For the IndyCar Series, the month of May has often meant a shift in focus to the sport's biggest race, the Indianapolis 500, but, with testing for the race not commencing until 15 May, drivers took advantage of the break to prepare for the sport's other marquee event, June's Firestone 550k, with an extensive test at Texas Motor Speedway.
Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, Marco Andretti and Davey Hamilton all participated in a session that began at 2pm local time and was scheduled to conclude at ten at night, with the non-traditional timeframe of the test was to help the drivers and teams simulate the evening conditions as well as the race week's late afternoon qualifying and practice sessions.
“For us, it's our first time testing on an oval,” Briscoe said, “We had some stuff planned out to run at Kentucky this week and, when that got rained out, we heard the track was open here for running, so we took the opportunity to bring one car and just got some stuff on the cars in the lead-up to Indy so that we don't waste too much time on the first couple of days when we get there. And, at the same time, we'll try to learn some things for when we come back and race here.”
The test was highlighted, however, by the return of Hamilton to the 1.5-mile oval that nearly ended his racing career. During the Chevy Casino Magic 500k in June of 2001, Hamilton and Jeret Schroeder collided, resulting in Hamilton crashing hard into the turn two wall. The contact shattered his chassis and sent the cockpit spinning down the backstretch. Hamilton sustained severe foot injuries, which led to his retirement and 21 surgeries.
In 2007, Hamilton came out of retirement to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and has since competed in that event each of the previous years. This year, however, the 47-year old has made it his mission to return to the site of his horrific crash and compete in the Firestone 550k behind the wheel of the #21 HP Dallara-Honda for Luczo Dragon Racing/de Ferran Motorsports.
“I'm a little nervous, how can you not be?” he said of his TMS return, “I ran good at this track, and I've always liked racing here when we were full-time before the accident. I always enjoyed coming to Texas, so it's been something I wanted to come back and finish. I just wanted to make sure I had a car and team that would be able to do it properly. Part of the recovery was purely to race again. I didn't want to end my career here.”
Target Chip Ganassi's Dixon, currently second in points, has used solid performances at Texas to propel him to IndyCar Series championships during his career, with his 2008 victory saw him become just the second driver to win the marquee events at Indy and TMS in the same season, joining Arie Luyendyk.
"Winning at Texas for me was something I'd wanted to do for so long,” Dixon admitted, “We'd been in great opportunities before to come close, but to finally win it in 2008 was fantastic.
"Coming off an Indy win, you almost feel invincible anyway, but to come here – the next biggest event and the great racing that it provides - it just improves on that. If you