Kanaan tops open IndyCar test at Barber
Andretti Green Racing's Tony Kanaan topped the speed chart as seven drivers representing four IndyCar Series teams tested the 16-turn, 2.38-mile road course at Barber Motorsports Park.
Kanaan recorded a quick lap of 1 minute, 9.7430 seconds (118.722 mph) in his No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Honda-powered Dallara at the test, which allowed IndyCar Series officials to evaluate technical changes for the 2008 season.
Scott Dixon, driving the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing's car, was utilizing the paddle shift system that will be implemented during road/street races, beginning with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in April. The variable ratio steering rack was on Helio Castroneves' No. 3 Team Penske car.
"I think it makes the car easier to drive; it's not as difficult physically," said Dixon, the 2007 IndyCar Series championship runner-up. "You're more relaxed in the car; you don't have other things to think about. All you have is knowing how many gears you have to go down and pushing the little lever.
"In the race, you won't have people making as many mistakes (as using the sequential shift gearbox off the driver's right thigh). People who were losing speed because they weren't as good with their technique and downshifting will improve their lap times quite a bit. It will make it a lot easier for them.
"I prefer the sequential box that we had, but for safety and technology it's definitely the way to go. I think there's still room for improvement by smoothing out the shifts."
IndyCar Series and Honda Performance Development officials will address issues brought up by Dixon, but the system is "99 percent there," according to IndyCar Series senior technical director Les Mactaggart.
"The pneumatics and electronics are the final version," he said. "The interface is a megaline system and they are currently used on the Audi sports car, the Peugeot Le Mans car and the Porsche ALMS car. We think it's the best system there is from a customer point of view. It's already been developed."
The variable ratio steering rack, which an untrained eye couldn't pick out from an oval track rack, was used in 2007 competition by Darren Manning at Belle Isle and Danica Patrick at Mid-Ohio. Essentially, it will provide an easier steering load during the physically demanding street/road course events.
"There is one team that has had it for a number of races," Mactaggart said. It's never been illegal to run a variable ratio rack because it's a mechanical rack. It's basically their invention; they brought it to the series."
Castroneves gave it high marks.
"It seems to be a little better on the high speed turns," he said.
Kanaan recorded 68 laps, while Castroneves was second-quick (1:10.2065; 117.938 mph) on 61 laps. Dixon (1:10.2387) on a test-high 95 laps, Dan Wheldon (1:10.3156) Vitor Meira (1:10.4116), Marco Andretti (1:10.6797), and Patrick (1:10.8889) also posted more than 40 laps.
"It's not a point of being the quickest," Kanaan said. "With such limited testing, we're trying to accomplish things we don't have a chance to do during the year. It's an extra test day. We made some big changes like probably every team did, because this is the only chance to do it.
"It was an exciting day, nice to be back in the car. Last week, I was in Iowa as well, but it's always exciting to be back on a road course like this. Nice place. I think there is some room for improvement, but I had fun."
OPEN TEST NOTEBOOK
Crunch: Dan Wheldon brought out a full-course caution when his No. 10 car sustained a left-front suspension failure and made contact with a foam barrier in Turn 5. Wheldon was not injured.
"I was in sixth gear and I saw the suspension pull off the car," Wheldon said. "I'm fine."
Danica Patrick brought out another full-course caution in the afternoon session after her car sustained a mechanical failure in the left-rear suspension.
Andretti returns: Marco Andretti had driven an open-wheel car on the Barber Motorsports Park before, but it didn't help him much upon his return in the No. 26 Andretti Green Racing Honda-powered Dallara.
"It was about five years ago when I was here in a Skip Barber car, so basically it just told me the direction of the circuit - which way it goes," he said. "It's good fun. It's a very technical track. It's very hard to be consistent, hard to be flowing. It's hard to get in a rhythm because there are a lot of blind corners. It's very tough to get right - car placement and such. It's a challenging track for a driver, which is always good."
