When I woke up this morning and headed to my car, there was a thin layer of frost on the good ol’ PT Cruiser. This is Alabama! It’s supposed to be close to spring. There shouldn’t be frost anywhere. Oh well, just crank up the heater and head to the track. Making the right turn off Rex Lake Road onto the drive leading to the track was a bit surreal. There was a very thin haze blanketing the ground as frost clung to the blades of grass on the side of the road. Through the security checkpoint, past the pond at the Fan Village, down the hill and then back up to the right past the Bouncy Church. I proceeded past the Sparkle Pony on top of the hill and dove into the paddock. I gathered my things and headed to the third floor of the Control Tower.
That’s when the hurry-up-and-wait game began.
Firestone requires ambient and track temperatures of 50 degrees before testing can begin. We were scheduled to begin at 9am central time today, but Mother Nature thought we all needed a bit of time to chill out. Instead of being on track, most of us trolled around pit lane and the paddock. I got to mediate a conversation between Sebastian Saavedra and James Hinchcliffe about the cold. I had to remind Seb that Hinch is Canadian, so that means he grew up in an igloo. Other such shenanigans took place as everyone let off some steam and calmed their nerves.
Around 9:30, Firestone gave the green light, and we were finally on track. Tristan Vautier took hold of the session quite early, setting a quick time of 1:09.8132. As the track warmed, the big boys came out to play near the end of the session. Will Power set the quick time of 1:08.4984 during the morning. James Hinchcliffe turned the second fastest time of 1:08.5729 and 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top 3 at 1:08.7023. Actually, the top 13 cars were all within one second of each other in the morning session.
There were no mechanicals of note. Dragon Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais only turned three laps in the morning while his teammate Sebastian Saavedra never took to the track. J.R. Hildebrand in the Panther ride did a mere 2 laps around the 2.3 mile circuit. Reports indicate that they were simply waiting on temperatures to rise.
During the lunch break, I had an opportunity to speak with Will Power, driver of the #12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
OpenPaddock: You were fastest in the morning session today. What have you gathered from the track today?
Will Power: I’ve got unbelievable grip right now. These cars are so…. I’ve never felt so much grip in my life. It’s phenominal! I hope they (the photographers) get some good outside shots because I’m sure these things look so fast in the corners.
OP: What are you looking for in this particular test?
WP: Well, we’re really looking for things for when we come back here, even though it will be hot. Still, we’ll be looking for stuff for when we actually come to race here because it’s not really representative of many tracks we go to because there’s so much grip and high speed corners.
OP: Now you have definitely been the most successful driver here in Indycar terms, winning two of the three races here. What do you think about your driving style that suits this particular track so well?
WP: It’s got everything really. It’s technical, it requires a lot of commitment. Turn One is a blind turn and then around the back there, these cars have so much grip, so you have massive corner speed. There’s a lot of blind entries. I love it. It’s smooth too. You can’t make mistakes. It’s really one of the nicest tracks we go to as far as road courses.
OP: I have to ask you, did you do much drumming in the offseason?
WP: I did! Quite a bit, actually. I’m learning “Learning to Fly” by the Foo Fighters right now,off the sheet music. Love it!
As of this moment, there’s almost two hours remaining in the afternoon session. Scott Dixon tops the speed charts at 1:08.2543. Temperatures keep rising,so grip is getting better. It’s going to be interesting to see if these speeds can be replicated. The drivers all say there’s lots of grip in the track, so let’s see if that holds.