By Amy Konrath
FORT WORTH, Texas (Monday, May 7, 2012) – Scott Dixon didn’t know what to expect upon arriving at Texas Motor Speedway for the first IZOD IndyCar Series Open Test on a 1.5-mile oval with the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series chassis powered by the 2.2-liter, turbocharged engine supplied by Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus.
The 6½ hours of available track time, following Rubens Barrichello’s IZOD IndyCar Series oval rookie test, provided the 2008 Texas race winner with gigabytes of information to take into the June 8-9 Firestone 550. It also calmed concerns about the car’s safety on the high-banked racetrack, which is similar to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“For the first time coming here you’re open-minded as you try to figure out what the car’s going to be like, and until you get through the first couple of runs you’re not sure what to expect,” said Dixon, who’s fourth in the series’ championship standings after four road/street course races.
The driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car also was the quickest of 11 car/driver combinations during the morning and afternoon sessions on a warm (86 degrees for high) and breezy day at 24.6644 seconds (212.371 mph). Charlie Kimball, driving the No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing car, was quickest in the afternoon (24.7859 seconds; 211.330 mph). A total of 1,172 laps were recorded without incident.
Confirming the aerodynamic package for the 1.5-mile, high-banked oval and providing drivers with oval track time in advance of the opening of practice May 12 for the Indianapolis 500 topped goals of the test.
Dixon uncovered another.
“The cars have a range of options, which I was pleasantly surprised with,” he said. “Instead of coming here with a 10-degree rear flap that created more pack racing and people didn’t have the options to try to separate themselves and create different strategies or be fast for 20 laps but have to lift later on in the stint, there are options. It will be difficult to drive for a race stint, which I think is good.
“Coming here today and having the car in a situation where you can take a lot of downforce off it’s pretty difficult and qualifying could actually be difficult for a change. At Texas, that’s pretty big.”
Added Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves, whose spirited 10-lap stint trading the lead with teammate Will Power closed the day: “I see three guys, two guys side by side in the race. It will be exciting, but more on the safe side. The car is much more safe.”
Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe and KV Racing Technology’s Tony Kanaan participated in a February test to set the aero baseline for Texas.
“We came back with a different aero package with less downforce that makes it a little more challenging to drive,” said Briscoe, who won the 2010 race at Texas. “You can find the limits of the tires sooner. We basically can get close to being fully trimmed out for the qualifying run, and then for the race you’ll have to gamble on what you want to put back in. Hopefully that’s on the right direction to not everyone running the least amount of downforce possible resulting in too much grip, which creates to the pack racing we saw in Vegas.
“We’ll have to really pedal the cars from mid-race on.”
On May 7, Briscoe was joined by: “Obviously it’s much hotter than when we came here last time, so they’re a couple of miles faster,” INDYCAR vice president of technology Will Phillips said. “Comparing it to the old car, we’re not that far off (on lap times). We’re running as much as 70 horsepower less than the old car, so the efficiency of the car is significantly improved. ”
Barrichello passes rookie test at Texas: Rubens Barrichello climbed the 24-degree banking between Turns 1 and 2 at Texas Motor Speedway and exclaimed (well, fill in your own expletive).
It’s a new and exciting chapter in the career of the 19-year Formula One veteran and four-race veteran of the IZOD IndyCar Series.
Barrichello sped away from the concrete pit stall onto the 1.5-mile asphalt racetrack at 8:52 a.m. (local) for his IZOD IndyCar Series oval rookie test after KV Racing Technology teammate Tony Kanaan shook down the No. 8 Chevrolet-powered car. Fifty-five minutes later and after maintaining a steady 205-206 mph pace through three stints, Barrichello’s facial features softened.
“It’s different from anything I’ve tried,” said Barrichello, who has top-10 finishes in his past three road/street course races and is 11th in the championship standings. “On my second run, after I broke the 200s, I was very rude on the radio because I was so excited. I said it was truly awesome, but not in a good manner.
“I am comfortable running, but I just need another 5,000 days to get it to the level of Tony. I’ve been to places in Formula One that you have to have the courage to take it flat to gain a hundreth (of a second). Here, it wasn’t the case of getting flat because it’s not that difficult, but it’s keeping the line and the vision on it. I’m truly excited, but my mind is still processing everything from the time on the track. I think as a rookie I think I did OK. I guessed (IZOD IndyCar Series officials) agreed.”
With Kanaan and E.J. Viso on hand, Barrichello was scheduled to test from 8-11 p.m. March 6. But that session was put off until today because of a mechanical issue.
“Last night I went to sleep thinking about it and when I woke up I was on the other side of the bed, so I already was ovaling in my dreams,” Barichello said with a laugh. “Tony already had told me some things that I might not expect, so that’s good.”
Headphones in place on pit lane, Kanaan watched the morning session with more joy than concern.
”It was quite exciting to see how excited he got, and how happy he got out of the car saying how awesome it is,” the 2004 IZOD IndyCar Series champion said of his “brother.” “I’m glad he liked it. Now the real challenge begins, which it will be to learn as much as he can, and try to get faster.”
The remainder of the day for all 11 drivers was dedicated to confirming the aerodynamic spec for the June 8-9 Firestone 550 and getting in laps on an oval in preparation for the Indianapolis 500.
