The IZOD IndyCar Series teams tested under the lights Wednesday night at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., and the results underscored the closeness of the competition expected for Saturday night's MAVTV 500. The 22 cars on hand turned 2,594 laps during a marathon eight-hour private test, with the final 15 minutes on the 2-mile oval resembling Carb Day practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as cars went two- and three-wide down the 11-degree banked frontstretch in their rush to set quick times. The top 17 cars were separated by 0.4053 of a second.
In the end, Scott Dixon wound up with the fast lap at 215.861mph in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car without aid of a tow. Dixon, who completed 131 laps, trumped Marco Andretti in the No. 26 Team RC Cola car (215.779mph, set mid-afternoon).
Series championship front-runner Will Power was third quick (215.761mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car, while teammate Ryan Briscoe followed at 215.133. Josef Newgarden, driving the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing car, advanced three positions in the final hour to finish fifth at 214.948.
"It's a good start to the weekend for the Verizon team,” said Power, who also tested at the speedway last week. “The car was good and we just kept getting better and better as the day went on. I think we're in pretty good shape for qualifying. We're ready. Now we just need to go out and get it done."
Championship rival Ryan Hunter-Reay, who enters the title-deciding race 17 points arrears, had an unwanted five-hour break in his day after the No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda car spun and made contact with the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier. After suspension repairs and changing out the damaged Chevrolet engine, Hunter-Reay made his back onto the D-shaped oval for another 20 laps with 40 minutes left on the clock.
"The car was pretty loose on the first run and we went for a second run on it,” said Hunter-Reay, who has two short-oval victories this season. “We probably got a little greedy with it as light as we were running on downforce (in qualifying trim).”
During his absence, Andretti Autosport teammates James Hinchcliffe, Sebastian Saavedra and Andretti were working on a variety of setups to share data.
Hunter-Reay said that having teammates James Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti both out testing as well meant that the team would still be adequately prepared for Saturday's race.
"It's not that big of a setback," he said. "We still have two team cars still pounding around."
The track temperature was 112 degrees with an air temp of 89 degrees at 5 p.m. – a few minutes after the green flag for the race. It dropped to 102/87 an hour later and to 93/84 at 7 p.m. By the end of the session, which will coincide with the final laps of the race, the ambient was 78 degrees and the track 85.
“As the lights come up, the track temperature goes down quickly,” Target Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull said. “It will take the best team of people combined with their driver to tune the car for the dash at the end. The aero spec will be very much like Indianapolis with five to seven pit stops, lots of strategy, and plenty of wheel-to-wheel action.”
E.J. Viso and Briscoe also had contact (Briscoe's as the session expired). Neither driver was injured. Viso did not return to the track after recording 40 laps.
"Aside from the impact at the end, it was a really good test day overall,” Briscoe said. “I just got on the high line and hit a bump at the entry of Turn 3 and it just spun around. I feel bad for the guys as it creates a lot more work for them, but the impact wasn't too bad.
"We did a lot of setup work on the No. 2 IZOD car and we learned a ton. We'll take all that information and move forward for qualifying and for the race.”
The season finale is the first 500-mile race other than the Indianapolis 500 under IndyCar or Champ Car since 2002 (won by current KV Racing Technology co-owner Jimmy Vasser) at Auto Club Speedway with an average speed of 197.995mph.
“In Indy car racing, regardless of the length it is, it's still about optimizing yourself at full speed, for each segment of that race,” Hull added. “The last 25 percent of this race is where the drivers will need to able to adjust his/her drive style, and the teams use the data they have to help it, and make the changes they can make. I think it will provide a great shootout.”
A 90-minute practice session for the 250-lap race Sept. 15 precedes qualifications at 2:15 p.m. local time.