April 04, 2012 | By Tom Surber
Team, Drivers Happy With Test Of New Car At IMS
Nine teams jump-started their preparation for the 96th Indianapolis 500 by testing the new IZOD IndyCar Series car Wednesday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Participating teams and the INDYCAR engine group gathered data regarding handling characteristics and performance levels from their Chevrolet and Honda-powered cars.
One car/driver combination from each team was invited to participate. Driving Chevrolet-powered 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engines in their Dallara chassis were Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing), Tony Kanaan (KV Racing Technology), Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport), JR Hildebrand (Panther Racing) and Helio Castroneves (Team Penske).
Driving Honda-powered cars were Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing), Takuma Sato (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), Mike Conway (A.J. Foyt Racing) and Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing).
The cars were run in the Speedway configuration, with the new rear-wheel guards that are taller, lighter and have a slightly different shape than the sets being used on the road/street circuits and the oval races at Texas Motor Speedway, Iowa Speedway and The Milwaukee Mile.
The new IZOD IndyCar Series car will make its competitive oval debut Sunday, May 27 at the 96th Indianapolis 500.
Quotes from selected participants during the midday media availability:
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 GEICO/Mouser Electronics KVRT w/ SH Dallara/Chevrolet)
Q: What was it like out there?
TK: It felt faster than the (previous) test that we did. I went out of the pits and went flat out right away, so I have to say that the aero kit is definitely a little bit better. I was struggling at the end of last year here, so obviously the engine manufacturers are trying to dial in much of the things that they want to try to do, and in one day I don’t think we’ll be able to do it all, but it felt good. I think some other drivers did a little bit more laps, but this is what this test is for. I don’t think we’re going to see many laps, but were going to see some quality drivers giving positive feedback so when we come back here in May we can have the right stuff.
Q: May is always a difficult month, but how much tougher will it be trying to dial in a whole new car?
TK: It will be hard. You can see how competitive it has been already, and once we get here, it’ll be all new to everybody. It’s a new aero kit and a new engine, and there’s so many things that can happen that are unknown, and this place makes it hard just being this place. I don’t know if I can describe how hard it’s going to be because there’s no easy time here at the Speedway, even with a 10-year-old car that you’ve run for 10 years in a row or with a new car. So it is going to be hard.
Q: What’s the difference in body-part configuration here at the Speedway compared to on the road courses? Are there pieces you can change?
TK: Definitely. The front wing is not the two-element wing, and obviously you can see the rear wing. It’s one main plane and it’s very low, so I would say there a lot of things that are different. If you look at the cars, they look slick. They look a lot faster in the Speedway configuration. I have to say I like the new aero kit. It looks like the Batmobile and it’s kind of aggressive, and I kind of like it.
Q: Does the car feel like it’s more predictable now?
TK: It was more balanced than it was last year, and that’s what it is. We worked on it, we talked about it, and I know some people criticized us at the beginning of the year and the end of last year. It’s a new car that we’ve got to figure out. Dallara did a great job, along with Will Phillips (INDYCAR vice president of technology) and the people from INDYCAR, and it’s helping. It’s going in the right direction and making the car better. We’re drivers and we’re always going to complain, but it’s definitely better than last year.
JR HILDEBRAND (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Dallara/Chevrolet)
Q: How was it?
JH: We feel all right about the stability and all of that kind of stuff with the car, and it’s just a matter of seeing where the speed kind of ends up once we get going. We’re just getting a good feel for kind of where everything’s at and how everything feels, and how confident do you want to be right away. There’s a lot of times you come to a place like this thinking like it’s going to feel really good, we’re going to go out and it’s going to be flat and blah, blah, blah; and you’ve got to know it’s going to be there before you actually do it, but we’re feeling really good right now.
Q: Is the rear wing like the old wings that you can flatten out, or is it set in one area?
JH: The rear wing is just as flexible in terms of where you want to run it. It’ll run anywhere from positive numbers to minus-10. So there’s definitely a lot of room to play with there. It’s just a little bit of an unknown for us right now because this is our first true oval test with the current package and all that kind of stuff of how effective all those things are really going to be. With the previous car, you’d take a degree of wing out of the thing and you could go a mile-an-hour faster right away as long as the rest of your settings were sort of on par. Whereas with this car, it’s yet to be seen whether it’s that sensitive, and we’ve just got to kind of figure that out.
Q: Even with John Barnes (Panther Racing team manager) and all the experience he has here, with the brand-new car, isn’t he even starting at square one?
