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Power tops Sebring test, Vautier impresses

14 December 2012

No one was particularly surprised to see Will Power's name on top of the time sheets for both of this week's two days of post-season tests at Sebring International Raceway in Florida, but there were plenty of double-takes at the name in second position.

While there were no official times released for the session - which was essentially a private testing opportunity for the teams - reporters present at Sebring handed the top lap time on both days to Penske's Will Power, with his best lap on the 1.65-mile short course being reported as 52.84s on Thursday, after Wednesday had been largely affected by rain.

"It was good, solid; we got through a lot of stuff and came away in good shape,” Power told reporters afterwards. "Now we'll get a little time off and then get back to it in January."

But it was 2012 Firestone Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier who came closest to edging Power for the top spot, the IndyCar rookie setting an unofficial laptime of 52.85s - just 0.01s off Power's top time - in the Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsport car on the second day of testing.

"Tristan had such a great year with us in Firestone Indy Lights, and he truly deserves this chance to test in an IndyCar," said team owner Sam Schmidt, who is hoping that he will be able to field a second car alongside that of regular driver Simon Pagenaud.

"It feels like a big Indy Lights car with a few things to change in the driving style," said Vautier after completing over 200 miles of testing on Thursday. "I tried to improve throughout the morning, and the engineers were very good to help me."

Vautier's stand-out performance in the test "might give Sam a headache or a few things to think about," said team manager Rob Edwards as the teams packed up for the Christmas break. "He's very professional, wasn't overwhelmed with anything he had to do and was on pace right from the start of the day. His consistency and his feedback, he just did a great job all day."

Four more drivers - Alex Tagliani (Bryah Herta Autosport), Josef Newgarden (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing), Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing) and Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi) - also put in times under 53s. Simona de Silvestro was also in action for her new team KV Racing Technology, and actually went faster than her more experienced team mate Tony Kanaan during the day.

GP3 star Conor Daly's unofficial best laptime of 53.29s in his first test for AJ Foyt Racing on Thursday was thought to be 12th fastest of the 15 drivers working at Sebring, and put him faster than several more experienced hands.

“I've grown up around Indy cars; I love Indy cars with a passion," said Daly, the son of ex-1 and IndyCar regular Derek Daly who was also present at Sebring to watch the test. "[The team] really wants to get back to winning races, and that's a huge thing to be a part of and I would love to be on that road with them."

"The kid did a real nice job. His feedback was good and he never put a wheel wrong all day," said AJ Foyt himself, the four-time Indy 500 winner making a rare personal appearance at a test session.

With Takuma Sato set to drive for the team next year, it's unlikely that Daly will get a call-up to IndyCar racing anytime soon unless Foyt is able to put together a deal for a second car - not thought to be very likely at this point, but not out of the question, although Daly admitted that he didn't yet have the sort of personal sponsorship backing to make such a deal come about.

“We have had some great sponsors and supporters around us, but it will take more if we want to move up in Europe and also if we can do IndyCar," he said. "Europe has been awesome; I've learned a lot. But the financial backing is something that we don't have to move to the next level."

Daly turns 21 on Saturday and admitted that the chance to test at Sebring this week "was my birthday present," adding that at times it had been a slightly surreal experience.

"One time I was catching Helio and caught Hinch another time and I thought, 'What is this; what am I doing?' These are guys I've looked up to and seen for years!", he laughed.

Daly's performance caught the eye of some of the older hands out on the track - including Will Power himself. "I was impressed by Daly," was the Australian's verdict. "The IndyCar Series could use another good American driver, for sure."

One of the other Americans present - Panther's JR Hildebrand - had a more satisfying day on Thursday after losing almost all the dry running opportunity on Wednesday to brake problems. Graham Rahal also had serious braking issues that prevented him from getting on the pace on Thursday.

The two-day test at Sebring is the final track action for the IZOD IndyCar Series for 2012, with a mandatory ban on further activity for a month until mid-January.

Unofficial lap times

1. #12 Will Power Penske 52.84s
2. #77 Tristan Vautier Schmidt-Hamilton 52.85s
3. #98 Alex Tagliani Bryan Herta Autosport 52.91s
4. #67 Josef Newgarden Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing 52.93s
5. #19 Justin Wilson Dale Coyne Racing 52.94s
6. #9 Scott Dixon Ganassi 52.94 mph
7. #3 Helio Castroneves Penske 53.00s
8. #78 Simona de Silvestro KV Racing Technology 53.01s
9. #22 Oriol Servia Panther DRR 53.02s
10. #4 JR Hildebrand Panther 53.04s
11. #11 Tony Kanaan KV Racing Technology 53.13s
12. #14 Conor Daly AJ Foyt Racing 53.29s
13. #83 Charlie Kimball Ganassi 53.31s
14. #27 James Hinchcliffe Andrettii Autosport 53.34s
15. #15 Graham Rahal Rahal Letterman Lanigan 53.48s


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