LEEDS, Ala. – Juan Pablo Montoya’s goals for the two-day Verizon IndyCar Series open test at Barber Motorsports were simple: learn, discern and apply.
The scheduled seven hours on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn road course were cut in half because of a chill and mist in the morning of day one, but Montoya and teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves made the most of their combined 154 laps. The test day was especially effective for the newest member of Team Penske.
Montoya, driving the Chevrolet-powered No. 2 Verizon Team Penske car, was .0678 of a second off the front-running Power’s best lap of 1 minute, 07.6492 seconds. Castroneves was third on the time chart at 1:07.7214.
“I’m trying to learn how to get more out of the car and we’re getting there,” said Montoya, the 1999 CART champion and 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner who is returning to Indy car racing after stints in Formula One and stock cars. “It was good today, but there’s a couple of places that I need to do a little better job and be a little cleaner, but we’re getting there.”
Twenty-two drivers, including four who will make their first Verizon IndyCar Series start on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 30 participated. Testing continues on March 18 with a full-day of testing.
“I think it will be really good,” added Montoya, noting the more favorable weather forecast. “We’re going to try to get in some long runs and hopefully running in some traffic. I think that is going to be one of the key things (heading into St. Petersburg).”
The Verizon IndyCar Series returns in five weeks for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Reigning series champion Scott Dixon, who has been the runner-up in each of the four races at Barber, was fourth on the time sheet (1:07.8225). Like Montoya, he favored what could be gained and applied at St. Petersburg and in the future at Barber.
“This early in the season to get miles is the important thing,” he said. “Everybody has their first new engine spec of the four for the season so there’s a lot to be learned on drivability, there are some brake options that are being circulated that we need to get through, and really it’s just about getting ready for that first race that is less than two weeks away. There’s a lot to be achieved.”
Takuma Sato, entering his second season in the No. 14 ABC Supply car for A.J. Foyt Racing, was fifth quick (1:07.8691), and Ryan Briscoe was sixth (1:07.8834) was sixth in the No. 8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing car.
Five Chevrolet-powered cars and five with the new Honda 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 split the top 10. Every driver but Oriol Servia (No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) had tested at least once during the offseason. Still, the looming season opener carried weight into these sessions.
“Every mile we do in testing goes a long way,” said James Hinchcliffe of Andretti Autosport. “We only have two days left (of testing) until we head to the first race at St. Pete and we’ll be making sure all the software and calibrations are as good as we can get them.”