Full test times from Monday
If there were any doubts that Team Penske intended to be the team to beat in the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series, then they were quickly dispelled by the first day of the official pre-season Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park on Monday.
Will Power set the best time of the day with a lap of 1:07.6492s (122.396mph) on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn permanent road course in Alabama, and both of his team mates were within a tenth of a second to make it a Penske 1-2-3 to start off the year in style.
That's particularly impressive for Juan Pablo Montoya, back in an IndyCar for the first time since 2000 and away from open wheel racing of any kind since he bowed out of F1 in the middle of 2006 for a move to stock car racing in the NASCAR series.
"Just trying to get better and figure out new tires a little bit," said the 38-year-old Colombian when asked what his objectives had been for his first day of open testing. "I'm trying to learn how to get more out of the car and we're getting there.
"It was good today, but there's a couple of places that I need to do a little better job and be a little cleaner, but we're getting there," he continued. "I think it will be really good. We're going to try to get in some long runs tomorrow and hopefully running in some traffic."
Monday's session had been scheduled to run for seven hours, but in the end that was cut to under four and a half with the morning simply too chilly and misty to attempt any running. It was still cold in the afternoon, but as Montoya pointed out that wasn't such a bad thing for the drivers.
"When it's this cold, it's so fast," he said. "The car is working pretty good and we did a lot of work over the winter, the car is good, so I'm pretty happy."
Even someone who had been one of the top contenders in IndyCar for several years now insisted that he was learning new things every day.
"You're always learning, there's no use in belting around there not learning anything," Will Power pointed out. "We've had to try different things, so it's a good day for that. Obviously the track conditions are exceptional, a lot of grip because it's so cold, you gain a little bit of downforce ... We found some more good stuff, crossed off things that don't work and I think we're in a good place."
Power said that Montoya was fitting into the Penske squad well, and was adding a lot to the team dynamic.
"Montoya brings some good ideas, he's very quick so it's only help for us. Obviously he becomes a competitor, but it's up to me to do the job on the track," he said, adding that he expected this year's season to be one of the most hard-fought in the sport's history.
"It's just ridiculously competitive," he said. "We found some good stuff over the winter, worked hard. It looks like everyone is, once again, so close, running the same set-ups."
Last year's series champion Scott Dixon was the fastest of the non-Penske runners in fourth place for Ganassi at the end of the day's track time, with Takuma Sato in fifth place for AJ Foyt. Ryan Briscoe - now part of of the Ganassi line-up along with Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball - was sixth fastest ahead of Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing) and Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports.
There were a number of stoppages during the afternoon for cars stopping or going off-track, the most significant of which was Sebastien Bourdais who suffered a broken steering column in his KVSH Racing car just 11 laps into his day and went off into the barrier at turn 6. He was checked over by the medical team and declared fit to return to action soon after.
Mikhail Aleshin also suffered a big technical problem towards the end of the day when a fuel issue left his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car literally spitting fire from the right hand side as it coasted past pit lane, something that engine suppliers Honda will investigate with the team overnight before the second day of testing gets underway on Tuesday.
Full test times from Monday