As expected, Chevrolet appears to have an early edge over Honda and Lotus. What wasn't expected at Monday's first day of IndyCar testing was Andretti Autosport's ability to clip Team Penske for the fastest lap of the day.
Ryan Hunter-Reay had the fastest lap Monday as the IZOD IndyCar Series' new engine/chassis combination underwent its first day of a four-day test that finally matches the three engine manufacturers together under league timing and scoring, giving teams a chance to see how the series' new chassis/engine combination shakes out before the season opener later this month at St. Petersburg, Fla.
Hunter-Reay's lap of 52.5826 around the 10-turn, 1.67-mile short course in the No. 28 Andretti Autosport Dallara-Chevrolet was more than 0.12sec better than Helio Castroneves' best lap in the No. 3 Team Penske Dallara-Chevy.
The minor Andretti-over-Penske victory was just that, according to Hunter-Reay. Minor.
“You don't need to win the test at Sebring, but it's nice,” Hunter-Reay said. “At the same time, we just have a checklist of items we have to get through. If we're quick in the process, that's even more of a bonus. But you definitely don't want to tune to go fast at Sebring, because you can find yourself in a little bit of a hole when it comes to St. Pete.”
As expected from the results of previous private tests, the Chevy turbo appears to have a slight early edge over the Honda and a larger lead over the Lotus. Simon Pagenaud had the third-best lap of the day in the No. 77 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Honda-powered Dallara, but Chevy had five of the six fastest laps in Monday's sessions, which featured track time for Andretti, Penske, Schmidt, Dale Coyne Racing, Lotus-HVM Racing and Lotus-Dragon Racing.
Castroneves wouldn't say that the Chevy engine will continue to be fastest, especially after Chip Ganassi's Honda-powered teams test on Thursday and Friday.
“I don't know,” Castroneves said. “I wish other teams were here (in the Monday and Tuesday sessions), like the Ganassi guys. We just have to keep focusing on our job. I'm not even looking at times. It doesn't matter who it is. We just have to keep working at it and chipping away.”
The only Lotus on track, driven by Simona de Silvestro, was two seconds off Hunter-Reay's pace. Lotus is further behind in development than Chevy and Honda, but the true test of where the engines stand will occur when Ganassi's four Hondas – driven by Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball – take to the track Thursday.
“We know Honda is up there, as well, so we know that the first race is going to be a battle,” Castroneves said. “That's what it's all about. We need this kind of competition.”
Tuesday's sessions are reserved for the same six teams. After Wednesday's media day activities in St. Petersburg, the IndyCar testing resumes Thursday and Friday at SIR for Chip Ganassi Racing, A.J. Foyt Racing, Bryan Herta Autosport, Ed Carpenter Racing, Lotus-Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Lotus-Dragon, KV Racing Technology, Panther Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.
Pos Driver Team/Car/Engine Time Gap
1. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti DW12-Chevrolet 52.5826s
2. Helio Castroneves Penske DW12-Chevrolet 52.7092s + 0.1266s
3. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt DW12-Honda 52.7311s + 0.1485s
4. James Hinchcliffe Andretti DW12-Chevrolet 52.9125s + 0.3299s
5. Ryan Briscoe Penske DW12-Chevrolet 52.9275s + 0.3449s
6. Will Power Penske DW12-Chevrolet 53.0512s + 0.4686s
7. Justin Wilson Coyne DW12-Honda 53.1770s + 0.5944s
8. Marco Andretti Andretti DW12-Chevrolet 53.2814s + 0.6988s
9. James Jakes Coyne DW12-Honda 53.9260s + 1.3434s
10. Simona de Silvestro HVM DW12-Lotus 54.5640s + 1.9814s