Briscoe leads opening day at Barber
25 February 2010
Team Penske team-mates Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves topped the time sheets as IZOD IndyCar Series teams opened a two-day Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park - but casual observers won't have been able to immediately recognise either after Penske Racing unveiled its new livery.
Briscoe toured the 2.3-mile road course in 1min 10.5020secs in the now black, white and red #6 Dallara-Honda, while Castroneves was only just behind after lapping at 1min 10.7146secs in his familiar #3 version. Both laps were set in the afternoon session when the sun helped heat the track surface on an unseasonably chilly day at the picturesque venue.
"It's nice to be at the top of the speed charts," Aussie Briscoe admitted, "It's important because it is our only test before the first race, so we're all comparing times. It's nice to have the Team Penske cars on top. It's a great way to start the year."
"Today was about getting a rhythm," Castroneves added, "The last time I was in a Team Penske car on a road course was Infineon [last August], and you need testing to get your muscles back into shape. Even if you've been working out, you still need to get your rhythm back and get to work. That was the goal today. Tomorrow we'll work on the small details."
The unveiling of a new livery on the #3, #6 and #12 cars ahead of the test at Barber Motorsports Park marked the end of Penske's relationship with the familiar red-and-white paint scheme that had been in place since 1990, replaced by black sides, a white centre strip and red accents on all three cars. With all three cars looking largely the same, observers will have to rely on the rear wing endplates to distinguish between them, with those on Castroneves' #3 being painted red with a black numeral, Briscoe's white with a black numeral, and third team member Will Power's #12 black with a red numeral.
Power took the Verizon-backed third car to fourth quickest time, lapping in 1min 10.7637secs, as road course ace Justin Wilson slid the Dreyer & Reinbold entry into the top three. Scott Dixon, last season's championship runner-up, was fifth fastest.
"The first day in the car was really good," Wilson said of his maiden outing with DRR, "It was a pretty positive day and we kept making improvements - all in all, I think that it went well and I'm pleased with P3. I'm getting comfortable in the car and with my new engineer and crew, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow. Unfortunately, at the end of the day I just clipped the grass going into Turn 1 and the car snapped around on me. The car isn't too badly damaged and I'm okay."
Returning from back injuries sustained in practice at Infineon, Power admitted that it was good to be back in harness.
"This has been the longest off-season of my career," he conceded, "We were able to learn a few things today, and the #12 Verizon Team Penske car ran great. The team worked together nicely and we had a productive day. I am looking forward to getting back on track tomorrow."
Dixon reported that he and the Target Chip Ganassi team had been working on a combination on aero and mechanical items, with a lot more work to be done, while champion team-mate Dario Franchitti, who ended the day ninth fastest, confirmed that the team had been working through a list of test items that they had been working on in the off-season.
Twenty cars piled on 1025 laps during the day, with EJ Viso and Takuma Sato making a strong start to life with KVRT in sixth and seventh spots respectively.
"It was a pretty good day for the whole KV Racing Technology team," Venezuelan Viso confirmed, "It was the first time we had three cars on track and I think it was a successful day. I am very happy to be part of this team - with the little time that I have had with them, the KVRT crew guys have done a great job and I think we showed the hunger make this a very positive year."
F1 refugee Sato was making his debut in an IRL test, and shared his team-mate's enthusiasm.
"It was a great day," the infectious Japanese driver bubbled, "The KV Racing Technology car was reliable and, once I had got used to the way an IndyCar handles and how the track layout was, I enjoyed it. The day started off slowly, with cold temperatures and difficult conditions, but, by the end, we had a very successful first test. We went through some set-ups, which helped me to learn a lot, and we had a very productive first day."
Andretti Autosport veteran Tony Kanaan and former team-mate Hideki Mutoh, making his debut with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing filled the remaining top ten spots,
"It was a lot better than I expected, and it was good to be back in the Team 7-Eleven car," the Brazilian veteran remarked, "It's a tough track, and it takes you a while to learn it, but I think it was a productive day for us. We made huge improvements from the start of the practice to the end, but hopefully the weather will be a little bit better tomorrow, as it's our last practice day before the first race of the season, and we need to take advantage of it."
Mutoh was also pleased with his first day, especially having switched teams over the winter.
"The last time I drove an IndyCar was with this team for a one-day test at Sebring in November, so it has been three months since I was in a race car," he noted, "It took a while to get up to speed but, once I got there, the car felt really good. By the end of the day, I was starting to have good communication with my engineer Martin [Pare], who I knew when we were both at Andretti Green Racing, but it takes time because of my [English] and also I need to understand what they are talking about. But, so far, I am very happy. I feel the car has a lot of potential to do a good lap time."
While rookies Mario Romancini, James Rossiter and Simona de Silvestro made their debuts, others were missing from the test, including both Dan Wheldon and Alex Tagliani.
Wheldon's Panther Racing team decided to forgo the test at Barber and instead run at Sebring due to the cooler than expected temperatures.
"The inclement weather that's being predicted for Barber is not really going to be conducive to what we had planned for our test for São Paolo," chief engineer David Cripps explained, "Our current set-up is based on warmer environments in São Paolo, Long Beach, and St Pete, and Barber's not going to present that for us. We felt it would be more advantageous to get to Sebring and a warmer climate. Hopefully, Sebring will be more advantageous for our preparation."
First-year entrant Fazzt Race Team likewise decided not to run with Tagliani.
"We are in the fortunate position of having had very successful tests at Homestead and Sebring in January," general manager Rob Edwards elaborated, "Since those tests, our engineers have continued testing on the seven-post rig, gearbox rig and in the wind tunnel to further develop our race package and, given the inclement weather forecast for Barber over the next few days, we believe the best use of our time is to continue our preparations for Brazil here in Indianapolis."
A second day of testing is scheduled to begin at 9am local time today [Thursday].