Ahead of the opening oval-track rounds of the Firestone Indy Lights Championship. eight series rookies tested Tuesday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Carlos Munoz of Andretti Autosport led the test with a lap of 38.0635sec, 189.158mph, set in the morning session. His teammate Sebastian Saavedra led the afternoon session with a lap of 38.4536sec/187.239mph.
Sam Schmidt Motorsports' Tristan Vautier said he knew going into the test that he had a lot to learn at the 2.0-mile oval, which will host the series finale in September.
"The first time I got out there, I could hear the wind in my helmet and my helmet was moving around because I didn't know you had to have a wicker on," said Vautier. "It's a really big oval and it's easier to drive a Firestone Indy Lights car on an oval than a Star Mazda. It's more stable and doesn't move around as much. It was good. I need to keep learning a lot of things."
Firestone Indy Lights race director Tony Cotman came away impressed with the rookies and the veterans who turned more than 800 total laps.
"For the rookies, it was a bit of a difficult learning curve, particularly for those who had minimal oval experience," said Cotman, who will decide the oval status of the rookie drivers following the Indianapolis Open Test on May 11. "Today was all about seat time and all in all I hope they came away with good experience and they understand what they need to do. When we get to Indianapolis, that will be the test to see what they've learned."
There was one incident in the test as rookie Darryl Wills, who turned 83 laps in the morning session, saw his test cut short when he hit the SAFER Barrier in Turn 4 with the right side of his car. Wills was uninjured in the crash.
"It's a shame, really," he said. The car was doing great and it was going around almost by itself. It just cut loose going into the corner."
Still it was a good learning day for Wills and the other rookies.
"It was different from anything I've done," Wills said. "This track is really easy to drive and the ovals are a lot of fun. You have to be very precise with your line and I enjoyed bringing the car in with the (anti-roll) bars. That was the first time I've really done that. Seeing what that does and watching the lap times improve was a lot of fun."