‘Test In The West’ Marks IndyCar Return To PIR

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The Verizon IndyCar Series returned to Phoenix Int'l Raceway Friday for a two-day test session to prepare for the upcoming Phoenix Grand Prix on April 2. (IndyCar Photo)
Helio Castroneves led the way during testing at Phoenix Int'l Raceway. (IndyCar Photo)
Helio Castroneves led the way during testing at Phoenix Int’l Raceway. (IndyCar Photo)

AVONDALE, Ariz. – The Team Penske duo of three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power paced the first open test session of the season at the 1.022-mile Phoenix Int’l Raceway.

The two Chevrolet-powered drivers were able to whip off a lap at 19.5858 second (187.850 mph) for Castroneves and Power at 19.5931 (187.780 mph) for Power.

“We tested here obviously two weeks ago and just keep going,” said Castroneves, who lasted raced at PIR in 2005. “We’re working very close, not only myself, my group No. 3, but the entire Team Penske Hitachi car seems to be very dialed in.

“Again, there were areas we didn’t have time to test when we came here because I was mostly looking for the aero balance. This was the first time I was able to make the car the way I want it.

“So far the track is pretty smooth, no issues. I feel that it’s going to be fast. Obviously it’s going to be a very tight field. I do believe the rest of the cars are still up to speed, and tomorrow is going to be another fast day.”

The last IndyCar Series race was in 2005 and the track has had some changes since then.

“It’s interesting because the characteristic of the track is pretty much the same,” Castroneves said. “When you come into turn one, it’s like, Are you going to turn? After the corner, you’re like, Oh, it’s opening up.

“It’s very interesting on that scenario. Doesn’t mean it’s easy. Still we’re talking about I don’t know Gs, but I got to check. It’s a lot. It’s very heavy steering wheel, which is going to be even more heavy at night because we going to put fuel in and things like that.

“Those are the details you and the fans are unfortunately not able to see. But I tell you, it’s very fast, but it’s a lot of fun, too.”

Young Josef Newgarden was third at 19.6810 (186.942 mph) in the Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet with two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, 1999 CART champion and former Formula One driver Juan Pablo Montoya fourth at 19.7836 (185.972 mph) for Team Penske.

Graham Rahal rounded out the top five and was the fastest Honda driver at 19.8501 (185.349 mph) for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

It also marked the return to competition for James Hinchcliffe, who nearly lost his life in a pounding crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 18 in the final practice session for the 99th Indianapolis 500. Hinchcliffe was 15th out of 21 drivers that participated in the initial three-hour test session on Friday.

“It feels like the first day back at school,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s competition that you really miss most of all so it’s great to be back here with cars on the track. This track is a whole lot of fun. It’s incredible how little time you have to think when you are going around here. It’s exhausting. G-forces are high and the heat is an issue but it’s going to be a lot of fun.”