As expected, Justin Wilson and Milka Duno were late additions to the field as the first IndyCar Series test of 2009 got underway at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The pair swelled the field to 20, as drivers embarked on a five-hour practice session that ran well into the night to give all a chance to reacclimatise to running under floodlights as well as get used to their cars in what, for many, was a first outing since the 2008 campaign wound up at Chicagoland in September. The turnout was the most at an open test since the 2002 'Test in the West' at California Speedway, underlining claims that the IndyCar Series has weathered the financial storm as well as any category.

Tuesday's common thread was that all drivers seemed to agree that 2009 would be a very competitive season. All the transition teams have had a year to get their equipment in order and learn the new cars and circuits, and there would be less disparity among the drivers. Those currently in single-car teams naturally felt that having a team-mate would be better for the usual reasons of gaining additional data and having others to test against.

Although both are still finalising their plans for the full season, Duno tested the #23 Newman/Haas/Lanigan entry, while Wilson drove the #18 Dale Coyne Racing entry. Both have been connected to race drives for their respective teams, the Venezuelan for some time.

"It's a good opportunity for me to test with this championship team," Duno, who made 18 starts for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in 2007-08, said, "It's always a driver's dream to be with a good team. I learned a lot with Robbie Buhl and everyone at Dreyer & Reinbold last year and I'll miss talking with them every day, but the plan is to do the whole championship [season].

"It's now up to me to do a good job. [The team] know how to win a race. When you work hard and have the right conditions, good things will come. [Dreyer & Reinbold] was a small team, but we had big potential. Every day I learned something new."

Duno spoke verbosely, but didn't answer who approached whom regarding the ride, whether it was her, the team, or one or both of her sponsors. However, an official NHLR spokesperson insisted that Duno was only testing at this point and confirmed that nothing had been signed regarding a full-time ride, hinting that the team had assumed that Duno would be remaining with Dreyer & Reinbold again this season and that NHLR had not made the approach.

While Duno settled into an environment he came to know well during his 16-race campaign in 2008, Detroit race winner Wilson switched camps in search of a seat for 2009.

"Obviously, we're looking forward to joining Dale Coyne Racing for this test and, hopefully, for the season," the Briton admitted, "We're still working on finalising things, but the main thing is take it easy, one step at a time.

"There are no prizes for the test - we'll build up to speed, work on our car and take it from there. It's more about getting to know each other than prove ourselves right now. I'm excited to be working with a great engineer in Bill Pappas, and we feel that we can do a lot with a little, provided everything goes ahead."

Wilson was joined in the 'hopeful' category by Jaime Camara, who ran with Conquest Racing, but again was only being used for testing purposes at this point. Both team and driver are hopeful that the test can become a full-time ride, but nothing is certain while owner Eric Bachelart pulls together the means of running one, maybe two, cars.

On the outside looking in were 2008 regulars Bruno Junqueira, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Oriol Servia, the Spaniard sporting a devilish new goatee. All three admitted talking with various teams, but said they had nothing lined up so far.

Dan Wheldon wasn't on track Tuesday, and neither was he at Homestead. Instead, the Panther Racing recruit was in Washington DC with other celebrities, among them NASCAR stars Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jeff Gordon, for the fourth annual Challenge Champions Gala.

Reigning champion Scott Dixon paced the field over the first day, posting a best lap of 25.2919secs in the early part of the session, but, for many, the day was about getting back to work.

"Homestead is such a particular track," 2004 series champion Tony Kanaan pointed out, "Although it's an oval, you can't test at Homestead for Richmond, you can't test at Homestead for Iowa, so it's definitely just to get the team motion going, the team working together, team-mates adapting to new engineers, different engineers, different stuff that we learned over the course of the winter. It's going to be great just to be back on the racetrack."

Dixon headed Penske's Ryan Briscoe and returning 2007 IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champion Dario Franchitti in a top three that didn't change from first to second session. Rookie Robert Doornbos, recently confirmed at NHLR alongside Graham Rahal, was seventh fastest, behind the impressive Mario Moraes and Will Power, who quickly settled into new surroundings at KVRT and Penske respectively.

"I really enjoyed myself today, especially the first two hours," Doornbos reported, "After the dinner break, we had a few problems and then did some pit-stop practice, so that wasn't performance-related, but good for the boys and myself.

"But, for the first two hours, we were pushing and I was following my mate Ryan [Briscoe] in the Penske car and I couldn't believe that I was doing the same lap times because they have a lot of experience with the cars. I give full credit to the engineers that worked hard over the winter.

"It was actually quite cool running wheel-to-wheel when I ran with Marco [Andretti]. It's weird, you don't see the car but you hear the engine noise when it's really close to you and you hear your spotter say 'He's still there, he's still there'. It's a great experience."

Rahal readily admitted that he felt that the pressure was on him when he was the only driver lined up for the NHLR team, and was happy to have a team-mate - even one as immediately rapid as Doornbos.

"It's exciting that we have cars now with good financial backing," he noted, "Robert will be quick, and I think all new drivers should ask questions. I'm of the opinion that, if a driver asks me, I'll give an honest answer. But I won't go out and share...."

Rahal also insisted that his lap times were 'honest', and not the result of following one of his rivals.

"It was nice to get back in the car for the first time since Australia overall, and for the first time on an oval since September," he confessed, "The first couple of laps feel different for sure.

"At the beginning, the car wasn't quite what we expected and we struggled a bit up until the dinner break. We made some good, positive changes and kind of inched up on getting it better and, towards the end, the car was pretty good. We still have a way to go to get the car comfortable but we're getting closer.

"I think we have a good starting point tomorrow. Hopefully, we will make some good changes overnight and build from there. Our lap times are pretty honest, we didn't get a tow. On our own, we clearly need to be quicker, but we will get there. Martin [Pare] and I are working together well and he gets along great with the guys, which is important. I think we will be able to get some good results down the road. He brings a lot of experience after having worked at Andretti Green and that can help us a lot."

Moraes, the only driver confirmed at KVRT for the moment, admitted that he was attempting to put intro practice things he had learnt from his year alongside Junqueira at Dale Coyne Racing in 2008.

"I try to learn with him," he said, "He knows the car very well, and has good experience. I try to soak up his knowledge and experience. My goals for this year? I am not sure about the ovals as it's more about the aerodynamics, but I think, on road courses, I have a good chance."

The Brazilian spent a lot of time with his new team, trying to meet and remember everyone, putting things together, and getting ready to go, but admitted that he hoped that a second driver could be found before the season.

"It's important to have a team-mate to push me forward," he pointed out, "Everything works better. I spoke with [co-owner] Jimmy [Vasser] yesterday and he's putting things together. Maybe we'll have a second car for the Indianapolis 500 and the rest of the season."

British rookie Mike Conway, at Homestead with manager - and ex-F1 pilot Mark Blundell - took full advantage of the session, turning a high of 157 laps in less than four hours before winding up 15th overall. The GP2 convert admitted that life would be more difficult being on a one-car team, but accepted that 'it's something I gotta deal with'.

The only incident in the evening session was a caution to tow Ed Carpenter's #20 Vision Racing car back to the pits after it stopped on course. The session also stopped 15 minutes early so the IRL's new TV partner, Versus, could do a production shoot.

Testing resumes between 4-10pm Wednesday.



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