Its happened the first pre season test. The countdown to the new season is finally getting closer each day now.
The roar of 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engines filled the air with sweet sounds at Phoenix Raceway, day and night, as 21 Verizon IndyCar Series entries turned laps for the first time together in 2017 last week.
The first of a two-day open test for all full-season teams saw Team Penske newcomer Josef Newgarden record the fastest of 2,638 total laps turned on the 1.022-mile oval over the course of two three-hour practice sessions. The second practice came under the lights during the same time period that the Phoenix Grand Prix will take place April 29 on the short oval steeped in Indy car history.
Newgarden, who joins the 14-time Indy car champion Team Penske following five years as a rising star with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and most recently Ed Carpenter Racing, clocked the fastest lap of the day near the end of the afternoon practice at 190.129 mph (19.3511 seconds) in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Teams focused on race setups and running in packs in the night session, which was led by Andretti Autosport's Marco Andretti in the No. 27 hhgregg Honda at 189.122 mph (19.4541 seconds).
"I think we had a pretty good start to today," said Newgarden, who finished a career-best fourth in the 2016 championship behind the Penske trio who are now his teammates - Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Helio Castroneves. "The car was really great off the truck, so we didn't have to do too much. We just got into our program and had a pretty easy start."
Second on the combined session speed chart was owner/driver Ed Carpenter, in the No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, at 189.990 mph in the first practice. Defending Phoenix Grand Prix champion Scott Dixon was eighth in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (187.944) and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Pagenaud 14th in the No. 1 PPG Team Penske Chevy (186.403).
While drivers running Chevrolet engines and aero kits locked down the top four spots in the first practice, those equipped with Hondas claimed the first six positions in the night practice - led by Andretti, the third-generation Indy car racer.
"It's always encouraging (to see your name at the top)," Andretti said. "It's still early but it's a good start. What I like about it is, you obviously want to be P1, but today we really focused on the car, the car, the car. We just focused on doing our jobs and maximizing whatever we can. And we ended up all right. I have a hunch that the opposition is turned down, but you might as well be there if you can be."
Indy cars raced 61 times from 1964-2005 at Phoenix Raceway. Following a 10-year hiatus, the Verizon IndyCar Series returned last year with Dixon leading the final 155 laps to collect the 39th of his 40th career Indy car wins, which ranks fourth all-time.
Big news too from the test is that the USAC Silver Crown Series joins Phoenix Grand Prix race weekend.
The roots of open-wheel racing will return to Phoenix Raceway as part of the Verizon IndyCar Series race weekend in April, with the announcement by track officials that the USAC Silver Crown Series will race on April 28-29 as a prelude to the Phoenix Grand Prix.
The Phoenix Copper Cup will mark the first time that Silver Crown cars will race on the 1-mile oval since 2009. In addition, the USAC .25 Midgets will compete on a temporary oval in the track's fan midway on race weekend.
"We're thrilled to add the USAC Silver Crown series to our Verizon IndyCar Series weekend," said Bryan Sperber, Phoenix Raceway president. "The series has a tremendous history here and has produced some incredible races. I'm certain this race will be a popular addition to the Phoenix Grand Prix schedule."
Heres what some of the IndyCar Series drivers had to say after day 1 of the test.
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 1 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet, 2016 Verizon Indy Car Series champion): "We reset it to zero, so here we are, another year. Last year was fantastic, but we have to use what we learned last year to do even better this year. So I'm very excited. It's the first time that I've had the opportunity to actually capitalize on such a great season, so it was a good test today. Just trying to understand everything that we learned during the winter, going slowly test after test, and hopefully we can put the package together and come back and be strong for the race here."
