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Open Test Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

INDIANAPOLIS – Mother nature tried her hardest to not let us get any action in during Wednesday’s scheduled NTT IndyCar Series open test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 29 cars were on hand to take to the famed 2.5-mile oval but rain interrupted the action just 11-minutes into it.

Rain drops also ended the day a half an hour early but due to a revised schedule, the action halted around 7:30 p.m. ET.

In the eight hours between, we saw four of them with on track activity and four more for track drying efforts.

When cars were actually circling the track at speed, we saw a ton of laps logged. Takuma Sato set the days fastest time when he turned in a lap of 226.993 mph in his No. 30 Honda on his 23rd lap of the veterans portion.

See, the day was initially separated into three different sessions. Originally, it was supposed to be the 20 full time veteran drivers taking their turn from 11 a.m. ET to 1 p.m. ET. followed by the rookies and any driver needing a refresher course in the two hours (1-3 p.m. ET) after that. From there, we were to close with three full hours of an all skate for all 29 drivers at the same time.

Unfortunately, at 11:11 a.m. ET the skies opened up and it started to rain. The yellow flag swiftly came out and we didn’t get back to action until 3:15 p.m. ET. That forced series and track officials to just give the veterans two hours overall (5:15 p.n. ET) then the rookies from 5:15 to 7:15. From there, it would be just 45 minutes of all out action. But, light sprinkles fell between the veterans and rookie laps which forced a third revision, this time just scrapping the final “all skate” all together.

So, the times by the veterans was it for them. Sato’s lap of nearly 227 mph was big for the Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing team, as they struggled for speed in 2018. To come out of the gates this strong is a good sign of potentially things to come next month.

Last year’s pole sitter Ed Carpenter was P2 in his No. 20 Chevrolet in turning a speed of 226.414 mph. His teammate Spencer Pigot (226.325 mph) was third overall while Will Power (226.225 mph) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (225.982 mph) rounded out the top five in the first session.

For the rookies and veteran refresher, Colton Herta set the quickest lap in his No. 88 Honda with a speed of 226.108 mph. That was the fifth overall top lap on Wednesday.

The day only saw two incidents, both for mechanical malfunctions.

At around 4:15 p.m. ET, Max Chilton’s engine expired on his No. 59 Chevrolet. Luckily for them, they were going to hit their mileage limit at the end of the day and were getting a new engine anyways.

The other incident came when Fernando Alonso’s No. 66 Chevrolet stalled on his first on track lap. The problem was the battery wasn’t charged which saw him come to a stop in the Turn 2 Warmup lane.

The only other problem came for 2013 Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan. His No. 14 Chevrolet developed an oil leak on his first lap and had to come back in for repairs. When they thought they had it fixed, they found another leak elsewhere. He never turned a lap at speed on Wednesday.

Here are five takeaways.

1. Ed Carpenter Racing Is Off To A Fast Start

All three of the ECR cars were found in the top eight on the overall speed chart on Wednesday afternoon. Carpenter (P2), Pigot (P3) and Ed Jones (P8) showed a lot of speed in their Chevrolet’s. That shouldn’t be too shocking though as ECR had all three of their cars last year make the Fast 9 in qualifying including Carpenter winning the pole.

While it’s still very early, it’s a great start for a team that has had a ho-hum start to the 2019 season overall.

2. Rookies

When the opening day of Indy 500 practice starts on May 14, four drivers won’t have to go through Rookie Orientation. The reason? All four rookies today passed their three phases meaning they’re eligible for Indy 500 practice once it begins in three weeks.

19 year old Colton Herta was quickest among them in turning in a lap of 226.108 mph. Despite having just 90 minutes of on track time at his disposal, he circled the track 61 times.

Felix Rosenqvist was fourth quickest in his session in his No. 10 Honda. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver turned the most laps in the second group with 72 circuits with a top speed of 222.578 mph.

Santino Ferrucci (220.637 mph) and Marcus Ericsson (220.384 mph) also passed their three phases as well.

So, when practice starts on May 14, only Ben Hanley, Jordan King and Pato O’Ward still have to complete their phases. All the refresher veterans minus Conor Daly have to finish their second and final phase too.

3. Fernando Alonso Mania

Fernando Alonso and McLaren found out the hard way on Wednesday why the NTT IndyCar Series is the toughest one to compete for in the entire world. The world renowned driver is attempting just his second start in the big race after nearly winning in his first try in 2017. Unfortunately, despite leading a handful of laps a couple of years ago, his engine let go in the closing part of the race.

Now, he returns with a new entrant (McLaren) who’s coming to Indy for the first time on their own since the 1970’s. That mixed with a brand new race car this year than what he ran in 2017 means they have a much steeper hill to climb in 2019.

Alonso and McLaren are doing this all by themselves. They don’t have the luxury of leaning on Andretti Autosport like they did in 2017.

