LEXINGTON, Ohio – Agendas varied in the one-day team test at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, but they shared one common goal: finding the quickest way around the 2.258-mile permanent road course that plays host to The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio from July 29-31.
A total of 17 cars logged test laps, with official times not reported since it was a team test day. Some teams used the day to fine-tune setups for the upcoming race weekend. Several others used the opportunity to test and evaluate current or former Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, a testing incentive built into the Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook.
Andretti Autosport opted to look at its Formula E driver, Robin Frijns, who split the day in the No. 28 DHL Honda with its regular occupant, 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Frijns, 24, was a Formula One test driver in 2013-14 but hadn’t been behind the wheel of a high-downforce car since then. He has spent the past two years in Formula E and the Blancpain GT series in Europe.
“It’s been more than two years since I drove a downforce car,” Frijns said after his day in the Indy car. “Even though I drove Formula One for two years and I drove GP2, then doing nothing on the downforce side and then jumping back, it’s not that easy. It’s a big change back.”
Frijns (shown above on course in the No. 28 car) said his best lap was 1 minute, 5.3 seconds, two-tenths of a second shy of what Hunter-Reay ran in the morning. The Dutchman said he was warned that the high downforce and lack of power steering in the car would take its toll on the demanding Mid-Ohio circuit.
“Everybody said you have no power steering so the steering wheel is heavy,” he said. “Yeah, the steering is heavy, especially at high speed when you are driving more, you go into the corners quicker and quicker, and the it’s getting heavier and heavier. At one point you hit a wall.”
That’s hitting the wall figuratively. Though Frijns did go off course once, he kept the car clean.
“The car is in one piece, I’m in one piece,” Frijns said. “Overall I feel pretty happy.”
Felix Rosenqvist, who has won three Indy Lights races this season with Belardi Auto Racing, had the enviable opportunity to spend the morning driving the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet of reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion and five-time Mid-Ohio winner Scott Dixon.
“The car was incredible to drive, it was unlike anything I’ve driven,” said Rosenqvist, the 24-year-old Swede who has won the Macau Grand Prix and the European Formula 3 title. “There’s so much downforce and so much grip, it’s crazy. It was really fun and I think we had a good test. We got up to speed quite quickly.”
Dixon was glad to lend Rosenqvist (shown at right with Ganassi engineer Chris Simmons) advice on driving the Indy car, but felt it wasn’t really needed.
“Felix is a very accomplished driver already,” Dixon said. “He’s won a lot of championships and raced a lot of different things, too. Whether it’s him asking about brake bias or certain corners, it’s just trying to give him a little insight into what I feel but it could be totally different to what he feels. If there’s questions, just trying to help him out.”
Rosenqvist appreciated how he was welcomed into the Ganassi camp, if only for a day.
“I feel really privileged to work with these guys,” he said. “They’ve been so friendly and helpful with everything. It’s always easy to feel like a nobody when you come into a team like this, but they’ve been really humble and answered all my stupid questions.”
Also testing at Mid-Ohio were RC Enerson with Dale Coyne Racing and Zachary Claman De Melo and Jack Harvey with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. All three were slated to run the entire day, but Harvey’s stint ended before lunch when he spun in Turn 6 and made contact with the wall. Harvey was uninjured but the No. 5 Arrow Honda normally driven by James Hinchcliffe could not be repaired in time to return to the track.
“Up to that point, everything was going really well,” said Harvey, the 23-year-old Brit who finished second in the Indy Lights championship each of the last two years with six total race wins for Schmidt. “It was like a dream day up to that point. You don’t want to have that sort of accident on a test day, especially when I’m borrowing someone’s car. Feeling pretty bad about that.”
Verizon IndyCar Series regulars who tested in addition to Hunter-Reay and Dixon included all four Team Penske drivers (Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power), defending Mid-Ohio winner Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, AJ Foyt Racing’s Jack Hawksworth and Takuma Sato, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan, KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing’s Conor Daly and Ed Carpenter Racing’s JR Hildebrand and Spencer Pigot.
Hildebrand filled in for Josef Newgarden, who was resting his injured right hand that sustained a fracture in a crash at Texas Motor Speedway on June 12 and was aggravated when he hit the wall in Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. Newgarden, however, did turn a few laps at the end of the day in one of the ECR Chevys.
For Kanaan, the test day was a chance to get reacquainted with a track that hasn’t treated the 19th-year Indy car driver very well. A 17-time race winner and 15-time pole sitter in his career, the 41-year-old Brazilian hasn’t started better than third nor finished better than fourth in 14 previous Mid-Ohio races.
“It’s always good to get used to the track again,” said Kanaan, driver of the No. 10 NTT Data Chevy for Chip Ganassi Racing. “We only come here once a year, so coming here a week before the race definitely helps for us.”