One hundred and seventy days after Scott Dixon was crowned the IndyCar Series champion at Chicagoland Speedway, teams and drivers will re-fire their Honda engines and begin on-track preparations for the 2009 season.

Some ten hours of testing are available on the 1.5-mile variable-banked oval at Homestead-Miami Speedway over 24-25 February, although rookies will receive an additional five hours of testing on Monday [23 February] as the season begins gearing up to the first race, on the streets of St Petersburg, in April.

"Testing is always important, just to get back on track," Vision Racing's Ed Carpenter, who recorded two top-five finishes last season, admitted, "It's time to get going again. The teams have all probably made minor changes, personnel, different things on the car. It's always exciting to get out and test new stuff and get going again with the guys."

Going to Homestead will not have the same immediate impact that it used to have, but Carpenter knows that data accrued now will be valuable all year.

"That test used to be a little bit more urgent, because that track was also our first race," he explained, "Now we'll be testing there and not going back until the end of the year, so I think it may change the test a little bit, because you're not going to be testing as specific, getting ready for the event.."

While Carpenter, Dixon and Andretti Green Racing drivers Danica Patrick, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti and Hideki Mutoh are among those returning to the same team in 2009, the test will provide valuable time for acclimation for drivers such as Vitor Meira, Mario Moraes, Will Power and Dan Wheldon, who are moving to different teams.

"It's definitely important for me and Panther Racing in particular, because we've got to figure out where we need to improve as a group so when the season starts we're very, very strong," said 2005 series champion Wheldon, who joins Panther Racing after three seasons with Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

"Those first few races for points are very, very important. We're not taking it lightly by any stretch. We're going to work very hard to make sure we come out of the blocks swinging."

Another driver champing at the bit is 2007 series champion Dario Franchitti, who did not compete in the series in 2008, having taken a chance to move to NASCAR.

"When I broke my back [in 2003], I was out of the car for the same kind of time that I was when I went to NASCAR [in 2008]," the Scot, who will be team-mate to Dixon, noted, "It was easier to get back into the car having driven nothing than driving something else and getting a feel for the car and all that. Testing time is going to be really important."

The Open Test at Homestead-Miami will mark the third consecutive season the IndyCar Series has tested under the lights in Florida in preparation for the start of the season, and forms the first part of a testing double-header ahead of an outing on the road course at Barber Motorsports Park over 22-23 March.

The IndyCar regulars will be joined on track at Homestead by a youthful group of Firestone Indy Lights drivers who, having enjoyed private winter tests, will now find out who really has the car to beat in 2009.

The Lights teams will get their first indication of the pecking order with a one-day test on 24 February, but as many as 14 newcomers will kick off the session with a day dedicated to rookies on Monday.

"The key to the test for all drivers is teach them to hold their line around the track," explained series race director Tony Cotman, who will observe the rookies alongside four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears, who returns as the series' driver coach for an eighth consecutive season, "Some drivers may need more help than others, so it's really more an extra day on track with Rick available to lend his expertise."

The roster of drivers expected to participate in the test come from a mix hailing from around the world.

"I am looking forward to the first Open Test of the year and seeing our drivers get ready for the season," said Lights executive director Roger Bailey, "This has been an exciting off-season for us, and we hope to set the stage for an exciting 2009 season."



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