As expected, Justin Wilson and Milka Duno were late additions to the field as the first IndyCar Series test of 2009 got underway at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The pair swelled the field to 20, as drivers embarked on a five-hour practice session that ran well into the night to give all a chance to reacclimatise to running under floodlights as well as get used to their cars in what, for many, was a first outing since the 2008 campaign wound up at Chicagoland in September. The turnout was the most at an open test since the 2002 'Test in the West' at California Speedway, underlining claims that the IndyCar Series has weathered the financial storm as well as any category.
Tuesday's common thread was that all drivers seemed to agree that 2009 would be a very competitive season. All the transition teams have had a year to get their equipment in order and learn the new cars and circuits, and there would be less disparity among the drivers. Those currently in single-car teams naturally felt that having a team-mate would be better for the usual reasons of gaining additional data and having others to test against.
Although both are still finalising their plans for the full season, Duno tested the #23 Newman/Haas/Lanigan entry, while Wilson drove the #18 Dale Coyne Racing entry. Both have been connected to race drives for their respective teams, the Venezuelan for some time.
“It's a good opportunity for me to test with this championship team,” Duno, who made 18 starts for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in 2007-08, said, “It's always a driver's dream to be with a good team. I learned a lot with Robbie Buhl and everyone at Dreyer & Reinbold last year and I'll miss talking with them every day, but the plan is to do the whole championship [season].
"It's now up to me to do a good job. [The team] know how to win a race. When you work hard and have the right conditions, good things will come. [Dreyer & Reinbold] was a small team, but we had big potential. Every day I learned something new.”
Duno spoke verbosely, but didn't answer who approached whom regarding the ride, whether it was her, the team, or one or both of her sponsors. However, an official NHLR spokesperson insisted that Duno was only testing at this point and confirmed that nothing had been signed regarding a full-time ride, hinting that the team had assumed that Duno would be remaining with Dreyer & Reinbold again this season and that NHLR had not made the approach.
While Duno settled into an environment he came to know well during his 16-race campaign in 2008, Detroit race winner Wilson switched camps in search of a seat for 2009.
“Obviously, we're looking forward to joining Dale Coyne Racing for this test and, hopefully, for the season,” the Briton admitted, “We're still working on finalising things, but the main thing is take it easy, one step at a time.