Four newcomers to the IndyCar Series finally got their chance to hit the track in anger on Monday, as the season's first open test got underway with a day dedicated to rookie talent.
Stanton Barrett, Mike Conway, Robert Doornbos and Raphael Matos all got useful seat time once the twelve Indy Lights rookies had completed their mandatory oval evaluation, having earlier taken the opportunity to venture out with more experienced drivers to get a heads-up on the techniques required.
“I did a lap with Al Unser Jr, so he gave me some tips,” revealed Doornbos, who was confirmed in the #06 Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing entry over the weekend, “Arie Luyendyk will join me tomorrow, so I think learning from the masters is going to be good. I'm excited because I've been talking so much about this deal and now it's finally here.”
Conway took a hot lap with veteran IndyCar Series driver Davey Hamilton, who had spent the early part of the day overseeing his new Indy Lights operation.
“It's been a long time coming,” the Briton admitted, having inked his deal at the start of the year, “Since we signed with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, we've been looking forward to getting on the ovals. We've got to experience it for ourselves, see what it feels like. Hopefully, we can get up to speed quickly and start making changes, see what they do to the car, find the limits.”
The diverse group has a wide range of oval experience, topped by Barrett, who has significant track time via his NASCAR outings but has never been out in a IndyCar, and dropping to the Europeans, Conway and Doornbos, who have a lot of open-wheel experience but nothing on ovals. Matos, meanwhile, comes to the senior series as reigning Indy Lights champion, and has the benefit of running all the circuits on the schedule in a similar, if not exactly the same, car.
Conway's only previous experience in an IndyCar came last summer during a day of testing on the road course at Infineon Raceway.
“It is a little bit heavier than what I've driven in the past,” the GP2 Series convert revealed, “It's a good, fun car – handled really well, reacted well to the changes. It was good fun.”
Barrett is preparing for his IndyCar Series debut following a NASCAR career that includes more than 170 starts dating back to 1992.
“I've been waiting for a long time for this,” said Barrett, who will drive the #98 Team 3G entry, “I'm super-excited and a little bit nervous at the same time. I have an idea of what it's going to be like, but it will be a whole new experience. I'm used to trying new things and figuring it out real quick. It's going to be really cool.”
The four rookies will be joined on track by the majority of the IndyCar regulars on Tuesday afternoon and evening, for the first six hours of testing before the season kicks off in St Petersburg next month.