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IndyCar Series Teams Prepare for Open Test at Sebring
The IndyCar Series completed its first Open Test of 2008 with two days of testing on the 1.5-mile, high-banked Homestead-Miami Speedway oval. Drivers got 10 hours of practice time under the lights, recording 3,463 laps in preparation for the season that includes 11 oval races, beginning with the GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 29.

With the oval warm-up completed, IndyCar Series drivers turn their attention to road courses with a four-day Open Test at Sebring International Raceway. Half the field will test March 3-4 while the other half will run March 5-6.

The tests are equally important for newcomers and veterans alike. For Andretti Green Racing rookie Hideki Mutoh, who finished second in the Indy Pro Series in 2007, every opportunity to get laps in the IndyCar Series car is critical.

"These tests are important for me," said Mutoh, whose IndyCar Series debut came with Panther Racing in the 2007 season finale at Chicagoland Speedway. "I only had two days of testing at Phoenix and one day at Sebring in the offseason, so I'm still working on getting to know the team, learning how to communicate with them and learning how to set up the IndyCar Series car. It's totally different from the Indy Pro Series car. The two days at Homestead have been good. I've gained more confidence and am more comfortable with the team."

Veteran drivers such as 2003 IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon know that every minute of testing can lead to an advantage once the season starts.

"There's a limited amount of time to try and do qualifying sims (on race weekends)," said Dixon, who was second fastest at Homestead-Miami with a best lap of 213.277 mph in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing machine. "We just wanted consistency. From the race last year, you saw a lot of people go from the front straight to the back within the first 15-20 laps. Both our cars were decent, and that's what we concentrated on."

The test at Sebring will mark the first time that the IndyCar Series has conducted an Open Test at the facility. An 11-turn, 1.7-mile circuit will be used. It also will mark the first time that all of the IndyCar Series drivers use the new paddle shift system on a road course.

"I look forward to seeing what the paddle shifting will be like at Sebring where you've got your hair on fire and you're really driving aggressive as opposed to (Homestead-Miami) where you're really not shifting that much," said Rahal Letterman Racing's Ryan Hunter-Reay. "At Sebring, you can really dial yourself into the Sebring trap, and we've just got to be sure that we don't do that. We need to go about our changes, stick to our plan and get some feedback on the car and go to St. Pete. We know we can a get a good job done on road courses."

Said Andretti Green Racing's Tony Kanaan: "(At the tests) we try to put everything into the car that we had studied over the winter that looks really good in the computer and in the simulations and see if it really works. It's the only two tracks and four days of testing we have before the season starts, so we're counting everything on this."

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