At a typical offseason test Thursday on a brisk, cool day at Sebring International Raceway, the talk was far from typical. Instead of raves for Power and Dixon and all the other veterans at the session, the rookies were the ones getting all the attention.
With good reason. Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly looked sharp in their one-day, one-off test session – Vautier in Simon Pagenaud's No. 77 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara-Honda, Daly in the No. 14 A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara-Honda.
“It was really cool,” Daly said. “We had a great day overall. “I thought it would be very different. I thought it would take most of the morning to start getting in a competitive range, but honestly we were competitive quite early. That was really cool for me to do.” (Watch video of Daly's test run here.)
Indeed, both drivers performed beyond expectations in their first tests in big cars. After first thought to have wound up P4, a final check of the totals put Vautier second on the day behind Will Power, Justin Wilson and Alex Tagliani (see times below).
Vautier, who won the Firestone Indy Lights championship earlier this year in Schmidt's car, raised eyebrows with his ability to handle the change in grip, acceleration and braking.
"It feels like a big Indy Lights car with a few things to change in the driving style,” he said. “I tried to improve throughout the morning, and the engineers were very good to help me. They made quite a few changes to see how I reacted and we moved forward.”
While Daly's flirtation with F1 continues after his two seasons in GP3, the 20-year-old said he's open to the possibility of a ride in the IZOD IndyCar Series. “I'm just thankful for the opportunity,” Daly said. “Who knows what will happen in the future?”
Meanwhile, Vautier listened to everything Pagenaud and team manager Rob Edwards had to say.
"He's very professional, wasn't overwhelmed with anything he had to do and was on pace right from the start of the day,” Edwards said. “His consistency and his feedback, he just did a great job all day.”
It's the last we'll see of Indy cars until 2013. The series has suspended all testing until Jan. 4.
Sebring lap times (all unofficial)
1: Will Power, 52.84
2: Tristan Vautier, 52.85
3: Alex Tagliani, 52.91
4: Josef Newgarden, 52.93
5: Justin Wilson, 52.94
6: Scott Dixon, 52.94
7: Helio Castroneves, 53.00
8: Simona de Silvestro, 53.01
9: Oriol Servia, 53.02
10: JR Hildebrand, 53.04
11: Tony Kanaan, 53.13
12: Conor Daly, 53.29
13: Charlie Kimball, 53.31
14: James Hinchcliffe, 53.34
15: Graham Rahal, 53.48