The IndyCar Series spent March 14th and 15th testing at Barber Motorsports Park, where Penske Racing assured their spot on top of the IZOD IndyCar Series. It also previewed another season of a Penske Racing-Target Chip Ganassi Racing battle for the championship.
On the first day of testing, Penske driver Will Power topped the charts at 114.198mph, with a lap of 1 minute, 12.5056 seconds. Target Chip Ganassi Racing Driver Scott Dixon was second (1.12.5538) with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Justin Wilson third (1.12.6791).
On the second day of testing, Helio Castroneves led the field at 1 minute, 11.943 seconds with teammate Power second at 1.11.9636.
“I was expecting something different from the car because it kept changing throughout the day based on the track,” Castroneves said. “I was expecting the car was going to push but it went the opposite way. The good news is that nothing was damaged. The field is so competitive; we have some new teams up at the top giving us a hard time. Also my teammates, they are two great talents – Ryan (Briscoe) and Will (Power) – pushing each other but I’m glad we were able to put the No. 3 up at the top at the end of the day.”
“This was a really good couple of days of testing and our Verizon car was very good,” Power said. “We did a lot of work and learned tons of valuable information about our car here at Barber. Today we practiced pit stops, which are every bit as important as speed on the track with how tight the competition is in this series. I am definitely ready to get this season started.”
Dixon, Penske’s Ryan Briscoe and Newman/Haas Racing’s Oriol Servia rounded out the top five on the second day.
“Team Target had a good couple of days with lots of big and good changes,” Dixon said. “The No. 9 Target Honda has been decent, remaining in the top-3 both days. We’re just going through the motions and making necessary adjustments before we start the season in St. Pete.”
“It was a really good couple of days here at Barber for the No. 6 IZOD Team Penske car,” Briscoe said. “We are very happy with the car we finished with today. We even did a long run, which compromised our chance to do a sticker tire run for time, but we did a lot of great race prep and we should be in good shape for the race here in a few weeks. This is an exciting track and I’m very happy to be back in an IndyCar.”
“I’m so happy!” Servia said. “Obviously it’s great to be in the top-five, but I’m just so happy. When you are running in the top-five, there is a reason. I felt good in the car, with the team. I was a blast when I looked at the scoring board an hour before the end and we were one and two. That’s the way Newman/Haas has always been, and that’s the way it has to be and it just felt great that we got there with two days of testing. There is still a lot to come from myself and the car. We progressed big stages to get where we are and there is still more. I feel very happy; everybody is super motivated. James was super helpful all day yesterday and today with him knowing the track and I really hope we can be teammates. The two cars worked together really well and we made a lot of progress together. I’m very happy with the team and myself. When you are a year out of the car, of course you still think you can drive but it is just so great knowing it is true.”
The test sesson was set to prepare for the season opener at St. Peterburg’s on March 28th, but also the Grand Prix of Alabama, which is set to take place on April 10th at Barber.
The test didn’t go totally uneventful free as on the second day, Mike Conway made contact with the tire barriers.
“The car handled a little differently than it did yesterday, and it just caught me out,” Conway said. “I got on the grass coming out of (Turn) 15 and it was so wet, it took me straight into the barrier. It’s a shame, but fortunately, it’s just a test day.”
Dario Franchitti, last year’s champion, made some recommendations to track owner George Barber, but also had some compliments.
“I asked him if the curbs could stand out more when they paint them — red and white as opposed to gray and white,” he said. “I also told him I wouldn’t mind borrowing the guy who cuts his grass because he does a hell of a job. If my wife sees what he’s doing here, planting trees and stuff, it will be very expensive for me. It’s a pretty special place.”
Last year was a special year for Chip Ganassi as not only did he win the IndyCar Championship with Franchitti, they also won the Indianapolis 500 together. Ganassi also added a Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 victory to his resume with Jamie McMurray, along with the Grand-Am Championship. With his accomplishments, Ganassi is nominated for Executive of the Year, while his team Chip Ganassi Racing is nominated for Team of the Year in the Sports Business Journal Awards. The awards are set to be presented in New York on May 18th.
“It’s great to be recognized for all the hard work the teams put in,” Ganassi said. “You have to remember that motorsports is one of those businesses that as great a year that 2010 was, and it was an unbelievable year and one that any car owner dreams about, that was last year and this is this year. It’s a zero-based game.
“We’re starting back at zero and the points are all tied for all the championships. It’s a new year and no one is going to forget about last year faster than our competitors that want to beat us. It’s going to be a lot of hard work and to accomplish anything close to what we did last year, but that’s why we are back here. That’s the kind of challenge that we like and what attracts us to the sport — the challenge.”
Ganassi has already started leaving his mark this year with a victory in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.