Hamilton return highlights Texas mini-test
9 May 2010
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
can win these two at almost mid-season, it can be a pivotal point to going on and winning the championship. Not saying that the two winners always win the championship, but it definitely helps a lot with the team morale.”
A win at Texas Motor Speedway has eluded both Briscoe and Andretti. For the Australian, victory slipped out of his grasp during last year's race. He dominated the Bombardier Learjet 550k, leading a race-high 160 of 228 laps, but a disappointing final pit-stop put him just behind Penske team-mate Helio Castroneves and could never retake the lead.
Briscoe, who is winless on the season, feels the test session can help him secure his first TMS victory and prepare him for one of the IndyCar Series most physically
demanding races on the schedule.
“It's good when you have a good car,” he said, “It gives you a lot of confidence when you can run wherever you want to and pass cars whether it's the high side or low side. The racing is always so close. It's at night-time, which makes it feel a little bit faster too. And it's not very smooth around here either - at the end of a race here, if you've been working all night, you certainly sleep well.”
For Andretti, the test could be a much-needed boost for a driver who currently sits 13th in the IndyCar Series point standings. The 23-year old has just one top-five finish on the season, which came at Barber Motorsports Park, but he posted personal bests for starting (eighth) and finishing (fourth) positions in last year's race at Texas, and the test could provide some valuable data and an edge for his return in June.
“The moment you say you have something figured out, you don't,” Andretti said, “It's different every year. This year, as far as competition, it's as tight as it's been. The teams and drivers are at the top of their games. Every year, it's like starting over. There is always some little rule that kind of makes you adjust a lot of other things. We've run well here in the past. In '08, we almost had a shot to win against Dixon, but you have to do everything right now these days to even have a shot at it at the end of the race. That's what makes it interesting.”