Despite winds, Indy test brings smile to drivers' faces

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Warm spring temperatures provided an optimal platform for 11 Verizon IndyCar Series cars to turn laps today on the hallowed 2.5-mile oval at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as they prepare for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in little more than two months.

Drivers for Chip Ganassi Racing, Rahal Letterman Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports participated on a manufacturers test day for Honda. Team Penske used the chance as a team test day for its four full-season drivers. Since it was a private test day, no official times were released.

Despite winds that picked up in the afternoon and limited running, there was no place the 11 drivers would rather be.

“It’s always cool to be at this place,” said Scott Dixon, the 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner who drives the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. “It’s fantastic to be back at the speedway and May is just around the corner.

“We were lucky enough to win in 2008, but once you win you just want that second one much, much more. There’s nothing like this place.”

Graham RahalDixon was joined at the test by teammates Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball and Tony Kanaan. The 2013 Indy 500 winner, Kanaan has his sights set on making his 16th start in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 28. But it never gets old.

“It’s everything,” the 42-year-old fan favorite said of each time he returns to IMS. “This is why I grew up wanting to race, this is why I wanted to be here and this is why I insisted after all the disappointments to try to win this race over and over and over again.

“Every time you come here, by the time you drive through the tunnel in your car, it’s an unbelievable feeling that I don’t think it would be fair for me to try to describe because I don’t think it will do it justice.”

The Honda testing contingent was filled out by James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Graham Rahal from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Rahal will have a teammate, Oriol Servia, in May, but was the lone test driver for RLL today.

“We’re a one-car team and we’ve got to try and make the most of it,” said Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Honda. “I wish Oriol was here running. It would have been nice having him here running for the test as well just to get some more data, but he’s not.

“We’re always trying to overcome the same battle but it is what it is. We just have to stick to our game plan and try to do what we need to do to be at our best.”

Team Penske drivers Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power turned laps in their Chevrolet-powered cars. The team test day gives the Penske group the chance to double up on Indy testing since the quartet will return for a Chevrolet manufacturer day April 1.

Team Penske has more Indy 500 wins (16) than any team in history but is determined to improve on 2016, when Power’s 10th-place finish was the best among its drivers. Newgarden is new to the team this year, but echoed the thoughts of most drivers today when discussing the gusting winds and how to prepare for them.

“It’s understanding the balance shifts that the wind provides but also the unpredictability,” he said. “You get these gusts sometimes when the wind hits the car in different directions that you don’t suspect and the car reacts in a way that you wouldn’t suspect as a driver. It’s trying to understand that and just be on your toes so that when the car does move one way of the other, not knowing where it’s going to go, you can react and keep it off the fence.”

Despite the gusting winds, there were no incidents on the day. Three more private tests are scheduled in the next two weeks. Andretti Autosport and Ed Carpenter Racing are scheduled to test March 28 at Sebring International Raceway in Florida. The April 1 Chevrolet test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway includes Team Penske, AJ Foyt Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing. Honda has scheduled another manufacturer test April 4 at Sonoma Raceway for all 13 of its full-season cars.

The next Verizon IndyCar Series race is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, slated for April 7-9 on the 1.968-mile temporary street course in Southern California. The race airs live at 4 p.m. ET April 9 on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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