Even a spin and trip through the gravel couldn't slow down Helio Castroneves in the second and final day of the IZOD IndyCar Series Open Test on the Barber Motorsports Park road course. The Team Penske driver bettered his best lap time by more than a half-second in the final session to top the two-day test.
Castroneves' best lap (his 48th of 52) of 1:11.943 in the No. 3 Team Penske car was the quickest of the 24 cars to participate in the lone Open Test before the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg next week.
"I was expecting something different from the car because it kept changing throughout the day based on the track," said Castroneves, explaining his brief off-course excursion. "I was expecting the car was going to push but it went the opposite way. The good news is that nothing was damaged."
Teammate Will Power, who led the way yesterday and in the morning session Tuesday, finished second quickest with his morning-fastest lap of 1:11.9636 in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car. Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon, Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe and Newman/Haas Racing's Oriol Servia rounded out the top five.
"This was a really good couple of days of testing," said Power. "We did a lot of work and learned tons of valuable information about our car here at Barber. Today we practiced pit stops, which are every bit as important as speed on the track with how tight the competition is in this series. I am definitely ready to get this season started."
The IZOD IndyCar Series will open the 2011 season on March 27 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The series returns to Barber Motorsports Park for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 11.
• Click here for the full report from day 2.
DAY 2 NOTEBOOK:
• Mike Conway's test came to an early end when his No. 27 Andretti Autosport car made contact with the tire barriers early in the morning session. Conway, whose team had been practicing live pit stops, lost control of his car after the team put on a new set of tires to begin its test day.
"I was braking into Turns 14 and 15; the rear got very, very loose. I corrected it once, corrected it twice, but the second time the rear just kissed the grass and that was it," related the Briton. "With the wet grass, it just went straight off. It's disappointing because we had a lot to get through today. I feel sorry for the guys; it's a shame. But, I think we got through some good stuff here yesterday, so hopefully we'll come back here strong."
Panther Racing rookie J.R. Hildebrand also missed the full day of testing after the team determined his car could not be repaired at the track following his shunt in the National Guard car.
• Oriol Servia kicked it up a notch in the final session to finish fifth overall in his Newman/Haas Racing entry after trailing his rookie teammate James Hinchcliffe through the first day and a half of the Open Test.
“I'm so happy! Obviously its great to be in the top-five but I'm just so happy," enthused the Catalonian. "When you are running in the top-five there is a reason I felt good in the car, with the team. It was a blast when I looked at the scoring board an hour before the end and we were one and two. That's the way Newman/Haas has always been and that's the way it has to be and it just felt great that we got there with two days of testing."
Newman/Haas has still not confirmed either driver for a race seat, but Servia is hopeful both he and Canada's Hinchcliffe will get a chance to show what they can do when the curtain goes up for real next week at St. Petersburg.
"There is still a lot to come from myself and the car. We progressed big stages to get where we are and there is still more," said Servia (BELOW). "I feel very happy; everybody is super-motivated. James was super helpful all day yesterday and today with him knowing the track and I really hope we can be teammates. The two cars worked together really well and we made a lot of progress together. I'm very happy with the team and myself. When you are a year out of the car, of course, you still think you can drive but it is just so great knowing it is true.”
Indy Lights grad Hinchcliffe agreed with the level of progress.
“I was personally a little surprised with the pace we had yesterday; I wasn't quite expecting it," he admitted. "I woke up this morning hoping it wasn't some sort of flash in the pan. Luckily we ran quick this morning; I think we were fourth quick behind the Penske boys and this afternoon the focus was going to be a little more on some longer runs. We did one new tire run which was good and put us right at the top for that time of day. And then I had a little moment on track again which ruined another set of tires, so it compromised the strategy a little bit for the rest of the day.
"That was it for new tire runs. We went back out to get some long runs in for the first race. We know we can run quick on a set of sticker tires, so we need to see what we can do over a stint.”
• Watching testing stirred memories for Felipe Giaffone, though he's content being on the other side of pit wall.
