Hello from the newly renamed ISM Raceway in Phoenix, where for the third straight year, the Verizon IndyCar Series teams and drivers have traveled the “Valley of the Sun” for a “spring training” open test before the season gets underway on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. in one month’s time.
Steve will be on site at ISM Raceway starting today and running through the first session on Saturday when he’ll head to the airport for a Saturday night flight home. Patrick will be arriving Friday, and we’ll have a two-pronged attack for three of the four official test sessions.
The on-track schedule is as follows (all times are Mountain):
Thursday, February 8
1pm – 5pm – rookie testing (see below for more details)
4pm – windscreen testing with Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing
Friday, February 9
1pm – 4pm – open IndyCar testing
6pm – 9pm – open IndyCar testing
Saturday, February 10
1pm – 4pm – open IndyCar testing
6pm – 9pm – open IndyCar testing
You’ll be able to watch all 12 hours of action from Friday and Saturday at racecontrol.indycar.com.
Streaming of the 2017 test via one Turn 1 camera was popular with IndyCar fans, and this year the coverage has been enhanced. A roaming camera will be found on pit road with Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network’s Jake Query and NBC Sports Network’s Katie Hargitt reporting. Also commenting on the action will be the Radio Network’s Mark Jaynes, and Dave Furst.
Don’t forget that if you are in the area, ISM Raceway will be open to the public on Saturday, and the price can’t be beaten. Free.
According to our friend and subscriber Indycar Weatherman, the weather is going to be picture perfect.
Here are a few things that we will be watching for as the open test unfolds.
Footwork, lap times and trap speeds.
The right foot flat to the floor for the majority of a race stint that has become the norm over the last two years at ISM Raceway should be a thing of the past.
While it wouldn’t be shocking to see similar speeds turned at the 1-mile oval this year, exactly how those speeds are achieved will be much different.
With 2,000 pounds less downforce than they had last year, the short oval Universal Aero Kit (UAK18) will once again force drivers to rely on their footwork to keep themselves from hitting the SAFER barrier.
Drivers will have to perfectly time getting on and off the throttle and downshifting at both ends of the track, equating to cornering speeds that will be lower.
However, that same reduction in downforce that will keep the drivers busy in the turns, has also led to a significant reduction in top speed, sapping drag. Less drag should equate to higher trap speeds heading into Turn 1 and Turn 3.
For reference, the quickest race lap during the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix in 2017 was a lap by Will Power at 186.340 mph. And, JR Hildebrand had the fastest trap speeds at 189.306 mph (entering Turn 1) and 193.671 mph (entering Turn 3).
The testing conundrum
For a driver/team to learn anything at a test, limits must be pushed. When limits are pushed, equipment can get torn up.
For example, James Hinchcliffe crashed during a test at ISM Raceway in December, and four drivers crashed during testing at the Avondale, Ariz. track during last year’s open test.
Combine a much harder and different car to drive along with the teams and drivers pushing the limits, and the result could very well be a group of very busy mechanics.
But, with more testing for most teams scheduled in the next two weeks, and a bit of an early season shortage of new UAK18 parts, keeping your equipment in one piece is something that will be on the minds of team managers and team owners.
See, a conundrum.
TSO will be watching for teams missing valuable track time due to electrical gremlins.
The consequences of moving the radiators back to accommodate a more robust side impact crash structure, and the streamlining of the engine cover after removing the overhead air intake has forced the electrical and computer to be reconfigured to fit into a more compact space.
According to the teams we have talked with, that has led to some down time during testing as they worked through these issues.
But, as one team manager told us, it’s the same for everybody, this is something they’ve all faced in the past when a new car was introduced, and they’ll get it figured out.
A total of nine drivers – Rene Binder (Juncos Racing), Zachary Claman DeMelo (Dale Coyne Racing), Pietro Fittipaldi (Dale Coyne Racing), Jack Harvey (Michael Shank Racing), Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing), Jordan King (Ed Carpenter Racing), Matheus Leist (A.J. Foyt Racing), Robert Wickens (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports) and Zach Veach (Andretti Autosport) – classified as rookies are currently set to make multiple starts during the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Add in Indianapolis 500-only entrant Stefan Wilson (Andretti Autosport), who is also in Arizona for IndyCar media day activity, and is still classified as a series rookie (only two career starts), and you’ve got a full double digit list of freshmen. This is the most since 2011, when 11 rookie drivers made multiple races starts.
Some other tidbits about the rookies:
Three (Leist, Wickens, and Veach) are scheduled to compete in all 17 rounds of the championship.
Six (Binder, Fittipaldi, Kaiser, King, Leist, and Wickens) will be making their first-ever IndyCar start. Wickens participated at Road America last year in practice filling in for Mikhail Aleshin, but did not get to continue for the full weekend when Aleshin’s paperwork issues were resolved.
Five (Claman DeMelo, Harvey, Kaiser, Leist, and Veach) are Mazda Road To Indy presented by Cooper Tires (MRTI) graduates. Six, if you count Wickens, who spent time in Formula BMW and Atlantics, two North American based junior open-wheel series that preceded the formation of the MRTI.
Fittipaldi, Kaiser, Leist, Pigot, Wickens, and Veach will all take part in a four-hour rookie session before being turned loose with the other drivers during the rest of the open test on Friday and Saturday.
King, who will be sharing a car with team owner Ed Carpenter this year, will be observing for three days before getting a chance to get behind the wheel of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Premium Vodka Chevrolet on Monday to complete his rookie oval test.
Fittipaldi, Wickens and King will all be turning left for the first time, while the other four all have oval experience from Indy Lights and have at least one MRTI victory on an oval.
TSO will be interested to see which driver is the quickest to adapt to the constant speed seen on an oval in an IndyCar.
Thankfully, each of the drivers, except for Kaiser, will have the benefit of an experienced teammate(s) to learn from.
Watching a driver get out of their car after their first run on a high-speed oval in an IndyCar is always interesting, and we’ll be there to grab as many first reactions as we can.