The temperatures rose into the low eighties at Sonoma Raceway for the IndyCar team test. Fourteen drivers were on hand for the (private) team test. The test was a free day for fans and a nice group showed up with cameras, autograph books and stop watches. This is a leadup to next weekend’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma IndyCar race.
Three of the four Andretti drivers (MARCO ANDRETTI, RYAN HUNTER-REAY and JAMES HINCHCLIFFE) and JUSTIN WILSON representing Dale Coyne Racing held forth for an mid-day informal media conference, which was also open to the public.
Tuesday’s test was a Honda test and the Chevy teams tagged along. Honda had four teams – Rahal Letterman Racing with GRAHAM RAHAL and JAMES JAKES; Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing with JOSEF NEWGARDEN and sports car champion, LUCAS LUHR; A.J. Foyt Racing with TAKUMA SATO; and Dale Coyne Racing with JUSTIN WILSON and Japanese 2012 Japanese F3 Champion/Super Formula driver, RYO HIRAKAWA.
The Chevrolet teams were: Andretti Autosport with all four drivers – MARCO ANDRETTI, JAMES HINCHCLIFFE, RYAN HUNTER-REAY, and E.J. VISO; Panther Racing with RYAN BRISCOE; Ed Carpenter Racing with owner/driver, ED CARPENTER; and Dragon Racing with SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS and SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA.
There is no official Timing & Scoring done for a team test, so it is hard to quantify results. Wilson said that the manufacturers were timing and at the end of the day all the ECU’s will be downloaded and compared. Wilson had four new sets of tires, two for morning and two for afternoon. He said he was running “average. Any grip he could get would be great. There is some action as we slide around, especially if it gets warm. It will be interesting to see who can keep the car under him (or her) the longest.”
Wilson said he hasn’t yet been told strategy specifics for the Sonoma race. The course length and configuration will be the same as last year, so they’re running the same strategy, and will analyze a bit more later for tire wear and pit stops.”
Wilson said he would prefer a faster Turn Nine, but said the track is a fun track with all the compressions, crests and elevations.
Wilson said the Sonoma race is very competitive and one needs everything perfect just to make The Fast Six in Qualifying.
Hirakawa said “so far so good” with his morning test. He may or may not be racing at Sonoma. Color Coyne Coy.
Hinchcliffe admitted that Sonoma has not “historically been a tremendous circuit for our team,” and made more than a few teasing references to his teammate, RHR, being dumped in Turn Seven by ALEX TAGLIANI last year while RHR was running third. RHR still is frustrated by that, adding that Turn Seven was his least favorite corner. Andretti said Turn Seven is faster in a golf cart.
Hinch was’t overly enthusiastic about his morning run, after ‘wasting time finding something’ but said they did get some laps before noon. He attributed the team’s advances this test to the chemistry with the team.”It helps a lot that we can all be open and work together.”
A spectator timed Hinchcliffe at a 1:18.8, but a Chevy person said “I wish.” The best Chevrolet time was in the low 1:19’s, with the average Chevy time in the 1:19’s.
Hinch had a thing going with an orange pylon in Turn Eleven – it was in his way. So early on in the afternoon session, he came through T11 and deliberately aimed right for the cone, knocking it out of his way, and carried on.
Hunter-Reay said the Sonoma race is really important to his team, as all of his sponsors attend this race. “We’ve traditionally really struggled on the permanent road courses, but we’ve made some great headway this season and I think this test will really pay off for us. I think we test here more than any other track.”
Andretti said he didn’t have a lot of positives from the morning session and that his teammates were “kicking my butt here. I’ll have to put a stop to that.”
Briscoe has recovered sufficiently from his recent fractured wrist so he can test – his first time back in an IndyCar or sports car since his accident in Toronto. Briscoe won last year’s Sonoma race.
Swiss driver Luhr was slated to run in the afternoon test session. He has won multiple sports car championships including ALMS, Le Mans, Rolex 24, Sebring 12 Hour, and just won his fifth consecutive ALMS race last weekend with GREG PICKETT’s Muscle Milk HPD Honda LMP2 car. It’s well-known that Pickett is unhappy that the LMP2 class won’t be part of the new merged sports car series, United SportsCar Series, going forward. He has expressed interest in IndyCar. Pickett’s company, Muscle Milk, is providing some sponsorship for Luhr’s open wheel debut, and Luhr’s chief engineer, BRANDON FRY, was at the Sonoma test, on the pit stand with electronics and laptop.
Newgarden had a challenging morning. As he pitted the No.67 car appeared smokey and the team spent a couple of hours working on the car. He went out for another lap and came in for the brake fluid to be drained. He switched to the No.97 car, and drove it for most of the day.
Bryan Herta/Barracuda Racing Honda wasn’t at the Sonoma test, but has announced its driver lineup for the remainder of the year. The original driver, ALEX TAGLIANI, remains under contract, but is no longer racing the car. For the Sonoma race, local (and currently unemployed driver) J.R. HILDEBRAND will drive, as he will also for the season’s finale at AutoClub Raceway in Fontana CA.
Italian racer, LUCA FILIPPI, will drive the Herta No.98 Honda in Baltimore and the Houston doubleheader races. He recently made his debut at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Next Wednesday IndyCar will have an open test at Sonoma Raceway. It may seem like just semantics, but there is a difference in the tire allotment between open and team tests. For the Sonoma team test, Firestone (the official tire for IndyCar) made sure each car had four sets of the road course primary spec that will be run during the Sonoma race next weekend. It’s the same road course primary spec that was used at the Barber Park race in April. Some teams requested additional sets for the Sonoma test, so they were given some sets of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course primary spec tire. The Mid-Ohio spec is close to the Barber spec.
The teams don’t test with the alternate (softer tread compound) tires, but must use both primary and alternate tires during the race. They are distinguished by the sidewall color – black for primary and red for alternate. The Sonoma alternate tire is the same as the Barber alternate tire. The primary and alternates have the same body construction.
For next week’s open test, all cars are limited to three sets of tires for the day. They will be the Barber/Sonoma primary spec.
RHR said, when questioned how the track was compared to last year, that “every lap we’re doing is putting down that Firestone rubber. It’s so soft, you can actually see it laying down. The track will change, but we ca get a lot done, even if the track is green.”