Four weeks separate the IZOD IndyCar Series’ previous race in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to the sport’s crown jewel – the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 27. With preparations for the Indy 500 getting underway last weekend, drivers didn’t sit idle during their down time.
Texas Motor Speedway served as the classroom while drivers played the role of students gaining valuable knowledge of the series’ new DW12 Dallara chassis and its aerodynamic performance on an oval during an open test Monday, May 7. Twelve of the series’ biggest stars participated in the day-long test session, which provided valuable answers as drivers prepare for the Indy 500 and the upcoming Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday, June 9.
“I feel like driving the car right now in some areas there is an edge, but that’s what you want,” Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves said. “That’s what you want to give a team, an opportunity to use a type of setup. It may not go two miles per hour faster, but it’s more consistent in the long run. We might see during the race people going faster in the beginning and slower in the end and it creates a different strategy. I feel that the fans will enjoy that because it will be different.”
The new chassis has provided cars with a sleeker look while improving safety features for the driver at the same time. The chassis features rear-wheel pods to protect drivers from wheel-to-wheel contact, along with a wider cockpit providing drivers more protection when encountering an impact.
The safety features have not hindered the aerodynamic performance of the car. The new design has provided an ideal balance according to drivers and INDYCAR officials.
“Speed wise, we are not that far off despite running considerably less horsepower than when we were here last year,” IZOD IndyCar Series Vice President of Technology Will Phillips said prior to the morning test session. “We are running a low boost level here. The efficiency of the car is significantly improved.”
The redesign of the chassis is the first since 2003 and despite the learning curves and lack of knowledge, drivers were impressed with their first impressions of the car on an oval and its ability to race.
“I think for the first time we are coming here, coming open minded to figure out what the car is going to be like,” Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon said. “I’m back to the fact that I think the car has a range of options and I was pleasantly surprised to be honest with you. There are a lot of options and now it’s going to be difficult to drive for a whole race, which I think is a good addition and INDYCAR has done a good job with the options we have.”
The information drivers gathered from the open test session has them excited about their return visit to Texas Motor Speedway for the Firestone 550.
“This track, it’s funny,” Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe said. “It can be a pack race and then conditions change and you look at the race in 2010 and we were lifting through half the stint then. But conditions today were good and it was hard to do a full stint on tires. So I think that’s a positive note. I still think you are going to see a lot of side-by-side, close racing.”
Castroneves, the winningest active IZOD IndyCar Series driver at Texas Motor Speedway with three victories, said little can change the excitement of “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race.”
“Eddie (Gossage, Texas Motor Speedway president) does a good job promoting the race,” Castroneves said. “Night racing is good for us. It’s a little more refreshing and I feel it’s pretty entertaining.”