After the majority of tests since IndyCar's new Dallara DW12 was launched focused primarily on sorting out the car and later two of the three engines, Monday at Sebring International Raceway provided teams a first real crack at full throttle running for the majority of the day.
Teams were able to test their own cars in earnest, while Lotus continued running in pure engine development mode with its test car. Lotus got in a shakedown last week at Palm Beach International Raceway for two days and on its third day of running, was part of the increased field numbers. Some cars also ran in their 2012 liveries for the first time.
“This test should help weed out a few minor issues that will pop up with the new cars,” explained Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe. “The cars look great on track with team paint schemes; I think it's done a lot to the aesthetics of the car.”
Varied goals meant some drivers got more running in than others. Both Lotus and Chevrolet had their test cars running with Simona de Silvestro and Helio Castroneves on board, respectively.
Briscoe and Penske joined other teams in attendance, which included Target Chip Ganassi Racing (Scott Dixon, in Dario Franchitti's No. 10 car), Sam Schmidt Motorsports (Simon Pagenaud), Andretti Autosport (Marco Andretti), KV Racing Technology (Tony Kanaan) and Panther Racing (JR Hildebrand). Graham Rahal (Ganassi) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti) were on hand to watch but didn't do any running.
Briscoe only completed a handful of laps due to a persistent misfire in Team Penske's Verizon car. Its normal driver Will Power should do most of tomorrow's running, with Briscoe still expecting to get some lap times in during the morning.
“We were having a little issue on the motor that wasn't letting it run clean,” Briscoe said. “We only did a few laps. Will will start tomorrow, but I think they'll leave me in the first part then a driver change during the day.”
Still, despite the limited running, Briscoe was impressed from his initial road course running in the new car.
“It was pretty windy today, and the car was handling really well,” Briscoe said. “There were a couple corners where I don't think I'd ever been as quick as I was today. It felt really good in a couple places, with the downforce up, and engine driving nicely. But I only probably did about four or five timed laps!
“We never put on the street course tire; we were on a harder road course tire,” he added. “The first impression was pretty nice, better than expected. For a first day test, we were right there with performance on the old car. That's a good barometer for the first day.”
There were no official times but Briscoe and other test observers estimated Dixon quickest in the low 53-second range on the 1.7-mile short course. Briscoe said Castroneves, who was making his first run in the DW12, had a good experience.
“I don't want to put words in his mouth, but I think he was pleased,” Briscoe said. “He'd been hearing from others it hadn't been talked about that highly, but when he got out the first time, he was saying, ‘Yeah, it's pretty good!' I did a few laps today, my first time on a road course, thought it was good.”
HVM Racing's de Silvestro, unsurprisingly, enjoyed a full day in Lotus' test car, experimenting with engine settings but not making any wholesale chassis adjustments.
“We haven't really put anything on the car yet, and are mainly just doing engine stuff,” she said. “But the engine Judd has brought is pretty impressive, three days and no issues at all. It's really interesting how many things you can do with the engine, in terms of engine mappings, things like that. I've never had that before. Lotus and Judd have been really open, so it's a lot to learn, but great to see these different things and settings you can do with it.”
The early stages of engine testing sees the collaborative effort between de Silvestro's fellow Lotus squads from Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Bryan Herta Autosport, at least in the interim before the teams branch out to running their own cars.
“We're at a different place here than other teams, and we're behind having just started and doing our own couple things,” she explained. “All three teams are working well together on the test car, have the best guys with each team working together. We can learn at a faster pace. It's been a lot of fun, everything is really open between us – for now – and having all that help is helping us.”
De Silvestro estimated Lotus should have Alex Tagliani in its car at the next test post-Sebring for further feedback.
IndyCar also announced the team lineups for the series' official Open Test in March. Teams will be split into two days of running apiece, either March 5-6 or 8-9. The breakout is below, and for the moment, does not include Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and Conquest Racing. Of the teams listed below, only Carpenter's and Coyne's engine choice has yet to be announced.
March 5 (9 a.m.-noon; 1-5 p.m.) March 6 (9 a.m.-noon; 1-4 p.m.)
Andretti Autosport, Dale Coyne Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Dragon Racing, HVM Racing, Team Penske, Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
March 8 (10 a.m.-noon; 1-5 p.m.) March 9 (9 a.m.-noon; 1-5 p.m.)
A.J. Foyt Racing, Bryan Herta Autosport, Ed Carpenter Racing, Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing, Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing, KV Racing Technology, Panther Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Michael Shank Racing Indy.