The new 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series car had it first big test on Friday. 23 cars took to the 1.022-mile ISM Raceway for two three-hour test sessions on the west valley track. When the dust settled, the opening day of the annual preseason test didn’t disappoint.
Almost every driver you talk to will tell you how much lighter this car feels compared to the last one. The lightness is all caused by the lack of downforce for the 2018 version. The series was hoping that taking some downforce away from the car would make drivers have to lift in the corners of tracks like Phoenix, which could held aid in better racing.
Some drivers are a little wary of the racing being better though after the first day, but they’re hopeful they can make some gains on Saturday. The main problem is that, while the car is in wake, it isn’t awful in dirty air like it was last year, but it’s still hard to suck up and catch the car in front. They were hoping for Indy style of slingshot action from getting a good draft and being able to dart out and make a pass. Unfortunately, while riding behind someone wasn’t as bad, it’s still difficult to make a pass. That’s something the series will definitely want to improve before the April 7 race.
As far as the speed goes, Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing was the class of the field, leading both sessions on Friday.
Takuma Sato led the way in the first session topping the speed charts with a speed of 187.022 mph in his No. 30 Honda. Sato, is back with RLL for the first time since 2012, where he nearly won the Indianapolis 500. It was a great first session to be back. In the second test session, he was second overall with a lap of 189.065 mph. He was only second to his RLL teammate Graham Rahal.
Rahal, set a blazing quick lap of 189.090 mph in his No. 15 Honda in the night session to set the fastest time of the day. It was also great for them to have 1-2 for RLL overall and lead both sessions.
“Overall, a lot of positives to be taken out of today’s session,” said a happy Rahal. “We’re good, and Takuma (Sato) is right behind us. And frankly, that lap wasn’t anywhere near what the potential was. We were on a (19.30 second lap), but I caught traffic, I caught (Charlie) Kimball. My sense is what’s good is that I’m ultimately not super happy, ideally, with the car. The car has pace. Both cars have pace, and so that’s awesome.
“Trust me, to come here, Takuma and I were talking last night and we were like, ‘You know, I don’t really like this place. We haven’t had a lot of luck here the last few years, we’re used to coming here and getting our butts kicked.’ To be able to come here and be competitive with this aero kit is awesome. Obviously Honda has done a good job with the engines, but I mean it’s competitive. It’s close, kit’s going to be close. It’s our first time being on a short oval with this aero kit. It’s the most fun I have had on a short oval in years. The car is much more driver sensitive. To me it’s what an Indy car should be on a track like this. The car doesn’t obviously corner as quick, but it accelerates down the straightaways a lot better.”
Defending Phoenix race winner Simon Pagenaud was second in the first test session with a lap of 186.611 mph in his No. 22 Chevrolet. Pagenaud, considered Friday a great start for him and his team, saying they have more homework to do though overnight.
“It’s quite a bit different, but that’s the kind of day I love,” said the 2016 season champ. “It’s when you have to work really hard with the engineer to figure it out and understand what does what. We got some good understanding today. We have a bit of homework ahead of us. So now we need to recoup and recap what happened today and understand the package. Overall, it’s a good start. They’re doing a good job with Chevy and I had a blast tonight.”
Both AJ Foyt Racing cars were third and fourth respectively in the opening session with Tony Kanaan (186.112 mph) being third and rookie Matheus Leist (186.094 mph) fourth.
Sebastien Bourdais rounded out the top five in session 1 with a speed of 185.584 mph.
In the night practice, Pagenaud was once again next best in class behind the RLL cars with the third quickest lap. The Team Penske driver turned a lap of 188.430 mph. His Penske teammate Josef Newgarden was fourth overall with a speed of 188.182 mph, while Tony Kanaan rounded out the top five (187.806 mph).
The only incident of the day came when Leist spun his No. 4 Chevrolet exiting Turn 2.