Chevrolet- and Honda-powered teams participating in Wednesday's open test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway expressed optimism that had they had made progress on improving the handling and balance of the Dallara DW12.
The cars were running with the new rear-wheel guards that are taller, lighter and have a slightly different shape. Beyond that requirement, teams were permitted to experiment with rear-wing angles and sidewall extension.
Driving Chevrolet-powered 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 engines in their Dallara chassis were Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing), Tony Kanaan (KV Racing Technology), Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport), JR Hildebrand (Panther Racing) and Helio Castroneves (Team Penske).
Driving Honda-powered cars were Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing), Takuma Sato (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), Mike Conway (A.J. Foyt Racing) and Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing).
Andretti posted the fastest lap of the day, a 218.6mph in his Chevy-powered Andretti Autosport entry, while Kanaan and Dixon were both also in the 218 range. That is slightly below IndyCar vp of technology Will Phillips' goal of 220mph for the test, but the drivers were cautiously optimistic.
“It felt faster than the [previous] test that we did,” related Kanaan, whose 68 laps were the highest total of the nine. “I went out of the pits and went flat-out right away, so I have to say that the aero kit is definitely a little bit better. It was more balanced than it was last year. It's going in the right direction and making the car better. We're drivers and we're always going to complain, but it's definitely better.
“Obviously, the engine manufacturers are trying to dial in much of the things that they want to try to do, and in one day I don't think we'll be able to do it all – but it felt good. I think some other drivers did a little bit more laps, but this is what this test is for. I don't think we're going to see many laps, but we're going to see some quality drivers giving positive feedback, so when we come back here in May we can have the right stuff.
Kanaan added that he thought the new aero provided a very different look, too:
“The front wing is not the two-element wing, and obviously the rear wing, it's one main plane and it's very low, so I would say there a lot of things that are different. If you look at the cars, they look slick. They look a lot faster in the speedway configuration. It looks like the Batmobile and it's kind of aggressive, and I kind of like it.”
Hildebrand said that the cars' stability was more important to the drivers than its speed at this point.
“We feel all right about the stability and all of that kind of stuff with the car, and it's just a matter of seeing where the speed kind of ends up once we get going,” said the Panther Racing driver. “We're just getting a good feel for kind of where everything's at and how everything feels, and how confident do you want to be right away.
He added that the rear-wing angle options remain a key point to explore on the new car.
“The rear wing is just as flexible in terms of where you want to run it. It'll run anywhere from positive numbers to minus-10. So there's definitely a lot of room to play with there," said Hildebrand. "It's just a little bit of an unknown for us right now, because this is our first true oval test with the current package and all that kind of stuff of how effective all those things are really going to be. With the previous car, you'd take a degree of wing out of the thing and you could go a mile-an-hour faster right away as long as the rest of your settings were sort of on par. Whereas with this car, it's yet to be seen whether it's that sensitive, and we've just got to kind of figure that out.”
Dixon noted that his team used the test to working on its engine as well the car, which limited his full-speed running.
“We went through some small engine issues with the boost controls and minor things like that. I think we've done maybe a total of eight to 10 laps and nothing really at speed yet. So we're kind of just working through some of the small stuff – and we've got to be careful because we're running engines that we have to run for the next two races, as well.”
As for the looks, Dixon remained ambivalent:
“It's different. It seems like with the younger generation really like it, and for me I'm still getting used to it a bit, I think. It definitely looks really low and kind of streamlined in some ways, but I think when you actually physically see the car compared to the cars last year, they physically look quite a bit bigger. I think it's something I'll be getting to like a little more.”
Combined top speeds from both sessions:
Pos Driver Team/Car Speed
1. Marco Andretti Andretti DW12-Chevrolet 218.625mph
2. Tony Kanaan KV DW12-Chevrolet 218.439mph
2. Scott Dixon Ganassi DW12-Honda 218.094mph
4. Helio Castroneves Penske DW12-Chevrolet 216.942mph
5. JR Hildebrand Panther DW12-Chevrolet 216.641mph
6. Justin Wilson Coyne DW12-Honda 213.753mph
7. Mike Conway Foyt DW12-Honda 212.767mph
8. Takuma Sato Rahal DW12-Honda 212.573mph
9. Ed Carpenter Carpenter DW12-Chevrolet 207.518mph