The hills around Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California were alive with the sound of new specification 2.2-litre V6 turbocharged engines on Saturday, the first of two days of testing by IndyCar teams on the historic road course.
Almost 1500 fans turned up on the sunny and windy day for what was nominally a routine pre-season testing session for the Chevrolet-powered teams of KV Racing Technology, Andretti Autosport, Panther and Penske. The numbers had certainly been boosted by the presence of a bona fide
F1 driver in the ranks, with Rubens Barrichello returning for his second test stint with KV.
"I like Infineon, it's a great track," said Barrichello, adding that it was "steeper and more demanding" than he'd expected. "It's like European tracks, such as Spa and Donnington. Here I know where to brake, but not where to turn in the blind corners," he told Lynne Huntting of Presssnoop.com.
Asked how the new DW12 IndyCar compared to the types of cars he'd been used to driving in Grand Prix races, Barrichello said that "The IndyCar is heavier than a F1 car, but has the turbo kicking in, carbon brakes - which are very good, similar to F1 brakes - and no power steering."
But he admitted that he'd been hitting the limiter all morning and that "It takes laps to get used to the new car."
There's still no news on when and if Barrichello will be formally signing up for IndyCar, but no one was playing coy about the direction of travel anymore. "It's my wish and the team's wish, I think, so we're working on it," he said. "I watch IndyCar all the time, so I'm very happy," he added, saying that the opportunity opening up in IndyCars was the positive on the other side of the negative of being ousted from F1.
His prospective team mate at KV, EJ Viso, was happy to have Barrichello on board. "He is going to be an asset for all of us, with all of his F1 experience," he told fans and reporters during a midday break from on-track activity at Sonoma.
While no official times were released for the test session, observers put Penske's Ryan Briscoe at the top of the timesheets with a run of 1:17.49s over the 2.3-mile, 12-turn course, over a second faster than the 2011 pole time of 1:18.8 set by Will Power.
Power was reported to have set the second fastest time of 1:17.83s with Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay managing 1:18.43s, Panther Racing JR Hildebrand at 1:18.73s and Barrichello himself at around 1:18.91s. All the drivers who spoke to the media said that they were working on general setups and not going for qualifying speed runs.
Barrichello turned 59 laps in total during the day as he took extra time to familiarise himself with those blind corners. He admitted that "This is a more difficult one than Sebring," and that he was still getting to grips with everything, but that he was happy with the day's work.