Indy Cars Finally Hit The Track In Texas

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Takuma Sato climbs into his Indy car at Circuit of The Americas. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Takuma Sato climbs into his Indy car at Circuit of The Americas. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

AUSTIN, Texas — Finding a suitable location for its annual preseason test is usually pretty easy for the NTT IndyCar Series. Just look for the Southernmost venue that hosts an Indy car race and hold the two-day event there.

In theory, that makes perfect sense. But it’s not always that easy as the weather ultimately has a final say.

That was the case to this week’s preseason test at Circuit of The Americas. The magnificent road course located deep in the heart of Texas normally has very mild winters. But all-day rain on Tuesday limited the track activity to 35 minutes of yellow flag running before it was ultimately flagged just past 4 p.m. local time.

Wednesday saw heavy rain in the morning. Once that moved through, IndyCar attempted to start the session at 10 a.m. local time, before cold temperatures brought out the red flag for 1 hour, 43 minutes and 36 seconds.

Firestone engineers along with IndyCar limit track activity if the surface temperature on the race course plus the ambient temperature fall below 100 degrees combined. With the ambient temperatures in the morning around 43 degrees, teams and drivers had to wait some more.

Finally, at 11:50 a.m. local time, the first green flag of the two-day event was waved allowed the 25 car/driver combinations to test the cars for the first time this year.

It was also the first time all 25 cars on the track were equipped with the aeroscreen. The cockpit safety initiative provides even more protection for the driver. It also weighs 60-70 pounds and that effects the handling of the cars.

Teams used this test to determine what changes are necessary to the setup of the race cars in terms of weight distribution, aerodynamic downforce and drag.

One benefit to running in the rain on Tuesday, however, was finding where water leaks into the cockpit. In order to keep the air cool for the drivers, the aeroscreen includes vents near the bottom of the screen.

Team Penske driver Will Power said that is where water would leak into the cockpit.

“We already saw areas where the water was getting in,” Power said on Tuesday. “It seems like it needs a lip around the top because water drips in as you drive. The windscreen is great. It just clears.

“There was no fogging for me. Obviously, we didn’t run that long, but there was definitely water leaking in the bottom of the screen, up into the inside of the screen. There’s some water dripping in on your steering wheel and on your visor that would be an easy fix.”

Pato O’Ward is preparing for his first full-time season. He will be part of the two-driver Arrow McLaren SP operation and gave his take on the aeroscreen.

“I was pretty impressed with it honestly because it’s a first try,” O’Ward said. “It is an add-on to the car. It’s not like it’s built into it. It was done very well. I think it was done the best way it could have been done.

“I’m excited to see whenever the new car comes out how it really incorporates into a car that’s developed around the aero screen or with the aero screen. But I think safety-wise obviously it’s going to be safer.

“Not that it’s such an issue, but we’ll definitely feel quite a bit of difference whenever it’s hot and humid because it is quite hard to get air into the area we’re at to circulate. We have to be going quite a bit faster to really feel anything.

Usually the sensation when you lift your visor and you’re sweating; you would lift it to clear out the sweat or something. It didn’t seem to be the case when I tested in Sebring. There’s going to be some things we’re going to have to work through.
“I think as a first try, it was pretty remarkable.”

Because Wednesday’s schedule was condensed because of weather, the afternoon session became quite frantic. The track will be open for testing until 6 p.m. local time.

SPEED SPORT will update at the conclusion of Wednesday’s test session.