IndyCar returns to the World’s Greatest Racecourse

Josef Newgarden fastest in shortened test session 

Photo by James Black
Photo by James Black

Last week, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted the annual Open Test for the Indianapolis 500. Thursday’s 8.5 hour test saw lots of action as Friday was canceled due to rain. 

Three different sessions were run on Thursday. The first session included the full field of NTT IndyCar series drivers and Takuma Sato, who last drove at Texas on April 2. Last year’s race winner, Marcus Ericsson topped the morning session with a speed of 224.330 mph. 

“It’s always a good sign when you roll off the truck and the speed is there,” Ericsson said after the morning session. “The car feels good out there, good balance wise. We’ll see this afternoon when we get some more pack running, get in traffic more. Definitely a good sign to be on top of the charts.” 

In the middle of the day, the Rookie/Refresher practice was held. Drivers in this test are either rookies to IMS or veterans who have not driven on an oval in a year. The rookies had to complete the Rookie Orientation Program (ROP). This program is held in three phases. Phase one is 10 laps and drivers have to maintain an average of 205-210 mph. Phase two is 15 laps with an average of 210-215. The third, and final, phase is 15 laps with an average of 215+. 

Rookies Agustin Canapino, Benjamin Pedersen, and Sting Ray Robb all completed their ROP, allowing them to participate in the afternoon session and the rest of the Month of May activities. 

Veterans Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Stefan Wilson, and Katherine Legge completed the last two phases as part of the refresher test

In hopes of creating closer racing, IndyCar allowed all of the teams to test new aerodynamic pieces that can be used during May as well. IndyCar also added downforce to the car at Texas, creating more passing opportunities. Ericsson hopes for the same at Indy. 

“In Texas, they did something similar, adding some downforce and it made a great race for all of us there,” Ericsson said.  “If we can do something similar here at the Speedway, it would be amazing.”

The afternoon session saw 2,351 laps turned by all 33 drivers. Drivers fought the wind as well, seeing 10 mph wind speeds and gusts 20 mph and higher, adding to the trickiness of IMS. 

At the end of the day, it was Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden topping the session with a speed of 227.686. Newgarden, a two-time champion of the series has yet to win his first Borg-Warner Trophy. Look for Newgarden as a favorite to win next month. 

Conor Daly followed Newgarden in second, posting  227.466 mph, just a few minutes before the session concluded. 

Following Daly was Scott Dixon with a 226. 788 mph speed. Dixon has won the previous two poles for the 500. Kyle Kirkwood, coming off of his first career win in Long Beach,  finished fourth posting 226.727 mph. 

Sato rounded out the top five in his No. 11 Honda with a 226.265. Sato is running the oval races for Chip Ganassi Racing this year and is a two-time 500 winner. 

“Really happy to be back at IMS, entering the Indy 500, that’s the number one thing,” Sato said. “Coming back here with Chip Ganassi Racing, last year’s 500 winning team. I just want to try to help the team with my experience, to help them push forward, that’s what my intention is.”

Next up for the IndyCar series is the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama,  April 28-30. 

Then the IndyCar series returns to IMS on May 12-13 for the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course. The first practice for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 is  May 15, with the race on May 28. 

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