AUSTIN, TX – The last few days have been like the first days at a new school for the NTT IndyCar Series teams. Last Friday, 21 cars took to the Laguna Seca road course in northern California. It was the first time that these cars and most of the teams/drivers have ever been to the circuit before.
On Tuesday, 25 car and driver combinations took to the Circuit of the Americas. Other than a test here last Fall with just select drivers, no one has been to this Texas road course either.
These are difficult tests too. While teams want to get as much data and drivers additional seat time for the upcoming season, tracks like COTA make it difficult.
That’s why 1,034 combined laps were turned in the two sessions on Tuesday.
See, COTA is a great facility. The drivers are raving about it. But, the track is so technical and has so many different layers to it, it’s a tough one to nail the right setup on.
“The track is phenomenal,” said Will Power. “I love it, love it, love it. Very technical. Obviously a lot of complexes. There is a place where the fans can see the whole track like there’s a cool tower. Not that you can fit 100,000 people up there, but it’s actually a good track. Great facilities. All the drivers are stoked to be here. Thoroughly enjoying it.”
Power, says that the corners are similar to those on other racing circuits around the world but very fun to drive all 3.41-miles around.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s got corners from other tracks. I know Silverstone, that first sector. I think it’s starting in Turn 3 is an amazing complex of corners, very technical. I mean, it’s a really fun track.”
His teammate Simon Pagenaud agrees. Between the slower turns to the S’s to elevation changes, the Texas road course is a hard one to figure out. To do so in preseason testing makes it even more difficult.
“It’s an interesting track because it’s got a lot of low-speed corners, elevation changes, then all of a sudden you throw yourself into those fast S’s,” said the 2016 series champion. “It requires different things from the car to handle right. You have to find the compromise to be the fastest around the whole racetrack. With driving, with techniques, you can adjust to turn around the bends.
“It’s tough. There’s 20 corners, so it’s a long track. There’s a lot of little details to work on.”
Josef Newgarden shares the same sentiments of his Team Penske teammates.
“Obviously, it’s new for us,” said 2017 series champion. “It was interesting to see. It’s a very nice facility. You can tell the track is quite high quality. There’s definitely some surface shifting. They were telling me about the soil. You can tell it’s old farmland for sure because it’s got quite a bit of waviness on the backstretch. There’s some high bumps in a couple places. Other than that, it’s a really cool racetrack, fun to drive.
“I like that it’s long and flowing. It’s not short. You have to put a whole lap together here.”
The one thing that drivers are still trying to figure out is tire degradation. Newgarden says that the surface is very polished and it doesn’t cause much abrasion. He did say that they tires did wear out after the first set and that trying to make the tires last a full stint “won’t be easy here.”
“I guess you really notice a new set of tires.”
One driver that’s been on this track before, albiet not in an IndyCar but rather in IMSA is Conor Daly. With his experience in a sports car at COTA mixed with his open wheel history in the series, he has a good idea despite not turning a lap during this test on how these cars will race.
“Well, COTA is an awesome track,” said Daly who will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Month of May. “I think our cars are going to race really well here. The long straights, the track surface, it’s such a high-quality place. It’s going to make a really good race happen for sure here, no matter what.
“The place is so wide, a lot of heavy brake zones for great passing areas here. I think our cars are going to race really well. Whenever we can get a good draft going, the cars are trimmed out for the long straights, it’s a lot of fun. I can’t wait to see what happens. Who knows, maybe I will race here. Don’t limit us (laughter). With my life, you never know.
“I think the high-speed section, obviously the first sector of the track, is awesome. You have the heavy brake zone, then into the extremely fast S’s. That puts a lot of strain on the cars and the drivers physically.
“Formula 1, they just look like they’re zipping through there easily because there’s not a lot of steering effort. For us, there’s a lot. This track will be physically difficult.
“Everyone is setting up for the long straight to try and make passes. I think that will be really cool because that hairpin is so open. When we did the track walk yesterday, there’s going to be a lot of people trying to get passes done here rather than wait for the end of the straight. I think it will be really exciting.
“With degradation, too, it will be new for us. Curious to see what that will present racing-wise, but I think it will be a good show, for sure.”
Session 1 Recap
The first session went clean other than Kyle Kaiser’s Juncos entry stalling on track. Rookies Colton Herta and Marcus Ericsson led the way in the two hour test. Herta, circled the track with a time of 1:48.7443-seconds while Ericcson was 0.0949-second behind with a lap of 1:48.8392-seconds.
Those were the only two in the 48’s in session No. 1.
Josef Newgarden was P3 in his No. 2 Chevrolet. The 2017 series champion circled the track with a lap of 1:49.3531-seconds.
RC Enerson (1:49.5431-seconds) and Zach Veach (1:49.8118-seconds) rounded out the top five.
Session 2 Recap
Herta, was once again quickest in this session turning a blazing hot lap of 1:46.6258-seconds in his No. 88 Honda. It was a remarkable day for the rookie.
The five cars directly behind him were Penske or Ganassi’s.
Penske teammates Will Power (1:47.1044-seconds), Helio Castroneves (1:47.6949-seconds) and Simon Pagenaud (1:48.0582-seconds) were second, third and sixth respectively.
Sandwiched between them were the Ganassi teammates of Felix Rosenqvist (1:48.0451-seconds) and defending series champion Scott Dixon (1:48.0474-seconds).