Last week’s IndyCar test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway looked—to the casual eye—like Carb Day. Every team seemed to be cramming as many laps as they could into the time allotted, drafting and passing at the end of the straights in team packs.
But in interview after interview, drivers cited “checklists” that the teams had, especially with new aerodynamic bits the teams have to work with to add downforce through the corners and—theoretically—increase passing opportunities. While we might see none of these used in qualifying, they could see heavy use in raceday trim.
I will always prefer the days when competitors developed these bits themselves, giving race fans the joy of dissecting each and every car and the goals their designers are hoping to achieve, but whatever.
In today’s world, IndyCar—like NASCAR—have chosen to take on the car designer role themselves, then wring their hands over whether the cars are providing enough passing or not.
So Thursday’s test was as much for the insight of IndyCar itself as for the teams. And only Thursday it was, as the scheduled Friday test was—as expected—rained out.
That explains why the one-day test was so active, and provided a good show for the decent sized crowd that peopled the turn 2 berm on a mostly beautiful day punctuated by one short sprinkle delay.
Catching the best tow of the day was two-time NTT IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden, turning a top lap of 227.686 mph in the No. 2 Shell Team Penske Chevrolet. Newgarden’s best finish in 11 previous “500” starts was third in 2016, but he will be one of the favorites next month to deliver Team Penske a 19th Indianapolis 500 victory, extending the team’s record.
Newgarden turned his top lap with about 50 minutes remaining in the afternoon practice, when cars circulated in packs, simulating what will be seen on raceday, Sunday, May 28.
“Really great day,” Newgarden—my niece’s favorite driver—said. “I wish it was raceday today. But you can’t choose those. You have to show up on that day and be very good. I told the team that if it was raceday, don’t touch it because it was very good. Sometimes you show up and the car is great. and sometimes you have to work on it. Today was one of those really good days.
“We got through our list, as well, and we learned a lot, which is always positive. Sometimes you can go around in circles at this place, but today as a team I felt like we were very efficient with our time. We split everything up and divided and conquered. Really, really happy for Team Penske today, and I feel good for next month with the Shell car.”
Here’s my interview with Takuma Sato, where we discuss my winnings on his 2020 win:
Indianapolis-area native Conor Daly (seen dicing with Jack Harvey in the featured photo at the top of the page) jumped to second in the final minutes of the afternoon session Thursday with a lap of 227.466 in the No. 20 BitNile/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet.
“I thought today was really good,” said Daly. “We were fast really all day, but I felt really racey. We happened to sneak a lap in there, but I really, really enjoyed today. We stayed in the car for three and a half hours, so we did a lot of work—which is great. That’s what testing is for, and we were quick. I feel really good about our day today.”
“I would say it was a good start to the month of May in April,” said owner/driver Ed Carpenter. “I thought we had a really productive day.
“Time sheets are what they are, but we had a pretty ambitious list to be really aggressive and get through today and try to get through tomorrow’s work too not knowing what the weather will be.
“For my sake, the No. 33 BITNILE.COM Chevy, I was really happy with. Very confident. Learned some good things, learned some bad things which is always a positive too. I’m excited to hear what Rinus (VeeKay) and Conor (Daly) experienced today. Feeling pretty optimistic coming back.”
2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon was third overall at 226.788 mph in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, followed by last Sunday’s Long Beach winner Kyle Kirkwood at 226.727 in the No. 27 AutoNation Honda.
Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato rounded out the top five at 226.265 in the No. 11 Honda, as the second Chip Ganassi Racing driver in the top five.
The 33 drivers combined to turn 3,522 laps (8,805 miles) across the three sessions. That’s about 500 miles more than the distance from Indianapolis to Cape Town, South Africa.
The focus of most teams was trying the various combinations of the new aerodynamic parts IndyCar has commissioned this year with the aim of creating closer racing and more technical options for teams.
“This is the first time we get to see what we’re doing on computers actually makes sense on a racetrack, and we think it does,” Kirkwood said. “They’ve done a really good job. We’re able to race really close with everyone. The racing is a lot closer this year in this front pack than it was last year, which is cool to see.”
The task of sampling various aero parts and pieces was made trickier due to increasingly blustery winds as the afternoon progressed. The steady wind speed was about 10 mph by late afternoon, with gusts of 20 mph or higher.
There were no caution flags for contact, although rain sprinkles halted testing for 45 minutes in the early afternoon.
All five veterans and three rookies required to participate in refresher tests and the Rookie Orientation Program completed those sequences of laps successfully and are eligible for full participation in May. Veterans completing refreshers were Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Katherine Legge and Stefan Wilson. First-year Indy 500 drivers completing ROP were Augustin Canapino, Benjamin Pedersen and Sting Ray Robb.
“It was a good day,” said Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 winner. “First day, trying to get through the motions. It’s a new car, new build, so we didn’t really worry about anything, it was just trying to get myself, the mechanics, and everything rolling. It was an awesome day. We ran as many laps as we wanted to run. There were no issues, so a good day.”
“It was great!” said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 500 winner who didn’t have a ride in last year’s race. “You know, that first run out, the first proper run, felt like a kid going down the hill on a bike, going down a ramp, that’s probably like that feeling of just pure excitement. It was great. I absolutely couldn’t wait to do it.
“But now it’s great (that) the team’s done a great job preparing these cars, and really happy to be joining Team Chevy again. We have a lot of great history together, not only in the sports car side of GM with Cadillac and everything, but winning a championship together back in 2012. So I have a lot of good friends there and look forward to working with them.
“It’s been excellent today. We just we were going through some pretty big ticket stuff you know, big ticket items with the wind and everything. I wanted to get through that (refresher test) as fast as possible. It was like eating your vegetables as a kid. Yeah, it’s not fun, but got through it. After that, yeah, had a blast.”
The next day, the Indianapolis 500 was named the “Best Motorsports Race” in the 2023 USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice travel award contest. The Indianapolis 500 is known as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” for a reason. As the largest single-day sporting event in the world, the carnival atmosphere, traditional rituals, and balls-out driving are hard to match.
Last year’s 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 came down to the final lap as Marcus Ericsson, driver of the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, surged ahead of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet driven by Pato O’Ward and earned his first “500” victory.
Other nominees, selected by a panel of racing and travel journalists, included the United States Grand Prix Formula One race, the Motul Petit Le Mans, Daytona 500 and Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Here’s a slideshow from the test day:
story (with help from IndyCar and Chevrolet PR) and photos by Tim Hailey