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "It's great to be going and fun to be with Team Penske. It's really been an interesting offseason for me, just I've not really wanted an offseason this time around. Normally you like a little bit of a break, but this year I wanted to get going immediately, so it's been a long wait. But I feel fairly squared away with the new operation and just trying to gel a little bit with the group, the Verizon (No.) 2 car team is all new to me. They're not new to each other, so there's great continuity there, but I'm new to the group, so they're trying to understand me and I'm trying to understand them. I think we had a pretty good start to today. The car was really great off the truck, so we didn't have to do too much. We just got into our program and had a pretty easy start to the afternoon."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "This is kind of the unofficial start of the season really for us, to get everybody out here, all the new car and driver combinations, and just the whole field on the track at the same time. You get that kind of competitive spirit going again and that excitement just for the start of the season."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, 2016 Phoenix Grand Prix winner):"It's good to be back in an Indy car. It's been a little while, so it's nice to be out running and obviously back here in Phoenix, fond memories from last year. It's always good to be back at a track that you won at. For us, big changes in the offseason. It's the second time in the Honda-powered car, first time on a short oval, which as we know is maybe not the best package to have. But all in all, it ran fairly smoothly. ... As for right now, the engine feels really good and lap times I thought for what we were doing were actually fairly decent."
TONY KANAAN (No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "It was a big change (to Honda) for us. We worked really hard to try to understand off-track how the aero kit worked, and I think we had a pretty good idea. ... No big issues, so we're still learning, learning, scanning through all the lists the engineers have to make it right when we come back. So we're not really concerned what we're going to do here today. I mean, we're here to learn as much as we can, so when we come back we can try to win this thing."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda): "I think we're pleased with the performance today. Obviously, we have to take into account that it's a test, but we worked through a lot of stuff. I don't think we were necessarily looking for speed to be honest with you, so I was a little bit surprised when we went out right away (in the night session) and did that lap time. We actually backed it up again completely on our own at the end of the session. All in all, I'm pleased with the car. I'd like in race pace to find maybe a couple of tenths to keep up with the Penskes, but we look pretty good. We're just trying to get through a long checklist of items throughout the winter. I think everyone on the United Rentals team did great job today, and just looking forward to tomorrow."
ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): "It was a good start to the test. We had good cars here last year, and Josef (Newgarden) and I both qualified well and both were a factor in the race. I made a mistake in the race, otherwise I think we probably would have been on the podium. Coming here, we did a tire test here in the offseason, so we felt pretty good about where we were as a team coming in here, which I think is good for JR (Hildebrand), too, coming in, to make that transition back to fulltime guy a little easier. Chevy does have a good package here and we're thankful for that. But it's a good place for us to start. We have a good handle on this track and hopefully we can keep it rolling."
JR HILDEBRAND (No. 21 Fuzzy's Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): "I think for us, it's just about starting to build the communication, working with the new engineers on the team or on the (No.) 21 car. I feel great about the couple of guys that have been brought in, Justin Taylor and Dan Hobbs. But we're all just kind of getting familiar with each other at the same time. Definitely a nice way to be able to do that when we know that we've got a good package to start with."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda): "Very happy day, I think. ... I've been out of the car for over five months, and five months has obviously felt long, but it's a transition for the team, a lot learned and to meet the people, went to the shop and to go through a lot of stuff with engineers and etc., etc. Just like one click and then now jumping in the car, so I was happy and obviously those strong three other teammates helped me out really well for the first session. The car is there already."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 hhgregg Honda): "It's always encouraging (to see your name at the top). It's still early but it's a good start. What I like about it is, you obviously want to be P1, but today we really focused on the car, the car, the car. We just focused on doing our jobs and maximizing whatever we can. And we ended up all right. I have a hunch that the opposition is turned down, but you might as well be there if you can be. ... The atmosphere, a lot of it is just me. I decided for myself that, 'I'm going to do this for me. I'm going to have fun. I'm going to drive to impress myself, not anybody else.' When you drive more relaxed, you do a better job."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): "It's just nice to get back to work, really. This is what we do, this is how we operate. This is how we operate mentally. Being away from the racetrack, you kind of feel like a fish out of water, so it's nice to be back and just be back into it, be back into the rhythm. I wish we were here for a race weekend or something just so you could be in this more. The test is going to fly by, but we have four cars, we're going to work together as we always do at Andretti Autosport. We're going to put together the best race car, come back with it and hopefully make for an interesting race when we come back for the Phoenix race weekend."
Quotes and media Series from IndyCar Media
Photos from the David Turner collection