By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — In the first official test day ahead of the 2018 Indianapolis 500, Tony Kanaan set the fastest speed with a lap of 226.181 mph in the late afternoon.
Behind the A.J. Foyt Racing driver in the second session was Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti and Harding Racing’s Gabby Chaves.
In the morning test, Andretti was quickest with a lap of 223.997 mph ahead of defending Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato and 2008 Indianapolis 500 champion Scott Dixon.
This was the first on-track action for the series at the Speedway with the new 2018 aero kits since the manufacturer testing last October. Many drivers were not pushing the speeds to their limits in the morning session so that they could get a feel for how the newer body style cars would perform.
With the newer universal aero kit, downforce and drag was reduced by a large amount and the weight distribution shifted forward with the removal of the rear bumper pods and the lessening of the rear wing surface area. This was a noticeable change for many.
“I think it’s actually harder,” said Pagenaud. “For us to have been driving those cars for so many years where we had to adapt to more grip, trying more, pushing more, pushing the limits away. All of a sudden we got to go the other way, which is very hard for a racing driver, to actually hold yourself back. It’s really difficult.”
“It’s always easier to go from no downforce to a lot of downforce,” said Kanaan. “Because you’re just going quicker, you feel more grip. The other way around, it’s actually quite challenging.”
As such, the morning speeds were just over two mph slower than in the afternoon and fewer laps were turned by drivers. In fact, only 536 laps were completed in the morning compared to 1,284 in the afternoon.
The morning session’s most glaring statistic was that the bottom four positions were occupied by teammates. Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden and Will Power were respectively 18th and 19th while Carlin’s Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball were 20th and 21st, respectively.
In the afternoon session, many drivers did drafting runs which led to higher speeds. In fact, 18 of 21 drivers improved on their earlier times with Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Jack Harvey the only three to not improve from the morning but Hinchcliffe wasn’t looking toward the time sheet for how his progress was during the day.
“We still have a lot to learn with this new car,” said Hinchcliffe. “We have many days left to try and figure it out. We had a test plan where we had some big-ticket items that we wanted to knock off; we weren’t necessarily going for outright speed today. We got those items ticked off, so a pretty smooth day for us, and I’m happy with how we’ve started.”
There were 21 drivers taking part in Monday’s initial day of testing for full time veterans, turning a total of 1,820 laps between both morning and afternoon sessions. Newgarden did the most laps with 125 ahead of Power’s 113, Helio Castroneves’s 109, Pagenaud’s 108 and Sebastien Bourdais’s 107.
Newgarden Tests The Windscreen
After Dixon tested the new Opticor windscreen made by PPG Industries at the open test at ISM Raceway (formerly Phoenix International Raceway) in February, Newgarden got his chance to test the windscreen at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after the afternoon session.
The windscreen sat behind the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet pit and found its new home with a modified shock cover and cockpit helmet restraint used as part of the test.
The 2017 series champion did several laps in the late afternoon shadows and gave extensive feedback to Verizon IndyCar Series officials before speaking to the assembled media.
“Well it was fascinating, like totally different for an open wheel car,” said Newgarden. “You’re not used to that much of a windscreen in front of you and really interesting to try it out.
“Overall, pretty clean and easy, very easy installation today, didn’t take us but 10 minutes to jump in and do whatever we did, 10 or 12 laps, didn’t seem too difficult. That whole part of it was very easy to get done.
“There’s probably some small improvements that we can continue to make like the clarity with the visors and sort of the perception of what it looks like to see through it, but overall it was pretty easy to make it work. I didn’t have any major issues.”
One of Dixon’s biggest notes about the windscreen was that it was quite quiet with the reduction in wind buffeting his head and with the reduction in air flow came an increase in temperature. A modification to the windscreen with a NACA-duct allowed Newgarden some more airflow to the cockpit.
There is no timetable to being brought into IndyCar competition until more testing is done.