It's crunch time for IZOD IndyCar Series teams with this week's open test at Sebring International Raceway. Manufacturer testing in the winter months of 2011 before the mid-December testing break was fairly intense, with teams looking to figure out balance, weight distribution and performance issues in adapting to the smaller 2.2-liter V6 engines. Then, once Dallara began delivering cars to the teams, it fell into their own hands to begin the tweaking and perfecting process.
Between tests at Sebring, Barber, Fontana, Phoenix, Homestead, Texas and Palm Beach, teams have logged thousands of invaluable miles trying to sort out the new cars and engines. This week, at Sebring's 1.67-mile, 11-turn short course, is the last chance to rein in the cars before the first race at St. Petersburg on March 25.
FIRST TIME OUT – Only three drivers of the 26 who will be partaking in Spring Training have had exactly zero laps aboard their new cars, and they hit the extremes in terms of experience levels. Sebastien Bourdais, who's the only one of the three to have been through the new car process previously (Champ Car's Panoz DP01 in 2007, LEFT), will get his first laps for the Lotus Dragon Racing team on Monday and Tuesday. Bourdais' new car testing isn't limited to IndyCar, as the four-time Champ Car champion also sorted Peugeot's two iterations of its 908 diesel prototype at Le Mans, and Toro Rosso's 2008 and 2009 Formula 1 cars.
Meanwhile, Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden – Americans linked by the fact Newgarden is replacing Carpenter at Sarah Fisher's team while Carpenter has created his own team for 2012 – are less experienced in the new car-sorting process. Carpenter, fortunately, will have Derrick Walker's management and Michael Cannon's engineering expertise to assist for his first running in the Fuzzy's Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. Newgarden starts completely from scratch, as the Indy Lights champion will turn his first ever IndyCar laps in the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda.
NOT MANY MORE LAPS – Englishmen James Jakes and Katherine Legge are also at the lower end of the testing lap count this winter. Jakes' running came at Barber a couple weeks ago for Dale Coyne Racing (RIGHT), with Legge registering only a little more than 20 in the Lotus test car at Sebring around the same time. Jakes is scheduled to test Monday and Tuesday, and Legge Thursday and Friday.
Another Englishman, Mike Conway, who's logged laps at Sebring and Barber but still been somewhat hampered by reliability issues for A.J. Foyt Racing in his Honda, explained the nature of what's ahead for the full field.
“With the new car, it's all about who gets on top of it the quickest,” Conway said. “We'll be working as well as we can with my engineers and the crew around me. Getting that jump at the beginning of the season will be key to the championship. No one really knows who has the upper hand, and no one really will know until qualifying for St. Pete.”
RUBENS AT SEBRING, PART TWO – Only a little more than a month ago, Rubens Barrichello made his IndyCar testing debut at Sebring to test the water and gauge his interest. Now, on Thursday, he's in his third overall and first official test after confirmation he'll be an IndyCar driver for the full 2012 season.
His first test was merely his introduction, but Barrichello proved his level and adaptability in less than a full fuel run, as he told RACER Editor David Malsher in an interview on the day of his announcement.
“Within 20 laps I was up to speed and I was able to give different feedback because obviously with Tony and the drivers they have already a lot of good feedback,” Barrichello said. “I came from a different world, so it was just nice that I could give different feedback for some more directions.”
FRESH OUT OF THE PAINT SHOP – As well as a chance to see the full field for the first time, some cars will be adorned in their 2012 liveries for the first time. Andretti Autosport revealed all three of its 2012 liveries on Sunday, after spending testing to this point in the unpainted carbon fiber with a silver strip down the sidepod of sponsors. While Ryan Hunter-Reay's No. 28 DHL/Sun Drop and James Hinchcliffe's No. 27 GoDaddy liveries remain relatively similar to their 2011 cars, Marco Andretti's car got a makeover thanks to new sponsor RC Cola. KV Racing Technology, which showed Barrichello and Tony Kanaan's cars at Barrichello's unveiling Thursday in Brazil, should have the freshly painted cars ready to go as well, for those two and possibly E.J. Viso. Dale Coyne Racing is expected to have at least one of its cars fully liveried as well.