Just observing: Indy Pro Series driver Jaime Camara and Super Aguri F1 test driver James Rossiter were at Barber Motorsports Park observing and chatting with IndyCar Series drivers.
The pair was chatting with Dan Wheldon during the morning session when a few fans handed cameras to Rossiter and asked if he would take a photo of him with Wheldon.
Rossiter obliged, joking "I must be a professional photographer."
When another fan asked Wheldon about the Honda engine he was testing and how it compared to Formula 1, Wheldon identified Rossiter, who had just taken a photo for the fan, and said, "He drives in F1, he could probably tell you."
Another race for Kanaan: Tony Kanaan will join Bryan Herta in Andretti Green Racing's No. 26 XM Satellite Radio Acura ARX-01a at the Monterey Sports Car Championships on Oct. 20.
This will be Kanaan's third appearance in the XM Acura during the 2007 American Le Mans Series season. In March, Kanaan teamed with Herta and Dario Franchitti to win the LMP2 class at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. He was also part of AGR's entry at Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta earlier this month.
"I'm really happy to be driving in the final ALMS event of the season. Unfortunately the Petit race didn't go like we'd hoped but we had a very strong showing at Sebring and I know Bryan (Herta) and I want to help Acura end the season on the same high that we started it on. I had some success at Laguna Seca in my CART days and I'm looking forward to getting back there."
New sensation: NHRA pro stock motorcycle rider Steve Johnson is used to going fast, but he got a whole new look at speed at Barber Motorsports Park.
The 2005 U.S. Nationals champion took a ride in the Indy Racing Experience 2-seater around the 2.38-mile road course with Indianapolis 500 veteran Davey Hamilton
"Dancing with the Stars has a whole new meaning to me," Johnson said. "Going around the turns, your body is moving back and forth. It's 2 to 3 G's and it's everything you can do to hold on. I had my camera in my hands the whole time. I think I got some great footage."
Johnson, who just missed out on the NHRA Countdown, joked that he'd like to switch places with Hamilton the next time he rode.
"This Indy Racing Experience is incredible," he said. "I got an experience of a lifetime."
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "It's not a point of being the quickest. With such limited testing, we're trying to accomplish things we don't have a chance to do during the year. It's an extra test day. We made some big changes like probably every team did, because this is the only chance to do it. It was an exciting day, nice to be back in the car. A couple of weeks ago I was in Iowa as well, but it's always exciting to be back on a road course like this. Nice place. I think there is some room for improvement, but I had fun." (What does this track compare to?): "I would say Sonoma is the only place that testing here helps. Tracks are very different."
DAN WHELDON (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "They said the track officials wanted our opinions in what we would do to change the track to race here. Honestly, I don't think they need to change a thing. They said it's too narrow, but it isn't any more narrow than anywhere else we race. It's a beautiful facility. I'm impressed. If it's up to drivers if we race here or not, then I'm all for racing here. Let's do it."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 NYSE Group Dallara/Honda/Firestone): (About prior experience at Barber Motorsports Park): "Unfortunately, it didn't help much when I was here (before). It was about five years ago when I was here in a Skip Barber car, so basically it just told me the direction of the circuit - which way it goes. It's good fun. It's a very technical track. It's very hard to be consistent, hard to be flowing. It's hard to get in a rhythm because there are a lot of blind corners. It's very tough to get right - car placement and such. It's a challenging track for a driver, which is always good. Testing-wise it's kind of tough to get consistent information. But, we go to racetracks like that, so it's good testing for that."(About the track): "Turn 1 you don't know where the car needs to be until you're already there, so it's also the corner where you get it right or not at that speed it's quite dangerous there, no margin for error. If we were to race here, we'd have to make some corners tighter. It would be heavier breaking, which gives you the opportunity to pass. Turn 5 is our only heavy breaking point. Otherwise, it's really fast entry everywhere, so you're just using the break to stabilize the car you're not really hard on it. That's a corner where we're really working on the cars, working on traction to get added in for the street courses. I think this would be an awesome motorcycle circuit, which is what it is really. For IndyCars, it's very narrow, and we'd need some safety updates to race here. There's no margin for error. To race, we do need tighter corners for passing or else you're just going to see follow the leader. To drive, it's good fun. It's very challenging." (About adding road courses): "I love road courses. More than five (on our schedule) would be great. Maybe less of those bigger, bigger ovals, but short ovals and big ovals are part of it as well. As a driver, it's really tough to place the car where it needs to be every lap, so it's hard to get in a rhythm. You can't go out and do five real consistent laps, because either you're going to get it right or you're not, so that's what we're dealing with right now.
DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Motorola Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "It's a pretty fast track. We came here with ideas about what the gears would be, and it's pretty much one higher or two everywhere. It's faster. There's quite a bit of grip out there. I can imagine if we were ever spending a significant amount of time here it would get very grippy, because there's not much rubber down right now. It's very nice. As far as safety goes, there's a couple of things that I'm sure we would make adjustments with to make it good enough for racing. At this point, it's purely a place for us to try things back to back to see if it works, to see if it makes the car actually faster or feel better, so at this point it's serving that purpose. It's always nice to go fast, but it's not critical today. It doesn't really matter. As long as you can feel the changes and you can tell the engineer whether or not it worked that's really the only thing that matters today. But, that doesn't stop us from trying." (About NASCAR) It's an option. It's something out there, especially the last year and a half when I was dealing with my contract negotiations for when I went to Andretti Green. I love IndyCar. I love driving these cars. I'm sure any of the NASCAR guys could tell you that have driven an open-wheel car versus theirs it's the difference between a Lamborghini and a Taurus. It's not really comparable. They feel very different, and I like the sensation an IndyCar gives. I like the racing. This is what I grew up watching with my family. This is where my heart is right now. Maybe one day it will take me elsewhere or else the options will just be of a degree that I'll want to try something new. At this point, I'm really happy with where I'm at. IndyCar is exciting, and I think that anybody that watches NASCAR and then watches IndyCar, especially live, you can really see the difference in speed, and you can hear it. It's so much different. There's not as many of us out there, but it's pretty technical."(About possible race here): "Just by judging how many people are out here today when, to be honest, I didn't really think there would be anybody that's fun. It kind of reminds of me of Mid-Ohio when we went there for the test in the summertime before the race. We had 100,000 people or something that weekend. It was a huge event, but it was really foreshadowed in the test because so many fans were out there so excited. There's definitely a lot of them here, and there's only seven drivers. I think that it's something that could happen in the future. We will go anywhere where we feel like we'll be a successful event. We can put on a good show anywhere. I think as far as logistics go here at the track there are some safety things that would have to be adjusted track-wise to make it safe enough for us to go out there. While we're going fast, we're not at 100 percent right now. We're not racing side-by-side, we're not bumping, we're not throwing anybody into any gravel traps or walls. I think there would be some things that would have to change. Pit lane isn't wide enough for us. We need some more room. Things like that. If you guys show us that there's be a good turnout here, and that we would be able to have a successful event, I'm sure that it would definitely be considered."
VITOR MEIRA (No. 4 Panther Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "It was good. We actually found a couple of very good things. Mainly what we were trying here was to change the philosophy of the way we approach things, and it really did pay off. This is a very good track to do this. Honestly, this is the best test track we've been to, because it has everything - smooth, slow speed, banking. Not only is it a beautiful facility, but it is one that serves you. I would say Daytona - it is very good for the league, but it is not very good for the cars. It doesn't serve much there. It's a different track that you have to approach differently. It's a unique track. This one you can practice and you can test a bunch of things that will serve you for a long time in many other places. We did accomplish a lot. You always want to be faster, but honestly that's as close as we've been to the AGR and Ganassi and Penske - three-tenths (of a second). That's pretty good. We're making progress. That's what counts."