineon, I think low 1:16s are possible,” he told SPEED.com. “Maybe more. The Reds are worth a second themselves. The new car’s better in the fast corners and better under braking; that’s where we make up all the extra time.”

Ryan Briscoe, Power’s Team Penske teammate, went fastest on Saturday with a lap of 1:17.49, and came incredibly close to leading Day 2 with a 1:17.02-second tour around the 12-turn, 2.3-mile road course.

“The car feels great,” he said. “We pretty much repeated that time whenever we went out on new tires. That’s bloody quick around here, and that’s still on the standard hard tires. It’s impressive. The car’s a lot of fun to drive. It’s challenging as well. There’s a whole lot of development going on. It’s a whole new game for us at the moment.”

In a reversal of fortunes, Briscoe suffered an engine failure at the end Sunday, adding to the engine loss Power suffered mid-morning Saturday.

KV Racing’s E.J. Viso—fourth-fastest on Saturday—improved to third on Sunday, clocking a 1:17.82 to lead the team’s three drivers.

“We keep getting faster and faster,” he said. “I’m pretty impressed with the car in all the fast corners. We still haven’t figured out the car in the slow corners, so I’m happy with that time. The KV Racing team is working very hard right now and the teamwork is very good, too. The chemistry we have is amazing.”

Viso’s remarks about the DW12’s handling in slow corners match what many other drivers have said during pre-season testing. Its ever-present understeer is especially troublesome for drivers like Power and Viso who prefer a pointy car—one that turns sharply with a lot of weight on the nose.

Formula One legend Michael Schumacher registered similar complaints on his return to F1 with the Mercedes team, commenting that the car’s rear-heavy bias did not suit his driving style, while his teammate Nico Rosberg, who has a different driving style than the seven-time F1 champion, had few complaints about the car.

Within the Penske team, Briscoe’s driving style blends well with the rear-heavy DW12, while Power continues to seek the solution to make his car change direction faster in slow corners.

“I’m not trying to be negative, but the car’s just pretty average in the slow corners,” he said. “We keep working on it, and we’ve got some incredibly smart guys looking for answers, but we still can’t get around its understeer. The car’s amazing in fast corners, but in the slow ones...”

Viso, along with his teammates, worked through most known setup changes to cure low-speed understeer, but like most teams on pit lane, had limited success during the two-day test.

“We’ve done pretty much everything: Working with the diff, with [suspension] geometries, softening the front, stiffening the rear, toe [angles]; everything you can imagine,” he said. “We’re still struggling, but we’re not alone.”

The chassis setup work completed by KV Racing at Sonoma had its driving trio within .09 of each other. Rubens Barrichello, who told SPEED.com an announcement is forthcoming next week on whether he’ll join the IndyCar Series fulltime in 2012, set a 1:17.88-second lap in the morning to go fourth-fastest.

Tony Kanaan, who took over in the car for the afternoon, registered a 1:17.91-second lap.

"Once again I am very pleased to have been able to give the team my feedback on the car,” said Barrichello. “It was great to get to know the Infineon track, it was a hard track to learn, but if everything can fall into place and I do run with IndyCar and KV Racing Technology for the season, it has been very valuable.

"Tony was in the car this afternoon (he let me have another half day) and it’s great to work with a ‘brother’ that is keen to have me in the series. It has been a good couple of days and I am pleased. I hope I have helped the team further."

Barrichello and Kanaan were split by Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay, who ran a 1:17.89-second lap which was good enough for fifth on the day.

Panther Racing’s JR Hildebrand was close on times during Sunday’s morning session, but ECU irregularities limited the local resident’s running in the afternoon.

“We went through a lot of shock stuff in the morning doing back-to-back comparisons, and had a lot of fresh tires to use in the afternoon, but weren’t able to put them to use.”

The Panther team and Chevrolet made the decision to halt the testing activities before permanent damage occurred, leaving Hildebrand at with a best lap of 1:17.97 for the day.