Two Firestone Indy Lights drivers were given a chance to try out a 2011 IndyCar at the end of last week at the two-mile Palm Beach International Raceway road course, with Australian driver James Davison and Colombia's Gustavo Yacaman both getting to spend time on track with Andretti Autosport.
25-year-old Davison finished second in the 2009 Indy Lights championship in 2009, and since then has competed in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series - most recently with the Michael Shank Racing team, which itself just announced that it would be fielding an IndyCar entry in the series in 2012.
He also has experience racing in the Champ Car Atlantic Series for Team Australia and won at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Formula BMW during the United States Grand Prix weekend.
"It was great to finally drive an IndyCar with Andretti Autosport for my first time," said Davison, who turned about 150 miles of testing. "By the end of the day, I got back into the groove of driving open-wheeler on the limit. Having been out of the cockpit since being in FIL in 2009, I eagerly look forward to my next Indy car experience. It was a good day for sure."
20-year-old Yacaman has spent three years in Indy Lights, and this year finished in fourth place in the championship with the Team Moor Racing organisation. He got a chance to take out the car that this season has been raced by Ryan Hunter-Reay.
"I had an excellent day in the Andretti Autosport car," said Yacaman, who said there were a lot of similarities with the Indy Lights cars. "The cars handle very similar. The cars handle very similar. I got comfortable with the car really quick."
Testing is no assurance of a race seat in 2012 of course, but Davison was optimistic that he would be able to find some role in the series and hopefully with Andretti.
"If I could get a race seat, I'd take it," he said. "But I'd love to have an opportunity with the team in a testing role as I enjoy the technical and development aspect of the sport ... If there's a chance to test, I think I could be of value
Andretti Autosport is the only IndyCar team to also field entries in each level of the "Mazda Road to Indy" and team boss Michael Andretti said that "I truly believe in the Mazda Road to Indy ... I think it's important to have a system to develop and cultivate the young talent that's out there."
Among the drivers who have appeared for the team in Indy Lights who have stepped up to the full IndyCar Series are Marco Andretti, JR Hildebrand, Sebastian Saavedra, Charlie Kimball and Raphael Matos.
"The Firestone Indy Lights is a stepping stone to the IZOD IndyCar Series, and it has proven to prepare James and Gustavo very well," said George Klotz, team manager at Andretti Autosport. "They both gave really good feedback to the engineers--something that is always helpful from the team side. For them to get in the cars for the first time and to do so well is impressive and speaks positively of the preparation they've received so far in their careers."