The hills around Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California were alive with the sound of new specification 2.2-litre V6 turbocharged engines on Saturday, the first of two days of testing by IndyCar teams on the historic road course.

Almost 1500 fans turned up on the sunny and windy day for what was nominally a routine pre-season testing session for the Chevrolet-powered teams of KV Racing Technology, Andretti Autosport, Panther and Penske. The numbers had certainly been boosted by the presence of a bona fide F1 driver in the ranks, with Rubens Barrichello returning for his second test stint with KV.

"I like Infineon, it's a great track," said Barrichello, adding that it was "steeper and more demanding" than he'd expected. "It's like European tracks, such as Spa and Donnington. Here I know where to brake, but not where to turn in the blind corners," he told Lynne Huntting of

Asked how the new DW12 IndyCar compared to the types of cars he'd been used to driving in Grand Prix races, Barrichello said that "The IndyCar is heavier than a F1 car, but has the turbo kicking in, carbon brakes - which are very good, similar to F1 brakes - and no power steering."

But he admitted that he'd been hitting the limiter all morning and that "It takes laps to get used to the new car."

There's still no news on when and if Barrichello will be formally signing up for IndyCar, but no one was playing coy about the direction of travel anymore. "It's my wish and the team's wish, I think, so we're working on it," he said. "I watch IndyCar all the time, so I'm very happy," he added, saying that the opportunity opening up in IndyCars was the positive on the other side of the negative of being ousted from F1.

His prospective team mate at KV, EJ Viso, was happy to have Barrichello on board. "He is going to be an asset for all of us, with all of his F1 experience," he told fans and reporters during a midday break from on-track activity at Sonoma.

While no official times were released for the test session, observers put Penske's Ryan Briscoe at the top of the timesheets with a run of 1:17.49s over the 2.3-mile, 12-turn course, over a second faster than the 2011 pole time of 1:18.8 set by Will Power.

Power was reported to have set the second fastest time of 1:17.83s with Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay managing 1:18.43s, Panther Racing JR Hildebrand at 1:18.73s and Barrichello himself at around 1:18.91s. All the drivers who spoke to the media said that they were working on general setups and not going for qualifying speed runs.

Barrichello turned 59 laps in total during the day as he took extra time to familiarise himself with those blind corners. He admitted that "This is a more difficult one than Sebring," and that he was still getting to grips with everything, but that he was happy with the day's work.

Barrichello was also asked about what he felt about there being so few oval races on the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series calendar, and won a few laughs from a knowing crowd when he quipped that "My wife loves it."

In the morning session, Power blew a Chevrolet engine into turn 1 and needed a unit change which limited him to just an hour's running in the afternoon. Ryan Hunter-Reay had a number of spins during the day, including one that saw him go off the track and into the tyre barrier that damaged his rear wing despite the light contact, and meant a red flag came out for the car to be recovered.

All the drivers were startled by the number of spectators who showed up on Saturday, a record attendance at Infineon for a test in any series and despite freezing conditions first thing. Drivers are generally more used to lonely days of testing with only their pit crews and the local wildlife for company.

"It makes me happy to see that many people turn out in the middle of February," said Hunter-Reay, who said he was "very impressed" with the turn out. "It bodes well for the series when we have this kind of reaction before the season's even started."

"I'm surprised and pleased at how many fans turned out," agreed Power. "People are interested in the car."

The Sonoma testing continues on Sunday, which will also be open free to the public. Barrichello will also be back on Sunday despite initially planning to run only on the Saturday: not for the first time, it seems he's unable to tear himself away from the IndyCar paddock.

With thanks to for reporting of the fan and media event at Sonoma.



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