|Driver Coach Al Unser Jr talks with Brian Barnhart (R)|
|Photos courtesy Ron McQueeney/IRL|
Everyone in the Homestead-Miami Speedway driver meeting room listened intently as Brian Barnhart stressed patience for the first of two testing days on the 1.5-mile, high-banked oval.
“Let’s focus on familiarity,” the president of the competition and operations divisions for the sanctioning Indy Racing League said.
Nine drivers who are transitioning to the IndyCar Series from the Champ Car World Series, many of whom had not driven more than a passenger car on an oval racetrack, wouldn’t argue the point.
KV Racing Technology (Oriol Servia, Will Power), Conquest Racing (Enrique Bernoldi, Franck Perera) and Dale Coyne Racing (Bruno Junqueira, Mario Moraes) participated in testing last week on the Sebring International Raceway road course. They were joined in the Dallara/Honda/Firestone packages at Homestead by Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing (Graham Rahal, Justin Wilson) and HVM Racing (Ernesto Viso). Marty Roth and Jay Howard of Roth Racing also were granted track time because they did not participate in the full oval Open Test in February.
Ten drivers recorded 598 laps without incident. Junqueira’s No. 18 car is expected on the racetrack for the first time during the second session March 25 (4-10 p.m. ET).
Barnhart set a 195 mph speed limit to start the session under cloudy skies and high humidity, and it increased incrementally as more laps were turned in preparation for the season-opening GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300 under the lights March 29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“The teams are working awfully hard,” said Barnhart, who noted the hundreds of hours crews have labored to prepare the race cars since unification under the IndyCar Series banner was announced four weeks ago. “We’re getting close to event time and clearly track time and seat time is the most valuable commodity. They’ll get a full six hours out there (March 25) and get some decent preparation for this weekend’s race.”
During the dinner break, driver coach Al Unser Jr. heard a similar refrain: It’s daunting at first.
“It looks like I started racing just now,” said Perera, who competed in Atlantics and the GP2 Series the past two years. “It looks so easy when you watch on TV, but it’s not. On a (road/street course) you always try to brake later, to have maximum speed in the corners. Here, it’s always the same (left turns) but everything can happen.”
That’s what the familiarization/practice sessions and Unser’s advice are meant to counteract. Unser said the drivers quickly will be up to speed and competitive on the 11 ovals this season.
“Once you get flat and you feel the downforce in it, then you’ll start dialing that understeer out. These cars are good at letting you know when it is too positive on the steering,” Unser relayed to KV Racing Technology’s Power. “You’ll feel it.”
Said Power, whose only oval race was at The Milwaukee Mile in 2006: “The first couple of laps I was very unsure of the car. But once I got into it, I started to feel real comfortable. Now it’s a matter of working up to speed and start making changes and feeling how sensitive the car is to them.
“Then you have to learn traffic, which is probably even harder again. It’s going to be a year of learning on the ovals. But it’s good to be here and great with all the cars running and the two series together.”