DARIO FRANCHITTI/Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was the fastest of 13 IZOD IndyCar drivers Monday at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma Ca. His lap was 1:17.2. He said “Compared to my first two races, this morning went great. Hopefully we’ll learn something here.”
Second and third fastest were his Ganassi teammates, CHARLIE KIMBALL (:17.4) and GRAHAM RAHAL (1:17.5.) KV Racing Technology Chevrolet drivers E.J. VISO (1:17.80) and TONY KANAAN (1:17.84) were fourth and fifth.
Other times were: Team Penske’s Chevrolet drivers WILL POWER (1:18.5), RYAN BRISCOE (1:18.8) and HELIO CASTRONEVES (1:18.9.)
All times provided by the teams.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE/Andretti Autosport Chevrolet, in a master understatement, said “We weren’t on the track as much as we wanted.” His car had an engine issue in the morning, so the team kept all drivers (MARCO ANDRETTI and RYAN HUNTER-REAY) in until it could be resolved. Andretti didn’t go out in the afternoon, and the team didn’t provide times for RHR or Hinchcliffe. Hunter-Reay was a no-show at the media session, but he is this week’s guest on the IndyCar teleconference.
Andretti said the new car is similar to the old car. It’s a lot more bearable now. It has some pretty crazy trim levels” At Barber, “I was running well until things started breaking.”
The weather was sunny and mild. More than 300 fans turned out for the open test.
During the noon break, all the drivers came in for an informal media/fan Q&A. The delightful part was that the drivers were relaxed, candid, playful and open. They kidded around with each other, and no signs of friction were to be seen. Franchitti was asked how the new blocking rules worked out at Barber with his ‘competition – Power.’ The Scot shrugged and said “I haven’t been on the same part of the track so far, so no worries. He was the leader of the pack and I was leader of the back.” Power’s playful retort was that “We all race hard.”
Franchitti’s wife is actress ASHLEY JUDD, who currently has a hit ABC TV show, “Missing.” While she can wax eloquently for some time on talk shows about her race driver spouse, Franchitti is not known for wanting to discuss his wife. However, he inevitably got asked and he answered what he thought about her new show. Franchitti thought it was great, and as he was “on the inside, he was three episodes ahead of the rest of us.” And … he warned his fellow drivers that Ashley did most of the boxing and stunts on the show. “These guys might want to pay attention to that! I’m more cautious around my wife now. She knows all those moves …and she can shoot a gun!”
Franchitti compared the three engine manufacturers, and was the only driver to mention Lotus, whose cars have been notably absent from recent testing due to lack of supply. He said “Honda has better top end speed, Chevrolet has more corner torque, and Lotus is bloody good.”
Kanaan said fans will see a different first lap at this weekend’s upcoming street race in Long Beach. All the drivers are being apprehensive going into the first corner. He hasn’t had the best season so far. Quipping about that, he said “It’s nice to have front and back championship leaders.” He also jabbed at his race buddy and KVRT teammate, F1 driver RUBENS BARRICHELLO, saying although he’s been testing twice already at Infineon, he never got any track time as his buddy took his car.
Barrichello retorted “I learn what I can.” He won’t be classified as a Rookie this season as he is not running for Rookie of the Year. However, Barrichello said he will be given the extra track time given to Rookies at each new track, and especially at The Brickyard for the Indianapolis 500. “I need it, otherwise I’d be a mobile chicane.” Barrichello said “I love this track very much, the lines, the apexes. It’s been nice to test twice here. Although I have years of F1 experience, everything inside an Indycar is different. It is hard braking. Unfortunately I didn’t get much time this morning.”
The third KVRT driver, E.J. VISO, did almost 30 laps before he had some issues. He had to bring in the car to be checked.
Castroneves said Infineon Raceway is a really challenging race track with its elevations and long straights. “I enjoy it-the layout. Here’s it’s not about the car; it’s more about strategy, especially with our lower fuel capacity. Will it be a two or three stop race? There will be more passing. The new car is suitable and we are all learning. And the manufacturers are learning. “I’m extremely happy. It’s fun, different. The Chevy engine is doing very well.”
One constant in all the comments, from the drivers, attending media and fans, was that last weekend’s race at Barber was great, with lots of passing, and tires really came into play. Rahal said Barber was probably the best ever road course race. Franchitti said “Tire degradation at Barber made a difference. We are talking with Firestone about a slightly different tire.”
Rahal said Infineon is tough on tires – they can fall off a lot. “It’s such a tricky place. I’m impressed with the car right off the bat. What we find here will help us all year, and especially for our race here. We don’t have tires figured out yet for this track. Firestone is trying to build a tire like Barber.”
SCOTT DIXON/Ganassi Racing Honda the car felt quick with high grip for the morning test session, which he attributed to the coolness. “The car has come a long way since December. There has been a big improvement from the earlier days. We’ve done some oval testing.”
Kimball said he was focused on his driving style. His emphasis was less on ultimate speed and more about maximizing his skills. “I was fighting the car in the carousel.” Kimball was intrigued by some of the names given to certain sections of the track, such as carousel, esses, etc.
Briscoe said they tried different tires, but they’re not 100 percent sure what they will run at the August race.
After the media session, TODD TELFORD, photo journalist for the local Independent Journal, showed some of the drivers his ideas on how to improve the passing zone in Turn Eleven. Franchitti and Power spent a long time with him going over the diagram and offering insights and comments.