JH: Yeah. There’s definitely experience that rolls over from various different cars and combinations in the past that the team draws from, but in the end I don’t think any of us really know what the hot setup around this place is going to be with this car because things have been changing so quickly from an aerodynamic standpoint and all that kind of stuff. I guess having said that, I guess what ends up yielding good race cars is sort of an attitude and mentality that you have. This is a track that you have so much time to practice during the month of May that you can end up getting yourself spiraling out of control just doing tons of laps and getting confused. We’re going to try to take the smart approach and see what we get.
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet)
Q: What are you and your team trying to accomplish today?
HC: We want to build a good foundation here on the setup so that when we come back in the month of May that we start in a good way. Again, it’s a new car and the first time that I’m actually ever driving on the oval with this car, and it feels pretty good. It feels different, no question about it, because you’re so used to the other car. It’s like anything else when it’s new: You’ve got to develop. And right now that’s what we’re working together with the engine and the setup and everything else. Hopefully when we come back here, we’ll have the whole ingredients ready so that we can have a good month of May.
Q: How many changes are you anticipating from last year to this year’s new car?
HC: It’s a completely different setup. The engine is different. The approach of the speed is different. So there’s so many other things. Trust me, when we come back here, it’ll be a different thing, as well, but at the end of the day we’re all looking for the same goal, and I can’t wait to be back.
Q: What did you guys find in testing that has caused you to come out of the box so quickly this year?
HC: I guess we did our homework. Being in the right place and positioning myself in the right areas of the racetrack. I guess all the three cars (Team Penske), not only my group but everybody is really sharing everything we can. And we’re eager to be back on the top, and so far it’s been working.
Q: What has made you so comfortable in the car up to this point of the season?
HC: I did some adjustments for my driving style. Maybe the car, for me, is suiting right now. Or the team was able to make me feel more comfortable. I guess that combination helps, big time. I did have to change a little bit of my style of driving, and I guess the game is being played in my favor in some of the races. I’ll take it, and I’ll take it, big time. But at the end of the day, it’s a long championship, and we got to continue carrying this good momentum so we can take advantage of it.
Q: How much will your style have to change at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
HC: In the ovals, I believe it’ll be a little bit different because this is a new car. But when you’re driving inside the car, you probably have to be as smooth as a baby’s butt because this place, you’ve got to respect, and so far right now we’re a lot of respect, and hopefully this respect will pay back for us.
Q: What do you need to see out there to be comfortable when it comes to the race at IMS?
HC: Running in traffic is the biggest thing. Today we’re not looking for that. Today we’re just looking to start a new foundation of our setup so that when we come back in the month of May we can continue to move up. Certainly the most important day is the race, and you’ve got to be consistent, and that’s the key to be good here.
Q: It’s always great to come back here, isn’t it?
HC: Always. Always it’s great, and it brings a big smile on my face. This is a great place, and I just can’t wait to come back for the month of May.
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda)
Q: How did it go out there?
SD: We’ve kind of just went through some couple small engine issues just with the boost controls and minor things like that. I think we’ve done maybe a total of eight to 10 laps and nothing really at speed yet. So we’re kind of just working through some of the small stuff, and we’ve got to be careful because we’re running engines that we have to run for the next two races, as well. All in all, it’s pretty cool to be back out here at the Speedway and running around, and the cars definitely look drastically different. It’s been fun out here.
Q: Does the new car level the playing field a little bit?
SD: It does, and it doesn’t. I think some teams have definitely seemed to have it worked out a little bit more. I think the toughest issue has been actually testing at tracks that you don’t race at. They kind of send you down a winding, wooded path that you might not typically take. So it’s been tough. I know that a lot of things that we did at Sebring have kind of hurt us at St. Pete and Barber, and we’ve had to sort of quickly pull away from those things. I think some of the teams that maybe haven’t tested and stick with a generic kind of setup, maybe they’ve hit the track a little bit better.
Q: How do you think the car looks?
SD: It’s different. It seems like with the younger generation really like it, and for me I’m still getting used to it a bit, I think. It definitely looks really low and kind of streamlined in some ways, but I think when you actually physically see the car compared to the cars last year, they physically look quite a bit bigger. I think it’s something I’ll be getting to like a little more.
Q: Were you frustrated with how things ended last week at Barber?
SD: I was definitely frustrated after the race. I think we did a good job in having the pace and focusing on some areas, but we really let ourselves down, and at one point I didn’t even know we were racing (Will) Power. I thought he still had to pit before we made that last transition, so I think we have done a pretty decent job out of the blocks so far this season. With two second-place finishes, I think I’m already 50 points ahead of where I was last year, and that’s kind of nice.
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