Random Thoughts on the IMS Open Test

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It was disjointed, cold, sunny and drizzly. It featured some crashed race cars, some fast times and an unexpected twist. No, this wasn’t the narrative of an entire Month of May. Instead, it was the description of the two days of the Open Test on the IMS oval last Wednesday and Thursday.

Typical of what we generally see in May, the start to both days last week was delayed by rain. When things finally got underway on Wednesday, Alexander Rossi spun on the warm-up lane in the south end of the track, but collected it without hitting anything. I was unable to watch any running during the day – I work and was only able to watch a little bit at lunchtime. However, I was able to keep up through my Trackside Online e-mail updates. When I first saw that Rossi had spun, my first thought was “How did that happen?” Then I was wondering if this was an omen for Rossi’s Month of May.

The Warm-up Lane: I knew nothing of what else transpired until I got home that afternoon. That’s when I learned that Helio Castroneves had done the exact same thing, but was not as lucky as Rossi. The car spun across Turn Two and slapped the outside wall, doing heavy damage to the exact sane car that carried him to his fourth Indianapolis 500 victory a year ago. His Meyer Shank Racing team decided to take the car back to the shop in Ohio, and start preparing the car for May. Helio Castroneves would run no more in the test.

Within thirty minutes, it happened again to Will Power. His car snapped unexpectedly in the same warm-up lane and appeared to be heading backwards onto the racing surface in the short chute. Power conceded that visions of Alex Zanardi at the Lausitzring went through his head. Fortunately, the car drifted back to the inside, but not before Colton Herta rounded the corner and was faced with what he thought would be a car in the middle of the track. Herta took evasive action and caught the outside wall with his rear wing.

Three of the past six Indianapolis 500 winners had spun on the warm-up lane. It was becoming obvious that this was no coincidence. IndyCar officials decided to end the session early, and work quickly on solving an unexpected problem before the next session – scheduled to begin at 10:00 EDT the next morning.

Doug Boles and other track officials worked through the night to diagnose and fix the problem by the next morning. All surfaces were treated with a sealer back in the fall – the entire track on one day, the pit and in/out lanes the following day. There was obviously sufficient grip on the track, but equipment used to measure and analyze grip showed a significant difference between the warm-up lane and the track.

Was this caused by a difference in temperatures in the two days of the application? Was there a difference in the chemicals they used? There were more questions than answers heading into Wednesday night. People on social media were beside themselves, questioning whether the track would be fit to run in a month.

The decision was made to try a simple old-fashioned remedy. They chose to drag tires over the warm-up lanes overnight. Hopefully this would lay down enough rubber on the surface to provide adequate grip for the next day. While some self-appointed geniuses on social media scoffed at the idea, it seemed to work – enough, anyway. There were no issues on the warm-up lane on Thursday, but according to Tony Kanaan – IMS still has a lot of work to do, and they know that.

Of course, Mother Nature made everyone wait to see if it worked. At 10:00 on Thursday morning, it was still drizzling. Track drying efforts started in earnest at 11:30. With the help of some much-needed sunshine, the track finally opened for practice at 2:30 – four and a half hours late.

The Thursday session was extended to 6:30 pm. When the session ended, there had been no incidents for the Thursday session – making up for what happened on Wednesday.

What We Learned: I’m not sure how much that happens in an April test, translates into May. Some teams chose not to even run the same car that will be their primary car in May. I suppose teams learned about any surprises, like the unexpectedly slick warm-up lane. I also read where drivers were discussing a couple of bumps in certain spots that had become more significant since last May.

Different teams area also looking for different things in a test like this. Some may be looking for an impressive time to give them confidence heading into May. Other teams could not care less about putting up a big number – they just want to get their car comfortable in race setup.

But if I was forced to draw any conclusions from what transpired last Wednesday or Thursday, it would be that Chip Ganassi Racing will probably be the early favorite heading into May. They had five cars test last week, and all five cars posted times in the Top-Ten over the two days. All but Conor Daly and Helio Castroneves posted their fastest time on Thursday. Helio didn’t run on Thursday. I’m not sure what Daly’s problem was.

Tony Kanaan was the fastest Ganassi car, and third quickest with a speed of 228.767 mph. Scott Dixon was just a tick behind Kanaan, with a speed of 228.689 mph. Alex Palou did nothing to draw attention to himself over the two-day period, but he was able to post the seventh-quickest speed at 228.058. Jimmie Johnson was the first car to go past the 225 mph barrier, and was also the fastest rookie. He finished Thursday eighth quick, with a speed of 227.900. Like Palou, Marcus Ericsson did nothing flashy, but he was tenth quick with a speed of 227.785 mph. Ganassi has no reason to be cocky, but all five cars were fast and they seem very solid heading into May.

Like the first three races of the season, Team Penske and Chevy find themselves on top at the end. Josef Newgarden admittedly got a tow, but that was good enough for the fastest time of the test – 229.519 mph. Scott McLaughlin was the other Penske car in the Top-Ten, posting the fifth fastest speed at 228.397 mph. Will Power was fourteenth quick at 227.204. Again – we have no idea what each team within the team was looking for.

The Rahal Letterman Lanigan team seemed to struggle. Their fastest driver was Jack Harvey, who could only muster the twentieth quickest speed – 226.224 mph. Graham Rahal had the twenty-fifth fastest time at 225.845 mph. Rookie Christian Lundgaard languished behind in thirtieth at 224.185 mph.

Again, you can tell nothing by these times. Juan Montoya was interviewed by Peacock after he was done with his session about ten minutes early. He had the slowest speed Thursday at 223.980 mph, but he was extremely happy with where they were. Knowing Montoya – if he wasn’t happy, he would say so.

All in All: While it was good to see and hear race cars at IMS, it really told us nothing. It was good that track officials learned of their warm-up lane problem, giving them almost a month to work on it before oval practice starts at IMS on May 17.

I also enjoyed seeing some of the special liveries that teams will be running for the Indianapolis 500, although I can’t say I care for the three cars from Arrow McLaren SP. (photo: Arrow McLaren SP)

McLaren

They just looked more confused than anything. Somehow the not-so-great livery for Stéphan Grégoire in his rookie year of 1993 came to mind.That is not necessarily a good thing. But some people really liked the McLaren cars. To each, his or her own. (photo: Dick Simon Racing)

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But now teams have a good baseline when they return to the oval three weeks from tomorrow, when teams start final preparations for real, for the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500. It’s almost here.

George Phillips

One Response to “Random Thoughts on the IMS Open Test”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    The green doesn’t work at all with the other colors at McLaren, whose paint jobs would otherwise not be too bad. As someone who draws a lot of race cars, I’m not sure if I look forward to drawing them or not.

    Maalox was an appropriate sponsor for Gregoire in 1993.

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