British drivers caught the attention as the new IndyCar season kicked off with rookie testing for both the senior series and Firestone Indy Lights at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
A dozen Lights drivers successfully negotiated rookie testing, clearing the way for them to compete on ovals during the 2009 season, with Britain's Pippa Mann reportedly setting the pace with a 28.4996secs lap in the #16 Panther Racing entry.
“All of the rookies ran very smoothly,” series race director Tony Cotman, who oversaw testing, confirmed, “There are some excellent drivers in the group and others that can be as good with additional seat time, but overall it was a very successful test day. I look forward to seeing them in traffic tomorrow.”
Despite insisting that their goal was to focus on seat time rather than outright speed, Mann and Panther headed Brazilian WSbR refugee Mario Romancini, who ran with RLR/Andersen Racing, AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing's Sebastian Saavedra and Panther team-mate Martin Plowman, with a third Briton, Guthrie Meyer Racing's Ali Jackson, rounding out the top five.
“It's one thing to be fast when you are on your own, but I need to run in traffic,” Mann admitted, “I hope we can get some of that when everyone else is on the track tomorrow.”
Seven veteran drivers, plus Canadian rookie James Hinchcliffe, are expected to join the test today [24 February], with former series champion Jay Howard catching the eye in particular.
The Briton is not unique in returning to Lights after clinching the title, which he did in the 2007 Indy Pro Series, but is listed to turn out with Team PBIR. Kiwi Wade Cunningham has been a frequent returnee to the IPS/Lights having been unable to break into the IndyCar Series and, after a frustrating part-season with Roth Racing in 2008, Howard may be looking to the burgeoning support series as a means of re-establishing his reputation.
Atlantic frontrunner Hinchcliffe will be another to watch on day two, despite his lack of familiarity with the Lights machine, as he attempts to kick-start a career that stalled enough in 2008 for him to accept a regular posting as A1GP's pit-lane reporter.
Among the other 'veterans' expected back on track, race winners Ana Beatriz, James Davison and JR Hildebrand will be joined by Andrew Prendeville, now running with the Team Moore Racing, Sean Guthrie and Jesse Mason, who will join brother Nelson in a rare family double-act at Guthrie Meyer Racing.
The rookie contingent was completed by Russia's Sergey Mokshantsev, Atlantic graduate Junior Strous and Rodrigo Barbosa, while Daniel Herrington and Brandon Wagner ran with the new Bryan Herta and Davey Hamilton-led teams respectively.