One hundred and seventy days after Scott Dixon was crowned the IndyCar Series champion at Chicagoland Speedway, teams and drivers will re-fire their Honda engines and begin on-track preparations for the 2009 season.
Some ten hours of testing are available on the 1.5-mile variable-banked oval at Homestead-Miami Speedway over 24-25 February, although rookies will receive an additional five hours of testing on Monday [23 February] as the season begins gearing up to the first race, on the streets of St Petersburg, in April.
“Testing is always important, just to get back on track,” Vision Racing's Ed Carpenter, who recorded two top-five finishes last season, admitted, “It's time to get going again. The teams have all probably made minor changes, personnel, different things on the car. It's always exciting to get out and test new stuff and get going again with the guys."
Going to Homestead will not have the same immediate impact that it used to have, but Carpenter knows that data accrued now will be valuable all year.
"That test used to be a little bit more urgent, because that track was also our first race," he explained, "Now we'll be testing there and not going back until the end of the year, so I think it may change the test a little bit, because you're not going to be testing as specific, getting ready for the event..”
While Carpenter, Dixon and Andretti Green Racing drivers Danica Patrick, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti and Hideki Mutoh are among those returning to the same team in 2009, the test will provide valuable time for acclimation for drivers such as Vitor Meira, Mario Moraes, Will Power and Dan Wheldon, who are moving to different teams.
“It's definitely important for me and Panther Racing in particular, because we've got to figure out where we need to improve as a group so when the season starts we're very, very strong,” said 2005 series champion Wheldon, who joins Panther Racing after three seasons with Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
“Those first few races for points are very, very important. We're not taking it lightly by any stretch. We're going to work very hard to make sure we come out of the blocks swinging.”
Another driver champing at the bit is 2007 series champion Dario Franchitti, who did not compete in the series in 2008, having taken a chance to move to NASCAR.