Last week's test at Sebring International Raceway in Florida caught the headlines thanks to AJ Allmendinger turning out alongside his possible future team mates at Team Penske - Will Power and Helio Castroneves - in what was the NASCAR Sprint Cup driver's d?but in an IZOD IndyCar Series car. The test was a first step toward a possible appearance by Allmendinger in the 2013 Indianapolis 500. (See separate story.)

The Penske trio were joined on track last Tuesday by ten other drivers, including AJ Foyt Racing's Takuma Sato who went on to set the fastest time. The following day it was the turn of the four Andretti Autosports team mates (Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti and EJ Viso) to get to work, along with Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports' new signing Tristan Vautier who took test duties for the day over his French compatriot team mate Simon Pagenaud.

Times weren't made available at the end of the Wednesday session, but Vautier was reported to be well on the pace at the 1.8-mile, 11-turn circuit. Unofficial reports clocked him at 52.04s, just ahead of Hunter-Reay who was lapping around 52.1s. Curiously, Hunter-Reay was made to use the same engine as Will Power has employed the day before, at Chevrolet's specific direction.

The 2012 Firestone Indy Lights champion picked up where he left off this week when the team joined others at Sonoma Raceway on the West Coast for another testing opportunity, this time on a 2.38-mile, 12-turn circuit. Vautier's best lap late in the day in the #55 Honda was 1:18.56s, just pipping the third Frenchman on the 2013 grid - Dragon Racing's Sebastien Bourdais - who posted a time of 1:18.63s late in the day in the #5 Chevy. Pagenaud himself was third fastest for the day with a time of 1:18.90s in the #77 car.

"It was a good day, very different from Sebring," Vautier told reporters afterwards. "It was a positive experience to run at Sonoma in an Indy car, but I have a lot to learn."

"I'm happy; it was a pretty good day," agreed Pagenaud. "We worked on qualifying to extract the best out of the tyres in a short amount of time, we didn't go for lap times."

Unofficial time estimates put KV Racing Technology's Tony Kanaan in fourth with a lap around 1:19s despite an early engine bay fire for the #11. Panther DRR's Oriol Servia was about a tenth further back after having led the timesheets in the morning stint, and was clearly a lot happier than he had been a week previously where he had posted the slowest time of the drivers.

"Sebring didn't go so well, but we really made some big strides with the car today," he agreed. "I'm going home quite pleased."

Dragon Racing's Sebastian Saavedra was in sixth place about half a second further back, followed by Ed Carpenter who actually handed over his car to reigning series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay for much of the day as part of a knowledge sharing agreement between Ed Carpenter Racing and Andretti Autosports.

"It makes sense for all involved," explained Hunter-Reay. "I get a different perspective on things, and Ed Carpenter Racing being a one-car team gets a different perspective as well. So it's a good opportunity."

"One of the great things about being a part of Team Chevy is that we really do work together, and this is a part of that," added Carpenter. "Marco ran my car at Fontana when we did the Chevy test out there [in 2012], and this is kind of part two."

JR Hildebrand came in just under the 1:20s mark for Panther Racing, while Simona de Silvestro was disappointed to finish at the bottom of the time sheets in the second KV Racing car a few hundredths off Hildebrand.

The big test of the pre-season period will come at the 2.38-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama on March 12-13, with the season-opener to the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series set fr the streets of St Petersburg on March 24.

"It definitely feels like the season is almost upon us," said Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver Graham Rahal at the prospect of the Barber open test, which will allow fan attendance.

ABC Supply extends AJ Foyt Racing sponsorship

ABC Supply will remain their sponsorship of AJ Foyt Racing through to the 2015 season, the two companies announced this week. The extension takes the partnership between them to 11 years, making it the second-longest running sponsorship in the IZOD IndyCar Series

"We have had such great success with our sponsorship program so far it wasn't a tough decision to keep it going," said ABC Supply's David Luck. "We are really looking forward to seeing Takuma Sato behind the wheel of the ABC Supply car this year.

"Takuma joined us on our recent customer cruise and he was great with our guests," Luck added. "It's going to be an exciting and fun year!

Disney sells ESPN UK to BT Vision

ESPN's UK and Ireland television channels have been sold to BT Vision, it was announced this week. BT will continue to operate at least one ESPN-branded channel, while also acquiring ESPN's existing UK and Ireland rights to soccer matches from the FA Cup, Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League, UEFA Europa League and the German Bundesliga, as well as rights to US sports including NCAA College Basketball and NCAA College Football for broadcast on the new BT Sports channels. I's not confirmed which platforms will carry the channels, or what the subscription rates will be.

Moreover, the situation regarding IndyCar coverage in particular remains unclear. Earlier this month, ESPN UK beat Sky Sports to acquire the live broadcast rights of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series, but the championship is not mentioned in BT Sports press releases regarding this week's acquisition of the channels. Enquiries on the BT Vision website indicated that the situation regarding IndyCar was still in flux and plans uncertain, with representatives only saying that IndyCar will continue to be aired until the deal to acquire ESPN UK is finalised in July.



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