New Indy cars pass first open test at Phoenix


After 12 hours of testing spread out over two days, last weekend’s IndyCar Open Test at ISM Raceway (the track previously known as Phoenix International Raceway) was a valuable opportunity for teams, drivers and engineers to learn more about the 2018 aero package.

The new car features about 1,200 less pounds of downforce and makes it difficult for the drivers to control. That puts the driver back into the equation.

But some drivers and engineers at the test expressed concern that there may be less passing with the new machine than anticipated.

IndyCar president of competition and operations Jay Frye and his staff will take all of the data and feedback gathered in the two-day test on the short oval back to Indianapolis to determine if additional changes need to be made before the series returns to Phoenix for the first oval race of the season on April 7.

Feedback from team tests on road courses has been generally positive that it will make passing better on the street and road courses. The purpose of last week’s open test was to give teams a chance to see how the car performs on ovals.

Ryan Hunter-Reay testing at Phoenix - p1

Ryan Hunter-Reay tests Honda’s 2018 Indy car during the open test session. Photo by LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC

“Overall, I thought the weekend was very successful; we ran a ton of laps,” Frye told Autoweek after the test concluded. “There were a lot of cars (23) here. One of our biggest goals was accomplished where you couldn’t run around here flat — you had to lift. There were different drivers doing different things. One teammate’s car ran well, and the other teammates car did not.

“We talked to some guys Friday night, and there were 10 different opinions of what was happening and that’s good. On Saturday night, the last 15 or 20 minutes of that practice there was a substantial amount of passing going on. The cars looked stable; the cars looked good. We are excited to be coming back here in April.”

Team Penske competition director Kyle Moyer was surprised by the grip level and speed the cars had at the 1.022-mile short oval. He expected less grip.

“There was a lot of downforce taken off the car, but the downforce is in the right spot,” Frye said, referring to the downforce on the new car coming from the undertray instead of the topside wings. “You saw where they could pull up on each other, and there wasn’t a washout of turbulence like there was before.

“It looks much more racy than it did a year ago. That was our goal. This is one of the most difficult places we go. To see this car perform like it has the last couple of days is quite encouraging.”

2018 IndyCar universal aero kit: Looks good, but will it race?

The car count was also up compared to past years, and the number of sponsored cars is way up from the past. There were years when IndyCar held its preseason test and there might be 18 cars, but four of them were painted either white or black with a number on the car. Last week, all 23 cars were brightly painted and covered with sponsorship decals.

“It’s been a good week,” Frye said. “The new team owners coming in the series has really been great. There are more sponsorship announcements, and there is good momentum.

“At the end of Saturday night’s test, it looked like what a race could look like, and it looked really good. A few drivers told us they can get after it and that’s what you want. You want them to be able to hustle the cars.”

The only incident of note was when four-time Verison IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Scott Dixon spun and brushed the wall in turn 2 with less than 30 minutes left in the test.

Scott Dixon

“He didn’t hit anything hard,” Frye said. “You saw the drivers drive the cars. They had control of it. Last year, we had a couple big hits here in the test. This year we didn’t.

“They got out of shape and were able to gather it back.”

Frye has been a central figure in the process and evolution of this car that will hopefully create more interest in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2018.

“This has been a long process,” Frye said. “The first test we did with what we thought this car could be like was the fall of 2016 at Phoenix. We took the rear wheel guards off and that was the start of the evolution of this car. So far, so good. It looks like the drivers have the ability to drive these cars and hustle them around the track.

“It’s exciting and it is also nerve-racking. It was good to see them get out there and mix it up at the end. That’s very encouraging. All of the cars are lifting going into turn 1 and that is good. We’ve given the drivers different things they can do behind the wheel and that makes everything racier.”

By Bruce Martin

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