“I told the officials to let everyone running close to me to give a margin because I’m still not so comfortable running just one lane; maybe one and a half lanes,” Barrichello said. “I’m definitely a newcomer and it’s an exciting challenge. (If it wasn’t) I would have stayed home. I truly love this.
“I’m not totally at peace with the car. I’m driving OK, but I’m not driving my best just yet because I’m not familiar with everything just yet.”
Panther, DRR form strategic alliance: Panther Racing announced it has formed a strategic alliance with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing on Oriol Servia’s entry for the remainder of the IZOD IndyCar Series season.
The No. 22 Panther/DRR team will utilize Panther’s second Chevrolet engine lease and work in conjunction with the No. 4 National Guard team and driver JR Hildebrand beginning with the 96th Indianapolis 500.
“We’ve wanted to operate as a two-car team for some time now, but the right opportunity had never arisen to allow us to accomplish that,” Panther managing partner and CEO John Barnes said. “But as soon as we had the opportunity to work with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Oriol Servia – a guy I consider one of the best all-around drivers in IndyCar – this was a no-brainer for us.
“Dennis (Reinbold) and I have been friends for a long time, and they’ve got a great group of guys on their team that we’re very excited to be working with. I know we’re all looking forward to working under the same roof and expanding upon what we’ve both built all these years in the IndyCar Series.”
The teams shared a technical partnership at the end of the 2011 season and, effective immediately, will expand that effort under the same roof at Panther’s headquarters in Indianapolis. DRR and Group Lotus came to a mutual agreement recently to terminate their lease agreement of the Lotus engine.
“This is an unbelievably exciting prospect for us,” said Reinbold, co-owner of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing with Robbie Buhl. “The timing of aligning with Panther and putting this deal together is exceptional, especially knowing Panther’s history at the Indianapolis 500. We’re really looking forward to working together and taking advantage of the expertise that both teams share as we bring all our efforts together and move forward as a two-car team.
“We gave JR his start in IndyCar racing (filling in for the injured Mike Conway for two races), so we’ll always have a soft spot in our hearts for him and to pair JR alongside Oriol will allow them to feed off each other and continue to get better throughout the year. We’ve always enjoyed our associations with Panther in the past and we’re looking forward to a bright future together.”
Servia finished fourth in the championship last season with Newman-Haas Racing with 11 top-10 finishes, including runner-up finishes in New Hampshire and Baltimore.
“This is the best of both worlds. I’m already with a great team, a great crew and great owners at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and affiliating with Panther is perfect because I’ve sat down with John Barnes many, many times to try and put a program together and we’ve never been able to do it for one reason or another,” Servia said.
“I’m also looking forward to joining the Chevy family; they’ve been performing so well and shown an unbelievable commitment to win. Panther has such a great record at Indianapolis and being a two-car team will only make us all stronger. JR did such a great job there last year as a rookie and he’s already doing so much better this year. He’s a great kid. I really like him and I’m sure we’re going to make a great team.”
General Motors has powered all of Panther’s 15 career IndyCar Series race victories and its championships in 2001 and 2002.
Dempsey joins Younessi Racing: Younessi Racing is expanding its presence in Firestone Indy Lights adding Ireland’s Peter Dempsey to the team beginning with the Freedom 100.
Dempsey will drive the team’s lone entry at Indianapolis, but will be joined by team owner/driver Rodin Younessi in a two-car effort at Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix on June 2.
Younessi has also hired veteran engineer Dave McMillan to re-unite with Dempsey, who previously worked with Dempsey at O2 Racing Technology in 2011. Competing in four events together, they earned two podium finishes at St. Petersburg and Barber, led 9 laps at Long Beach and captured a top-10 finish at the Freedom 100.
“I couldn’t be happier about returning for the Freedom 100 at IMS,” Dempsey said. “Having Dave McMillan back working with me is a huge advantage as we have established a great working relationship and friendship since we met last season. We have brought in top crew to work with the team and our aim is to enjoy competing for the remainder of the year and hopefully the success will follow. There is one man who has given this opportunity to all of us and that is team owner Rodin Younessi. Our aim together is to be the best we can be and I could never thank him enough for giving me this special and unique opportunity.”
Dempsey, 26, is the winningest driver in the history of the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear and one of only two drivers to win the prestigious Walter Hayes Trophy three times. He made his Firestone Indy Lights debut in 2011 for O2 Racing Technology at four events and Andretti Autosport at five events. He earned four podium finishes with a best of second place at Toronto for Michael Andretti’s team, and finished 10th in season points despite only competing in nine events.
“I am very excited to have Peter and Dave on board as we expand our involvement in the Firestone Indy Lights series,” Younessi said. “We are committed to improving our team and we are 100% focused on winning the Freedom 100 with Peter. We are a small but unique team in this series. As an owner/driver, I race because I have a strong passion for competition. Our whole team has a love for racing and we are very excited and optimistic about our chances for success.”
The next IZOD IndyCar Series race is the Indianapolis 500 Mile on May 27 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be televised by ABC at 11a.m. (ET) and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network on SiriusXM (XM 94 and Sirius 212). The next Firestone Indy Lights race is the Firestone Freedom 100 on May 25 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be televised live by NBC Sports Network at Noon (ET) and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network.