GROUP BREAKDOWN – The 26 cars aren't split identically. Monday and Tuesday will have 11 cars, with the remaining 15 to test Thursday and Friday.
Team Penske, Andretti Autosport, Dale Coyne Racing, Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Lotus HVM Racing are in action on Monday and Tuesday with all their cars, and Bourdais in the Dragon car to complete the 11.
Come Thursday and Friday, two more of the “big teams,” Chip Ganassi Racing and KV Racing Technology, will have slightly less than half the cars running with seven of the 15 between those two teams. The remaining cars in action come from single car teams from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Panther Racing, A.J. Foyt Enterprises, Ed Carpenter Racing, Lotus DRR, Fisher/Hartman and Team Barracuda-BHA, plus Legge for Dragon.
SEBRING DOUBLEHEADER – Two of the 26 drivers testing at Sebring will also be in the 60th Anniversary Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, held March 17. Simon Pagenaud will take up another Honda, shifting from his Sam Schmidt Motorsports Dallara to the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD ARX-03a. Hunter-Reay, meanwhile, trades his Andretti Autosport Dallara-Chevrolet for the Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b in the P2 class. Hunter-Reay won the P2 class in the race last year, and Pagenaud finished second overall last year, and second in class the year before, in the 12-hour.
PUTTING CHIPS IN ON A NEW APP – One of the major news announcements that came out of mid-February's State of IndyCar announcement was Verizon's IndyCar Mobile App being spread across different operating systems, including Apple's iOS, although still only on the Verizon mobile network. The series isn't alone in developing an app – four-time defending champion team Chip Ganassi Racing has developed one for Apple's App Store. The app covers the team's information, social media content, videos, photos and event details. CGR is one of the leading teams to develop an app, and follows the footsteps of driver James Hinchcliffe, who developed his own Hinchtown app last year.
FAN PRIMER – Chances are, some fans have already flocked to Sebring in advance of the 12 hour-race, and in advance of it, they'll get to see the IndyCar test. If fans just want to see the IndyCars, they can, as the test is open to the public each day (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) at a $10 admission charge. IndyCar.com will post session reports each day.
Open Test lineup by groups:
Group 1 (9 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. March 5-6):
No. 2 Ryan Briscoe (Team Penske) – Chevrolet
No. 3 Helio Castroneves (Team Penske) – Chevrolet
No. 7 Sebastien Bourdais (Lotus Dragon Racing) – Lotus
No. 12 Will Power (Verizon Team Penske) -- Chevrolet
No. 18 Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing) – Honda
No. 19 James Jakes (Dale Coyne Racing) – Honda
No. 26 Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport) – Chevrolet
No. 27 James Hinchcliffe (Andretti Autosport) – Chevrolet
No. 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport) – Chevrolet
No. 77 Simon Pagenaud (Sam Schmidt Motorsports) – Honda
No. 78 Simona de Silvestro (Lotus HVM Racing) – Lotus
Group 2 (9 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. March 8-9):
No. 4 JR Hildebrand (Panther Racing) – Chevrolet
No. 5 E.J. Viso (KV Racing Technology) – Chevrolet
No. 6 Katherine Legge (Lotus Dragon Racing) – Lotus
No. 8 Rubens Barrichello (KV Racing Technology) – Chevrolet
No. 9 Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing) – Honda
No. 10 Dario Franchitti (Target Chip Ganassi Racing) – Honda
No. 11 Tony Kanaan (KV Racing Technology) – Chevrolet
No. 14 Mike Conway (A.J. Foyt Racing) – Honda
No. 15 Takuma Sato (Rahal Letterman Lanigan) – Honda
No. 20 Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing) – Chevrolet
No. 22 Oriol Servia (Lotus Dreyer & Reinbold Racing) – Lotus
No. 38 Graham Rahal (Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing) – Honda
No. 67 Josef Newgarden (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing) – Honda
No. 98 Alex Tagliani (Team Barracuda – BHA) – Lotus
No. 83 Charlie Kimball (Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing) – Honda