Team Penske sets record pace on first day

Castroneves happy with his time
Castroneves happy with his time

The Test in the West is already bringing out the best in Team Penske.

Record best.

Helio Castroneves led four Team Penske drivers in the top six after the first session of the Phoenix International Raceway promoter test Feb. 26, with a lap time that unofficially eclipsed the track record on the 1.022-mile short oval.

Indy car great Arie Luyendyk, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner just named one of three officiating stewards for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season, holds the official one-lap record of 19.608 seconds (183.599 mph) set in 1996 when the track was measured at an even mile.

Castroneves bettered it late in the midday test session with a lap of 19.5858 seconds (187.850 mph) in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. Teammate Will Power, in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, also topped Luyendyk's standard with a lap of 19.5931 seconds (187.780 mph). Official Indy car track records can only be set during a qualifying or race session.

Andretti led the evening session in his Honda
Andretti led the evening session in his Honda

Andretti Autosport's Marco Andretti led the evening practice session with a lap of 19.6038 seconds (187.678 mph) under the lights in the No. 27 Snapple Honda that was third on the combined speed chart behind the afternoon times of Castroneves and Power. Reigning series champion Scott Dixon was second fast in the night session (19.6066 seconds, 187.651 mph) in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

"We were able to run in both temperature (conditions), which was OK," Castroneves said. "Obviously, earlier today in the day conditions, we were focusing on speed and the Hitachi car was really dialed in. This evening, we were able to work more on the race pace, and everything seems to be going in the right direction. We're looking strong and looking good, but we're still learning about this updated Chevy aero kit. Looking forward to tomorrow and learning even more."

Twenty-one cars are participating in the promoter test that has two more sessions scheduled Feb. 27. The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to PIR following an 11-year absence for the Phoenix Grand Prix on April 1-2. It is the second of 16 races on the 2016 schedule that opens March 11-13 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and includes the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]In addition to Castroneves and Power, Team Penske drivers Juan Pablo Montoya (fourth) and Simon Pagenaud (sixth) ran near the front in the afternoon. At the completion of the second practice, 19 of the 21 drivers were within a half-second of Castroneves' top lap.

Castroneves is one of a select few drivers who raced at PIR when it was on the 2005 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. He won the 2002 race and said the track is still quite challenging, even though it has been reconfigured slightly to open up Turn 2.

"The track is pretty much the same," the three-time Indy 500 winner said. "When you come into Turn 1, it's like, are you going to turn? After the corner, you're like, 'Oh, it's opening up.' It's very interesting on that scenario. Doesn't mean it's easy.

"We're still talking about I don't know how many Gs, but it's a lot. It's a very heavy steering wheel, which is going to be even more heavy at night because we are going to put fuel in and things like that."

Ed Carpenter, owner and driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet, also drove at PIR for Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2004 and '05. He was third quick in the evening session and likes how his car felt under the lights.

"As the night grew on you saw more and more people were doing race running, so the time charts really don't mean much," Carpenter said. "We're all working through our individual test plans and we're happy with where we are, we think we have good pace. I'm probably more encouraged by how my car feels in traffic and dirty air, so I'm really pleased with how the Chevy aero kit is handling turbulence whether it's running behind a Chevy or a Honda."

Cardinals' Peterson flying high following ride from 'Michael Jordan' of drivers

Five-time Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson knows a star when he sees one. Which is why the Arizona Cardinals cornerback was in awe meeting Mario Andretti on Feb. 26 at Phoenix International Raceway and receiving an INDYCAR Experience two-seater ride around the track from the racing great.

"I met with (Andretti) briefly, but just to hear the history and some of the things he has accomplished in the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500 and all of the other championships that he won in all different divisions, he's the Michael Jordan of race car drivers," Peterson said from pit lane following his ride.

"I had the opportunity to fly with the Thunderbirds before so it kind of relates, as far as the Gs. But I've never done anything of this sort, though, because we were in a very tight, confined space and we're going almost 200 miles per hour turning these corners at Lord knows how fast. It was definitely an unbelievable experience. I would definitely do it again."

Ryan Hunter-Reay
Ryan Hunter-Reay

Andretti unveils 2016 car liveries inspired by family patriarch's 1972 car

Andretti Autosport took inspiration from the Andretti family's illustrious racing past in developing liveries for its cars that will compete in the Verizon IndyCar Series and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2016.

