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GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma: New faces among test contingent

Lucas Luhr and Ryo Hirakawa joins series regulars for Honda/Chevrolet test in California's wine country.
There were a few unfamiliar faces amongst the 14 drivers on hand for the latest private IndyCar team test at Sonoma Raceway, as preparations got underway for the next round of the closely-fought 2013 championship.

The test was ostensibly for the Honda runners, but several Chevy-powered teams also tagged along, adding the four Andretti Autosport car plus those of Panther Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing and Dragon Racing to a contingent already comprising Rahal Letterman Racing, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, AJ Foyt Racing and Dale Coyne Racing.

Rising Japanese star Ryo Hirakawa was in one of the Coyne cars amid rumours that he could race at the Californian circuit in next weekend's GoPro Grand Prix. He reported that his morning run was 'so far, so good'

Sportscar ace Lucas Luhr, meanwhile, joined SFHR ahead of his IndyCar race debut next weekend. The German, who was slated to run in the afternoon session is being backed by sportscar partner Greg Pickett's Muscle Milk brand and a positive experience next weekend could see the combination make a more permanent move towards open-wheel racing. It's well known that Pickett is unhappy that the LMP2 class won't be part of the recently-merged United SportsCar Series, and has expressed interest in IndyCar. Luhr's regular chief engineer, Brandon Fry, was at the Sonoma test, manning the laptop on the SFHR pit-stand.

SFHR regular Josef Newgarden had a challenging morning, meanwhile, pitting a smoky #67 car and having to wait while the team spent a couple of hours working on it. He then went out for another lap, only to come in for the brake fluid to be drained. He switched to the #97 car for the remainder of the day.

There was no official timing for the test, with Dale Coyne's Justin Wilson confirming that only the teams and manufacturers were handling stopwatches, while end-of-day ECU data would be downloaded and compared.

One spectator claimed to have timed Andretti's James Hinchcliffe at 1min 18.8secs, but Chevrolet representatives admitted that the mark was fanciful, admitting that the 'best Chevrolet time was in the low 1min 19s, with the average time in the [mid] 1min 19s'.

Hinchcliffe admitted that Sonoma 'has not, historically, been a tremendous circuit for our team', and the Canadian wasn't overly enthusiastic about his morning run, after 'wasting time finding something'. However, he reported that he did get some laps together before noon, and attributed the team's advances at the test to the chemistry with the team.

“It helps a lot that we can all be open and work together,” he said of the relationship between the Andretti quartet.

Wilson, meanwhile, ran four sets of new tyres, two for morning and two for afternoon, declaring that running as 'average'.

“There is some action as we slide around, especially if it gets warm,” the Briton reported, “It will be interesting to see who can keep the car under him the longest.”

Returning to the fray for the first time since surgery to correct a broken wrist incurred in Toronto, Ryan Briscoe drove the #4 National Guard Panther Racing car as he began preparations for one of his more successful events. A winner at Sonoma last season, the Australian also started on the front row next to then Team Penske team-mate Will Power, who has won the past three poles at the track.

An open test will take place at Sonoma next week, allowing all teams to prepare for the forthcoming GoPro Grand Prix.

by Lynne Huntting /

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