Double IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden set the fastest time of the two-day Indianapolis oval test which is the last occasion cars will be on track before this season gets underway.
Team Penske’s Newgarden – focused on bagging his first Indianapolis 500 win this year – set a lap of 226.819mph to head last year’s event winner Takuma Sato or Rahal Letterman Lanigan and double Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya.
Montoya is replacing Fernando Alonso in Arrow McLaren SP’s third car at this year’s even for his sixth attempt and his first since 2017.
“It was good, I think yesterday was a little shocking getting back in the car,” said 2000 and 2015 winner Montoya. “Today was good.
“We worked through a lot of things. We found a lot of good things and a lot of bad things, like you always do.
“It was nice to get back a little bit in the draft. A lot to catch up again, learn, understand again what you need to do, the timing. But everything just starts coming back.”
Last year’s Indy 500 runner-up and IndyCar champion Scott Dixon was fourth fastest, ahead of Sato’s team-mate Graham Rahal who scored a significant result in the test.
Car was a BEAST today! My @UnitedRentals guys hooked me up with a rocket ship and I’ve never been more ready for May. Topped the no-tow charts and sat P5 overall. Leaving the greatest place on earth feeling real good heading into the season opener. Bring on the 2021 season! pic.twitter.com/e1ezPUHzuv
— Graham Rahal (@GrahamRahal) April 10, 2021
Rahal managed the best time without a tow from other cars increasing his speed, and headed Scott McLaughlin (Penske) and 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport) in that specific ranking.
It was an even split between Chevrolet and Honda powered cars in the top 10 of the fastest speeds, which is significant as Chevrolet struggled to match Honda in qualifying and the Indy 500 race last year.
“I think they’ve definitely made improvements, and we needed to in the off-season,” said Newgarden.
“We all did.
“Us as a team, I think Chevrolet, we all got together and looked where we were weakest. I think there was a little bit to go around on all sides. They’ve really stepped up.
“We put in a lot of effort. I think we found some good stuff.
“It’s getting hard nowadays. These gains you’re looking to find are so small. I think they’ve managed to find a decent chunk, which is impressive with how far along we are. Very encouraged with Chevrolet.”
The cars during the test were running a revised aero set-up – in particular the front part of the floor – to help the ability to draft and overtake when it comes time for the 500.
Newgarden added that he felt there had been an improvement with these changes, while stressing that the real knowledge of just how much would come closer to the 500.
“Yes, definitely, it’s easier to follow,” he said. “It’s still tough. You’ll still get a big front wash in traffic. 10 cars back, it’s always going to be difficult.
“But I think they’ve made the ability to follow better. That balance separation between clean air and dirty air is definitely reduced.
“Some of them are tricky to drive, some of these parts. I think you’re seeing some split camps here along pit lane. Not everybody is running the same stuff. That’s been interesting to watch. There’s more downforce on the car. I think the balance shift in traffic is less.
“Yeah, the ability that we’re going to have to race compared to last year will be better.”
Data gathered using the new specification of aero parts was curtailed, first by Rinus VeeKay crashing 11 minutes into the first day of testing on Thursday, and then shortly after rain affected almost the whole day forcing IndyCar to run later and earlier on Thursday evening and Friday morning respectively to make up the time.
VeeKay has been checked, cleared, and released from the infield medical center.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) April 8, 2021
It was especially important for some teams, where drivers needed to complete refresher courses or rookie orientations prior to the Indy 500.
Despite the rain, 32 drivers still completed laps but Friday’s laps were quicker on the whole, with Sebastien Bourdais topping Thursday’s charts after Conor Daly had been quickest in the morning session.
VeeKay later confirmed he’d broke a finger from his Turn 1 crash, and with only one other car – which is in road course specification ahead of next week’s Barber season opener – he sat out Friday’s action.
The Ed Carpenter Racing driver looks set to race at Barber, albeit with a brace for his finger.
A number of drivers were returning to Indianapolis after absences or debuting during the test.
Montoya was the fastest of these and McLaughlin impressed with third in the no-tow charts – and the most laps completed with 195, five shy of an Indy 500 distance – while NASCAR convert Santino Ferrucci’s recently announced return with new team Rahal Letterman Lanigan yielded the 20th best lap on Friday.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) April 8, 2021
One spot behind, Simona De Silvestro marked a significant milestone over the two days as the Paretta Autosport team debuted on track.
The squad is aiming to run with female staff where possible and with the intention of increasing female participation in the sport.
All three of Dale Coyne’s drivers fit into the returning/rookie category.
Ed Jones was 17th fastest having missed the 2020 season, while Pietro Fittipaldi was 29th.
Fittipaldi is racing the car Romain Grosjean will drive on the road courses this year, and is set to get the chance to race at Indy which he missed in 2018 after a huge crash in a sportscar at Spa.
The team’s third driver in the test was NASCAR regular Cody Ware, who was 31st and last.
The checkered flag is out, and testing at @IMS is complete!
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) April 9, 2021