Taking the Chill Out of January

Earlier this week, the first tangible sign of the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season took place with far less hoopla than usual. There was a private test at Sebring International Raceway among seven cars on Monday and nine cars on Tuesday of this week. Only two drivers turned laps on both days – Dalton Kellett for AJ Foyt Enterprises and Max Chilton for Carlin. What was the most important thing learned from the two-day test? That racing season is getting closer and closer.

Usually, the first test in January brings about a lot of buzz. That was not the case with this one. I’m not sure if it’s because Monday was a holiday or if fans are a little apathetic right now, since the virus is still lingering and the season-opener has already been pushed back by almost a month. The new season-opener is now set for April 11 at the Honda Indy grand Prix of Alabama. That is still almost three months away, and may be in jeopardy of getting moved back even further. That kind of uncertainty can put a damper on the enthusiasm of fans.

I’ll admit that I didn’t pay as close attention to the small test at Sebring that I usually do. I was able to read a few recaps on line each night, and catch a few videos of cars at speed. But just hearing the sound of cars going through the gears, took some of the winter chill off.

There will be no Spring Training or open tests, like what the series had for the last couple of years at COTA. This is probably a function of the pandemic and is also a way for teams and the series to cut costs. Theoretically, teams don’t have any new major changes to deal with, like the aero screen last year. But I think there were still a lot of teams that never came to grips with the change last year, so they probably would welcome any chance to test that they could get.

It’s strange how this test was essentially overlooked by a lot of fans. Before the days of the internet, I would scour newspapers (remember those?) and my racing magazine subscriptions for any little sliver of information about any recent testing. There were usually a handful of photos to get a glimpse of any new liveries or what any new chassis would look like. Many teams would not change the way the new chassis came out of the box. They would slap a decal on the sidepod that said Valvoline or Duracell and go testing in an otherwise blank car still in raw carbon-fiber.

I saw no black carbon-fiber cars from this week’s test, but I didn’t see every car that tested. I did notice that Graham Rahal was in a very basic all-black look with white Mi-Jack logos on each sidepod. What I did notice is that it looks like Andretti Autosport has changed the template of their livery. Each car in the Andretti stable always followed the same basic scheme, no matter if it was the red and yellow of Ryan Hunter-Reay’s DHL car, or the yellow and blue NAPA scheme of Alexander Rossi. All of their cars for the last few years carried the same stripes in the same places, finished off with a bit of chrome on the nose.

I saw the NAPA car of Rossi and the Gainbridge car of Colton Herta. They both have revised schemes and it appears that the chrome is no longer on the nose. But the photos I saw were a little hard to see, but I think the chrome is gone for the first time since the team changed from Andretti-Green Racing to Andretti Autosport in 2010. Only someone with a severe lack of a life would take note of such minutia.

For the record, the fastest time recorded in the two-day test was by Alexander Rossi on Day Two. He led a barrage of Andretti Autosport cars at the top of the second-day time chart. Teammate Colton Herta was second with Jack Harvey in the Meyer Shank Racing car with a technical association with Andretti Autosport. Ryan Hunter Reay was fourth quick on Tuesday. Graham Rahal was fifth on Tuesday for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing; followed by Chilton of Carlin, Kellett for Foyt, Takuma Sato for RLLR and Marco Andretti brought up the rear. I’m not quite sure why Marco was testing, unless he was subbing for James Hinchcliffe, who has not inked his deal yet.

Going back to Monday, the day was led by Ganassi’s Scott Dixon, followed by teammates Marcus Ericsson and Alex Palou. Sébastien Bourdais was fourth quick for Foyt, while Chilton was fifth. Kellet was sixth quick for Foyt, but he was still much faster than the slowest car that ran seventh fastest – seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who was 1.371 seconds slower than his teammate Scott Dixon. Johnson will get better as he grows accustomed to the car, but anyone who thought Johnson was going to come in and win immediately got a taste of what this year may look like for Johnson. It will likely be a steep learning curve for the No. 48 Carvana car.

Altogether, fourteen different drivers took the track over the two-day test ast Sebring. Full-time teams completely missing from the test were Dale Coyne Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing, Arrow McLaren SP and Team Penske.

We all have our own distractions going on in our lives. With the pandemic still raging, it’s tough to get real fired up for a season that may or may not start up in a little less than three months. But when I saw times posted from the tests and got to hear the engines at full song, it sure made the chill of January go away – if only for a few minutes. It can only build from here.

George Phillips

3 Responses to “Taking the Chill Out of January”

  1. I think the 2021 grid is the most competitive INDYCAR field ever making it even more interesting pre season. I only question one full drivers presence.

  2. pwadcock@yahoo.com Says:

    search “Lanky Turtle” on youtube for testing vids from Sebring.

  3. “…. it sure made the chill of January go away…”
    because 2020 turned 21 and started drinking.

    NBCSN goes away, too.
    sponsorships to follow.

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