Unfortunately, that showed on Wednesday.

On Alonso’s first lap, his car shut off before it really ever began. They had an electrical issue shortly after he pulled out of his pit stall as his No. 66 Chevrolet came to a stop in the warmup lane in Turn 2. Luckily, they were able to get his car fixed, but he only turned 29 laps and set the days slowest time overall at 218.690 mph. The other 27 drivers who were able to turn a lap at speed all went over 220 mph.

While some may be slightly concerned by this, especially since three cars are going home next month, McLaren CEO Zak Brown said a couple of weekends ago in Long Beach that they’re going to ease into this. They didn’t expect to turn heads in the speed department right away.

4. AFP Device

For the first time since the series first unveiled renderings of the Advanced Frontal Protection device back in February, all 29 cars were fitted with the 2.8 pound titanium piece for the test on Wednesday. Through the first four races, the series hasn’t used it yet.

Indy, was always going to be the first place to see it.

Well, it’s time to see how this new device will work. With where it is placed, it stands only three inches tall and is less than an inch wide. It will be located in front of the drivers along the chassis.

Some of the drivers said that it did cause some vision problems as it’s right in the middle of their eyesight in the corners, but they would eventually be able to get used to it.

“I think IndyCar made a great progress,” said Sato, the days fastest driver. “Might not be the perfect scenario today, but I think at least in a week or something, very strong one before come to the superspeedway, which is very important for all of the drivers.

“Of course, it is distracting from the visibility point of view. Better not to have anything, of course. I think things you just get used to.

“First time jumping in the car, I wasn’t sure how is going to be. Out-lap, first few laps, sometimes it was difficult. Imagine, basically you block one eye. Then you go watching an apex on your strong side of the eye, which is broken. So now the brain has to shift to the left eye to see it.

“At the same time, you go into the wall, close to the wall, you are usually watching on the right-hand side, but supporting the left-hand eye. Now left-hand eye completely broken by this.

“Eventually, we will get used to, but this is a necessary modification. Compared to the halo in Europe, I think it’s junior formula here, I think still there is a steps we need to move on. I think INDYCAR did a great job for that.”

Last year in this test, we saw the second version of the Aeroscreen on Josef Newgarden’s car. This year, a potential new safety device will be used on all 29 cars.

5. We Didn’t Really Learn Much On Wednesday

I wrote in Tuesday’s preview that we had a lot of questions that were hoping to get answered on Wednesday. See, after seeing a majority of the 30 lead changes a year ago come via pit sequences, IndyCar made some offseason changes to the cars and the aero configuration to allow them to race closer together this go around.

The car had some downforce adjustments to go along with a new Firestone tire and a new sealer on the racing surface itself to add more grip. All are supposed to coexist into closer racing on May 26.

While we really didn’t get many questions answered on Wednesday, the teams likely did. See, all the cars made several laps in this test session, but not many were turned in groups. Thank mother nature for that.

While it’s great to see cars at IMS again, the natural focus goes to the speed charts. Most of the drivers though, said don’t look too deep into them. See, no one was really out to show anything on Wednesday. This was all about keeping a ton of downforce on these cars and to go down check lists of things to accomplish before getting fully up to speed.

Plus, the conditions helped with giving even more downforce too as we saw temperatures in the low 60s or high 50’s in cool cloud cover. That gives more grip, especially with a surface that was newly sealed last Fall. When late May has been in the 80s or even 90s in ambient temperatures the last several years, Wednesday’s data is really irrelevant in terms of the speed and handling departments for next month.

Yes, the series made changes to help the aero package this past offseason, but we didn’t learn anything today on if they helped or not either. The conditions were not ripe to do so.

Session 1 (Veterans Results)

  1. 30 Sato 226.993
  2. 20 Carpenter 226.414
  3. 21 Pigot 226.325
  4. 12 Power 226.225
  5. 28 Hunter-Reay 225.982
  6.  9 Dixon 225.605
  7. 63 Jones 225.589
  8. 22 Pagenaud 225.556
  9. 18 Bourdais 225.385
  10. 27 Rossi 224.936
  11. 15 Rahal 224.259
  12. 26 Veach 223.803
  13. 98 Andretti 223.301
  14.  2 Newgarden 223.038
  15.  5 Hinchcliffe 222.997
  16. 60 Harvey 222.784
  17.  4 Leist 222.671
  18. 23 Kimball 221.569
  19. 59 Chilton 220.594
  20. 14 Kanaan 20.794

Session 2 (Rookies/Refresher Courses)

  1. 88 Herta 226.108
  2.  3 Castroneves 225.565
  3. 77 Servia 222.755
  4. 10 Rosenqvist 222.578
  5. 25 Daly 221.594
  6. 19 Ferrucci 220.637
  7.  7 Ericsson 220.384
  8. 48 Hildebrand 220.227
  9. 66 Alonso 218.690