With Indianapolis 500 practice not commencing until May 15 this year, IZOD IndyCar Series drivers took advantage of the break to prepare for the the Firestone 550k on June 5 with an extensive test session at Texas Motor Speedway.
Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, Marco Andretti and Davey Hamilton participated in the test session that began at 2 p.m. local time and was scheduled to conclude at 10 p.m. The non-traditional timeframe of the test was to help the drivers and teams simulate the evening conditions for the Firestone 550k as well as the race week's late afternoon qualifying and practice sessions.
“For us it's our first time testing on an oval,” Briscoe said. “We had some stuff planned out to run at Kentucky this week and when that got rained out we heard the track was open here for running so we took the opportunity to bring one car and just got some stuff on the cars sort of in the lead up to Indy so that we don't waste too much time on the first couple of days when we get there. And at the same time, we'll try to learn some things for when we come back and race here.”
The test was highlighted by the return of Hamilton to the 1.5-mile oval that nearly ended his racing career. During a Texas IndyCar race in June of 2001, Hamilton and Jeret Schroeder collided after completing 71 of the 200 laps and it resulted in Hamilton crashing hard into the Turn 2 wall. The contact shattered the chassis and sent the cockpit spinning down the backstretch. Hamilton sustained severe foot injuries, which led to his retirement and 21 surgeries.
In 2007, Hamilton came out of retirement to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and has since competed in that event each of the previous years. This year Hamilton, 47, has made it his mission to return to the site of his horrific crash and compete in the Firestone 550k behind the wheel of the No. 21 HP Dallara Honda for Luczo Dragon Racing de Ferran Motorsports.
“I'm a little nervous. How can you not be?” he said of his TMS return. “I ran good at this track. I've always liked racing here when we were full time before the accident. I always enjoyed coming to Texas. It's been something I wanted to come back and finish. I just wanted to make sure I had a car and team that would be able to do it properly. Part of the recovery was purely to race again. I didn't want to end my career here.”
Target Chip Ganassi's Scott Dixon, currently second in points, has used solid performances at Texas to help propel him to IndyCar Series championships during his career. He said a victory at Texas coupled with a victory in the Indy 500 can help a team build momentum for a championship run.
“Coming off an Indy win, you almost feel invincible anyway, but to come here, and the great racing that it provides, it just improves on that more,” said Dixon, who earned his first victory of the season last week at Kansas. “If you can win these two at almost midseason, it can be a pivotal point to going on and winning the championship. Not saying that the two winners always win the championship, but it definitely helps a lot with the team morale.”