Scott Dixon
Scott Dixon

Wednesday at Sonoma Raceway it was all about the testing for ten IndyCar teams. No worries about speeds The Chevrolet and Honda-powered Dallara open wheel cars were trying new parts, new drivers, and new setups. They also were, in some cases, getting used to new faces, on either side of the wall – inside and out of the car. For 2013 IndyCar Champion, SCOTT DIXON of New Zealand, it was getting used to his new Target Chip Ganassi teammate – TONKY KANAAN of Brazil, who was replacing Dixon’s long-time teammate, DARIO FRANCHITTI of Scotland, who retired from driving after his horrific crash last season. The Ganassi boys were also running Chevrolet engines for the first time after a long relationship with Honda.

Kanaan came from KV Racing Technology, another Chevrolet team, which is retaining its other two 2013 drivers, SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS of France and SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA of Colombia. No word on former Swiss Miss, SIMONA DE SILVESTRA. KV Team Owner, JIMMY VASSER, said he’d heard uncomfirmed rumors that she might become a F1 test driver for Sauber, a Swiss-owned team run by the sport’s only female CEO/team principal, MONISHA KALTENBORN.

The other two Ganassi Racing drivers are returnees – American, CHARLIE KIMBALL, who raced for Ganassi last season; and RYAN BRISCOE of Australia, who drove for Ganassi in the past.

Team Penske retained 2013 Indycar points runner-up, HELIO CASTRONEVES of Brazil and WILL POWER of Australia. Joining the team is JUAN PABLO MONTOYA of Colombia, who just came over from seven years of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing with Ganassi. JPM also is a former IndyCar Champion (1999-his Rookie year) and was a Formula One driver before that, winning the Monaco Grand Prix.

Ten of the eleven scheduled teams were on site for the one day test:
Ed Carpenter Racing – MIKE CONWAY
Target Chip Ganassi Racing – SCOTT DIXON and TONY KANAAN
Chip Ganassi Racing Teams – RYAN BRISCOE
Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing – CHARLIE KIMBALL
A.J. Foyt Racing – TAKUMA SATO
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports – SIMON PAGENAUD and MIKAIL ALESHIN

The eleventh team, Panther Racing with TBD drivers, was a no-show, with no reason given.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

Ed Carpenter Racing

Ryan Briscoe's Chevrolet

Left to Right: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda; Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet; and Ryan Briscoe’s Chevrolet.

Among the changes in the 2014 cars are new safety features including a new, improved head rest and new Safety Intrusion Panels in the side panel areas. These panels are so new, most cars don’t have them yet. One can see the unpainted area on Saavedra’s car where his new panel will be, while on his teammate’s car the panel is still painted pre-installation.

MIKE HULL, Managing Director of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, said the purpose of the new panels was for additional body protection in the area of the drivers’ legs. The panels will be a bond, interior and exterior. The changes came after some accidents last year, such as JUSTIN WILSON of England who was speared in the leg. Hull said the safety changes this year and in previous years are part of the evolutionary process. Some of the changes come from “Terry’s Group” – referencing DR. TERRY TRAMMELL, Orthopedic Consultant and Safety Advisor for IndyCar since 2005. Hull said changes are a summation of everything which happened the previous year.

Sebastian Saavedra's left side pod/panel

Mike Hull

Sebastien Bourdais' left side pod/panel area

Left to Right: Saavedra’s Chevrolet, Mike Hull, and Boudrais’ Chevrolet.

Another safety item still under consideration is lift prevention – trying to help prevent a race car from lifting during competition. A hole underneath the car, under the wing, is being tested. So far the under-wing study has included the CFD, wind tunnel and track test at Fontana. Hull said his team wasn’t a part of the Fontana test, so he doesn’t have further details.

One unusual hiccup during the afternoon session was a Red Flag for seeping water. The track is under sea level in parts, and the Sonoma area had a torrential rain storm (16-18 inches) over the past week – after fourteen months of drought.

While they all say it’s not about the speed, it’s just a test, one crewman said mid-afternoon that Bourdais had the fastest time.