Once again, Verizon Team Penske’s Will Power was the machismo of the circuit by dominating all sessions at the magnificent 2.3 mile Barber Motorsports Park circuit. Will finished the two day testing session with a fast time of 1:07.1329 (123.337 mph for you speed junkies.) Power turned a total of 128 laps in two days in the #12 Verizon Chevrolet. Second in combined testing was James Hinchcliffe in the #27 GoDaddy Andretti Autosport Chevrolet with a best time of 1:07.3839 over 125 laps. Justin Wilson was the fastest Honda, finishing the combined test in third with a lap time of 1:07.4996 over 141 laps in the #19 Sonny’s Barbecue Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing. Rounding out the top five were Tony Kanaan at 1:07.5478 and Ryan Hunter-Reay at 1:07.6346
At first glance, it looked like the Chevrolet powered teams would dominate the test, but Honda made a late charge to split the Top Ten evenly. Last year at this circuit, Chevrolet absolutely dominated qualifying, but Scott Dixon made a savvy run to salvage a good day for Honda. Many people on the internet suspected Honda was sandbagging this test, but based simply on the work I saw the Honda teams putting in, I just don’t think it’s the case. Plus, the Honda guys sitting next to me in the Media Center sure didn’t give that impression.
One of the biggest stories of the test was the insane levels of grip on track. In the offseason, Barber Motorsports Park underwent a diamond grinding process to generate more grip. Driver of the #78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy Chevrolet, Simona de Silvestro, told me that previously, first laps at Barber were quite treacherous. The track had no grip,so the car slid a great deal on cold tires. Now, there’s grip from the start, so drivers are more comfortable braking deeper and really throwing the car into the turns. Will Power told me he hoped the photographers were getting good outside turn shots, because he was confident the car looked much faster in turns.
The other side of the story was on Wednesday morning, every driver I spoke with complained of their neck hurting. Three time Indianapolis 500 Winner, 4 time IZOD IndyCar Series Champion and driver of the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda Dario Franchitti explained to me that the cars were pushing almost 5g’s in the corners. He explained that since Barber Motorsports Park is such a swooping, fast circuit, the lateral g forces were really pushing on the drivers heads. Josef Newgarden was already complaining of neck pain late in the day on Tuesday, but said Wednesday morning he was really feeling the burn. Simon Pagenaud told me he wasn’t feeling any pain on Wednesday morning, but Sebastian Bourdais told me Simon was constantly complaining Tuesday night. Both Bourdais and de Silvestro said they were pain free on Wednesday morning, but both also attributed it to not turning many laps on Tuesday.
Engine and car reliability definitely went up in the offseason. During Media Day on Monday, I discussed with Scott Dixon, Driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, about how he and Honda had worked together in the offseason to eliminate technical gremlins. Dixon stated that if you go back through the 2012 season and look at how many DNFs he had due to technical issues, you could very easily make up the 35 points between series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and himself in Third Place. He said basically the engineers disassembled his car, went through a “massaging” process on every component, and reassembled the car. Technical issues during the Barber Test seemed to be confined to Chevrolet teams, but the problems never seemed related to the actual power plant. Simona de Silvestro had a rear end issue on Tuesday,while Dragon Racing fought gearbox problems during the entire test. Josef Newgarden was the lone Honda problem child with an electrical issue in Session Three.
There were only four contact/off track related incidents during the two days of testing. The first was the reported 10 feet in the air off the Museum Turn (Turn 8) by A.J. Allmendinger on Tuesday near the end of Session 2. A.J. would later state that he seriously doubts it was 10 feet in the air (and I have to agree with him) but that he did get some air. Allmendinger went off track, pointed the car downhill, bump started the engine and drove it back to the pits. I spoke with him after he got out of the car, and I can assure you he was no happy camper. The next incident would be Oriol Servia spinning off at Turn 9, making no contact and getting refired. Not long after, Alex Tagliani would lose it in the same spot, only he backed his #98 Barracuda Racing Honda into the ARMCO barrier, causing minimal damage to the back of the car. Next, Sebastian Saavedra lost the back end of his car coming out of the Museum Turn and clipping the nose of the car on the ARMCO barriers behind the museum. His #6 TrueCar Dragon Racing Chevrolet required a new nose, but no other damage was reported. The last incident would come late in the day on Wednesday when Ed Carpenter slapped the barriers with his #20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. Ed had sidepod damage, but it looked mostly cosmetic.
All in all, it was a pretty standard testing session. When the cars return to Barber for the actual race in a few weeks, they’ll have Option Tires available instead of only Primary Tires. Look for Will Power’s track record of 1:09 to be demolished. Expect lap times in the 1:06 range, potentially as low as 1:05. Big thanks to Amy Konrath, Kate Guerra and Arni Sribhen at INDYCAR for being so helpful during the test. Also, special thanks to Jessica Sciacca and Angel Hufham at ZOOM Motorsports for everything you do. Lastly, Mr. Barber, it was nice to run into you late in the day on Wednesday. Always enjoy our chats. I’m looking forward to being back for the race in a few weeks.