Giaffone has been renewing acquaintances and making new ones this week in his capacity as an analyst for Rede Bandeirantes' (Band TV) coverage of the IZOD IndyCar Series races. The Brazilian network, founded in 1967, will broadcast all races live from the venues this season, broadening its commitment.
"Band is very excited about IndyCar and they're putting a lot of money and more effort into the broadcasts," said Giaffone, who will work with Luciano do Valle in the booth. "Contributing to the broadcasts comes easy for me, and I pretty much know what's happening even though it's been awhile since I've been in the car. I've talked to a lot of people already so I feel prepared."
Giaffone recorded a victory at Kentucky Speedway in 2002 and finished third in the Indianapolis 500 the same year in 61 IZOD IndyCar Series races between 2001 and 2006 with four teams. He also competed in Indy Lights.
At age 36, his racing career isn't over. Giaffone, whose father was the 1987 Stock Car Brazil champion, is a two-time champion and current points leader in the Formula Truck series in Brazil. Yes, they race truck tractors.
"Racing semi trucks is very popular in Brazil and my family runs the stock car (racing) business so I'm pretty much every weekend working somewhere," he said. "I also do all the official testing for the stock car series. I'm busy driving and I enjoy it a lot."
• Reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti made two requests of George Barber, whose vision for a world-class motorsports facility has been realized in his hometown, during a preview for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
"I asked him if the curbs could stand out more when they paint them -- red and white as opposed to gray and white," he said. "I also told him I wouldn't mind borrowing the guy who cuts his grass because he does a hell of a job. If my wife sees what he's doing here, planting trees and stuff, it will be very expensive for me. It's a pretty special place."
The series returns April 8-10 for the race weekend that will blossom into the biggest event in the state, according to Gene Hallman, president of ZOOM Motorsports (the exclusive event promoter for Barber Motorsports Park). Already, the contract for the event has been extended one year through 2013. More than 85,000 spectators attended last year, with the track reporting corporate support and ticket sales up this year leading into the second race on the series' calendar.
"We had more than 3,000 respondents to an online survey of ticket buyers and then proceeded to do focus groups of spectators and followed up with visits to all our corporate sponsors," said Hallman. "We then internally compiled all our notes and put it into a thick document that we're referring to on a continual basis. The general sentiment was a resounding success, but there are areas to improve."
A PA system upgrade, larger video boards and additional parking shuttles have been and will be addressed. A Ferris wheel will tower over the backstretch. The interactive IndyCar Fan Village will set up shop nearby.
"We wanted to hear the feedback and want to make it better," Hallman continued. "This park was built with the spectator in mind and is about perfection. We know we'll never achieve perfection, but we'll make it as comfortable for our fans as possible. It was also built with the promoter in mind to make refinements, to adjust accordingly and move things. It is a canvas to paint on to make it better."
• For a rookie driver like Josef Newgarden, watching IZOD IndyCar Series cars testing at Barber Motorsports may have seemed like he was a kid waiting for Christmas Day. The young American is one of 12 drivers, nine of whom are rookies, who will participate in the Firestone Indy Lights portion of the Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park tomorrow. While he spent the day wandering the pit lane, he's ready to take the first step in becoming an IZOD IndyCar Series driver by driving his own car.
"I'm really looking forward to tomorrow, getting in the car and learning this track," said Newgarden, who will drive the No. 11 for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
While Newgarden is a newcomer to the series, Gustavo Yacaman is the most experienced driver in the championship, even though he just turned 20 a few weeks ago.
"Preseason testing has gone really well and we've improved the car every time we've been out this winter," said Yacaman, who will drive the No. 2 car for Team Moore Racing in 2011. "I don't see why we can't be quickest tomorrow. It's the first official event of the season and it's good to scare everyone before the first race."
Yacaman hopes to show he has the speed to be considered the favorite to win not only his first race, but also the Firestone Firehawk Cup and the series championship.
"This is the year that I have to get things done," Yacaman said. "I have two years in the series. I know the cars, I know the tracks and I know the league. I have the best team, the best engineer and the best car. I have everything behind me. It's up to me to get it done."