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Getting Up Early, Getting Back on it at IMS

It was as if Justin Wilson couldn’t wait to wake up.

He arose at 6:30 a.m. Sunday in his motorhome parked in the infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“OK, let’s get this going,” Wilson thought to himself about Opening Day.

No driver was more eager to return to the famous track than the 36-year-old Brit, who has been in the Verizon IndyCar Series since 2008, but is making his season debut in his first race with Andretti Autosport.

“A little bit of nerves last night,” he said. “What’s it going to be like? New team, new environment, new body kit, a lot of new things. So you’re kind of anxious to get started and get rid of that new feeling and get it feeling like usual.”

Wilson is looking forward to Saturday’s Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the IMS road course, then his eighth Indianapolis 500 on May 24th. His best 500 finish was fifth in 2013.

“It’s fantastic to be back,” he said. “I’m pretty happy right now just to be back, back in a car, back in an Indy car. To be at the Speedway is icing on the cake. I’m really pleased. Obviously I’ve got a long month ahead with the road course and then the 500, but life’s good when you’re at the race track.”

Fellow competitors couldn’t agree more. Drivers took extra time in between morning runs to sign autographs and pose for pictures in Gasoline Alley.

“It’s great to be back,” said defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske. “It felt very good, comfortable, trying to work out this new body kit.”

Sunday was the first day for teams to test the new aero kits on the IMS oval.

“It’s one of the greatest places in the world, so for sure, it’s great to be back,” said KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais. “We’re just going to get into rhythm and hopefully get something we’re happy with.”

Ed Carpenter actually woke up earlier than Wilson.

“I got up at 6:15,” he said.

“I got up at 7,” said CFH Racing teammate Josef Newgarden. “I watched the (Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao) fight last night.”

Carpenter chuckled.

“I set my alarm for six,” he said. “Then I snoozed once. So that was 6:08. Then at 6:08, I actually reset the alarm to 6:15.”

It’s amazing how seven minutes can make a difference.

“It helps,” Newgarden said.

“I was eager,” Carpenter said, “but I was really tired and wanted to get that extra seven minutes.”

Newgarden, 24, was anxious to get to the Speedway. He’s coming off the first series victory of his 55-race career in last Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

Carpenter, 34, had two reasons to be equally excited.

“It’s great to be back and it’s fun to be back,” said the polesitter for the past two Indy 500s. “It’s always the favorite time of year for me. For one reason, just because it’s the Speedway. Two, it’s the first time I get back in the car, so that makes it even better.”

Like Wilson, Carpenter is making his season debut at Indy. He bypassed the series’ previous four races on road courses.

“I get kind of worried every now and then when it’s been a while, like there’s this paranoia that maybe I forgot how to do it,” Carpenter said. “Then I get in the car and it feels like that’s where you’re supposed to be again.”

Newgarden agreed.

“I think Ed’s right. You get a little bit of paranoia, like, ’Do I know how to do it?’” he said. “I haven’t even turned a lap yet. I just did the install check (in the morning). But going out of pit lane, I was thinking, ‘I hope that I’m doing the right things going out on the track.’ I think you always get that.”

Carpenter nodded.

“Indy is daunting, no matter how many times you’ve been here,” he said. “You’ve got to respect it. I think that’s what helps you keep getting better at it.”

So how long does it take for drivers to settle in?

“About three-quarters of a lap,” Carpenter said with a smile.

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