Sonoma test provides newcomers crucial track time with new car

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The challenging permanent road course at Sonoma Raceway provided the latest opportunity for Verizon IndyCar Series teams to test their 2018 cars. A dozen drivers turned laps Monday on the undulating 2.385-mile circuit in Northern California, including a pair of drivers getting their first taste of the universal aero kit all teams are using this season.

Harding Racing’s Gabby Chaves and Ed Carpenter Racing’s Jordan King drove the sleek and stylish new car for the first time. King’s seat time was his first of any kind in an Indy car. Chaves, the 2014 Indy Lights champion and 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series rookie of the year, drove in three oval races for Harding last year using the previous aero kit.

Will Power“For a first day on a road course, I honestly think it went as well as we could have hoped,” Chaves told Motorsport.com. “Very few bugs to deal with, plenty of laps. That’s really good because this isn’t the same chassis we ran in those three races last year. This was brand new, so that says a lot about the team’s preparation. So I’m very happy.”

Also participating in the test were Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens, AJ Foyt Racing’s Tony Kanaan and rookie Matheus Leist, Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan, Pietro Fittipaldi for Dale Coyne Racing and Spencer Pigot for Ed Carpenter Racing.

Wickens is a series rookie but experienced driver in junior open-wheel categories and DTM touring cars in Europe. He previously tested the new Indy car at Sebring International Raceway in Florida, but enjoyed the chance to learn more on a new track.

“This is my first time at the track and my first time to Sonoma, so we’re learning,” Wickens said. “The morning wasn’t the smoothest, but we’ll keep chipping away at it and see how we go. I’m trying to learn everything in my new INDYCAR career and it’s going to take some adapting and getting used to, but right now it’s great. I love the elevation here. It’s fast, it’s flowing and a completely different track at the top than at the bottom.”

For Newgarden, it was his first visit to Sonoma Raceway since he clinched the 2017 championship with a second-place in the season finale.

“It was a lot of fun last time we were here, but you get so focused forward on what’s next, you’ve got to try to figure out how to do it again,” he said.

Jordan KingKanaan joins AJ Foyt Racing for his 21st season of Indy car competition. The 2004 series champion and 2005 Sonoma race winner soaked it all in during the test. The 2018 season finale, the Grand Prix of Sonoma, takes place Sept. 16 at the track.

“It’s a beautiful day in Sonoma. Every time we come back, fans are here watching us,” Kanaan said. “New car, a lot of things are different and there are a lot of things to learn. Probably a lot of people making big changes here today. By the time we come back here in September, we’ll have learned a lot of things, but today is definitely the beginning.”

King (shown at left), who distinguished himself in Europe as a Formula 1 development driver and competitor in Formula 2 and British Formula 3, is a Verizon IndyCar Series rookie who will drive ECR’s No. 20 Chevrolet on road and street courses this season. Team owner Ed Carpenter will continue driving the car in oval events. 

Like Chaves, King enjoyed his first experience in the car.

“I am really happy with how the day went," he said. "I have learned a lot and tried to be as open-minded as possible, as everything was new. The team and Chevrolet are great guys to work with and have made the transition as easy as possible. There is still a lot for me to get to grips with, but overall I am happy with the first day and we showed some promising speed.

"As for the car itself, it was everything as expected. Some things are very different and others exactly the same, however the driving style is a little different to what I’m used to. There is still room for some adjusting.” 

Ed Carpenter Racing also used Monday’s test as an opportunity to unveil the paint schemes for the No. 20 Chevy and the No. 21 that Pigot will drive all season (see photo below).

All Verizon IndyCar Series teams head to ISM Raceway outside Phoenix for a test Thursday through Saturday. The first day is set aside for rookies, with the latter two days open to all cars. The sessions on the final two days (3-6 and 8-11 p.m. ET) will stream live on racecontrol.indycar.com. The track is open free to the public on Saturday, with events including an all-driver autograph session between testing sessions.

Ed Carpenter Racing

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