NOTE: Times updated following receipt of additional information -Ed.
If preseason testing is anything to go by, the IZOD IndyCar Series could be facing a French Revolution in 2013.
Fresh off posting the fastest lap of the day at Sebring on February 20th, IndyCar rookie Tristan Vautier led the 10 drivers who sampled Sonoma's 2.3-mile, 12-turn road course on Wednesday. The 23-year-old native of Saint-Martin-d'Hères wheeled his Honda-powered No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Dallara DW12 to a lap of 1:18.56 late in the day, edging countryman Sebastien Bourdais who clocked a 1:18.63 in his Chevy-powered No. 7 Dragon Racing entry.
Simon Pagenaud, Vautier's teammate, completed the hat trick for France with a 1:18.90 to take third in his No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports Honda. “It was a good day -- very different from Sebring,” said Vautier. “We got a good lap in at the end of the day, but I need to work on my consistency. It was a positive experience to run at Sonoma in an Indy car, but I have a lot to learn.”
While many Indy car fans have been impressed with the pace Vautier has shown, it's hard to get the 2012 Firestone Indy Lights champion to point out anything other than his steep learning curve.
“The lap times have been good, but I have a lot to adapt to,” he continued. “Especially in the high-speed corners. I really don't think it means a lot right now. You don't know who is doing what in testing. I still have to learn the Red tires when the first race gets here, so a one-day test isn't something that has me thinking about the lap times. There's a lot of time ahead still.”
Bourdais, the four-time Champ Car champion, put in a busy day of lapping, working on everything from chassis and aero setups to practicing numerous standing starts.
“We tried a lot of things today,” he said. “A lot of aero, trying different wickers and angles and seeing what the data showed for aero balance and downforce figures. We worked on mechanical grip, you name it. The team is doing a great job, and it was good to get more time in the car and with my engineer (Neil Fife) to get ready for the upcoming season. You can't read a lot into the lap times because there's a sh*tload of more grip here during the race weekend, but we got some good directions I'm happy with.”
The third member of the all-French top 3 spent Wednesday working with Honda during one of its Manufacturer test days, but still managed to sneak in some much needed setup time with the SHM crew.
“I'm happy; it was a pretty good day,” said Pagenaud. “First and foremost, I was here to work with Honda to tweak and adjust the engine for 2013. The HPD engineers gave us so much support—we tried different mapping and calibrations and took a deep look at many things.
“We also took the opportunity to work on the chassis. It was a very productive day. We worked on qualifying to extract the best out of the tires in a short amount of time. We didn't go for lap times, but worked on improving the contact patch. I'm feeling a little bit more confident, to be honest. It was a good day; my engineers and crew don't worry about the times and focus on how we are doing with our own program.”
Lap times, which were unofficial (barring those provided by Honda for its two cars), had KV Racing's Tony Kanaan in fourth at 1:18.9. The Brazilian's day got off to a bad start when a fire started in the engine bay of his Chevy-powered No. 11 car, which the team traced to a faulty set of new headers.
Panther DRR's Oriol Servia, who was fastest in the pre-lunch session, followed Kanaan in fifth with a 1:79.2, and was pleased to rebound so strongly after a miserable test day at Sebring last week.
“This is just what we needed,” said the Spaniard. “Sebring didn't go so well, but we really made some big strides with the car today. I'm going home quite pleased.”
Dragon Racing's newest signing was sixth, as Colombia's Sebastian Saavedra registered a 1:19.5, while fellow Chevy runner Ed Carpenter, who handed over his car to reigning IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay for most of the day, had a 1:20.1.
RHR, who ran in the 1:20.0 range before stepping out of the No. 20 car, flew out to help Chevy and Carpenter with a bit of additional input on a few setup items.
“The Team Chevy camp is a big camp and we have something here we're testing that we started developing at Sebring and we're continuing that development in Sonoma,” said the Andretti Autosport driver. “At the same time, it gives us a different perspective on how we can progress for the season, and for Ed Carpenter and ECR for the season.”
KV's Simona de Silvestro, (ABOVE) with a best of 1:19.8, was a few hundredths ahead of local product JR Hildebrand (1:19.9) in his Panther Racing Chevy, and .
“We did a lot of laps and will continue to work on the car to get it closer to where we want,” she said.
IndyCar's next group test will come during Spring Training at Barber Motorsports Park March 12-13.