The paint schemes are a nod to family patriarch Mario Andretti, father of team owner Michael Andretti and grandfather to team driver Marco Andretti. The 1972 Vel's Parnelli Jones car that Mario drove in Indy car competition that season serves as the basis for the 2016 Andretti Autosport car liveries.

While each of the seven cars – for Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and Alexander Rossi and Indy Lights drivers Shelby Blackstock, Dalton Kellett and Dean Stoneman – will still each carry the colors of their respective sponsors, each will feature a unified color stripe starting at the forward cockpit and running through the rear of the car.

That is reminiscent of Mario Andretti's 1972 entry that also became the design inspiration for his iconic race helmet that has been used by all three generations of Andretti racers.

"As we enter a historic season of Indy car racing, with the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, I'm proud to be able to bring this design element into our field of cars," Michael Andretti said. "My father was an inspiration to me in my career, and remains an inspiration and major supporter to our industry. To carry a little history with us is something special."

Chaves fills in for Aleshin at Phoenix test

Gabby Chaves, the 2015 Sunoco Rookie of the Year in the Verizon IndyCar Series, is filling in for Mikhail Aleshin this weekend in the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports SMP Racing Honda. Aleshin, the contracted driver for the No. 7 car, is unable to attend the test due to last-minute work visa issues in his native Russia.

Chaves finished 15th in the point standings last year with Bryan Herta Autosport, completing the second-most laps of any driver. The 22-year-old native of Bogota, Colombia, drove for Schmidt Peterson's Indy Lights program in 2013.

"I'm happy and pleased to be able to help out Sam (Schmidt, team co-owner), Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and the HPD Honda family," said Chaves, who was also named the Indianapolis 500's top rookie in 2015. "I'll do my best out there and see how I can contribute to the team. It's a difficult situation for the team and Mikhail, but I'm always ready to go when needed. I'm happy to help a team that I've worked with before."

Luca Filippi
Luca Filippi

Filippi samples Phoenix oval with Coyne team

Luca Filippi joined the Verizon IndyCar Series field at Phoenix testing Dale Coyne Racing's No. 19 Honda as a teammate to Conor Daly.

Filippi, who has competed in 18 road/street events in his career, has never raced on an oval, though he did test at Iowa Speedway with Ed Carpenter Racing in 2015 when it was known as CFH Racing.

"It's very different preparing for an oval versus a road or street course," Filippi said. "Normally I'm used to looking for a setup that can push me to brake deeper or just go faster, while now it's me that I have to basically understand what the car wants to do to go faster. It's kind of the other way around, but it's good fun. I know I have to learn but it's good to have a test here."

Filippi has yet to be confirmed for the 2016 season, but he's hopeful of building chemistry with the Coyne team.

"We're working with the team in order to get to know each other a little better and we are taking the right steps and going the right direction," he said. "So far, I'm very excited and I'm having fun driving around the circuit. It's very demanding, very technical but very exciting as well."

Josef Newgarden
Josef Newgarden

Newgarden's livery features commemorative Fuzzy's bottles

Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka, primary sponsor for Ed Carpenter Racing, is releasing two commemorative, limited-edition bottles of vodka to commemorate the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade. ECR's No. 21 Chevrolet driven by Josef Newgarden will feature a special livery depicting the commemorative bottles at this weekend's promoter test. The paint scheme was unveiled on social media today.

"I'm so excited to be able to represent Fuzzy's Vodka," said Newgarden, a two-time race winner in 2015 who led the most laps (345) of any driver last season. "They're a great partner and are very engaged in the Verizon IndyCar Series, but also with everything we're doing at ECR. It's going to be very cool to run the 100th Running edition bottle on my car leading up to the month of May. The car is absolutely gorgeous!"

The commemorative Fuzzy's Vodka bottles will be available in April. The first will be a 750ml bottle paying homage to the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and past Indianapolis 500 winners. For the second bottle, Fuzzy's has created a truly unique vodka that has been filtered through charcoal and lava 100 times, presented in a 1.75 liter bottle. Online retailers may be found at www.fuzzyvodka.com.

Simon Pagenaud
Simon Pagenaud

Hewlett Packard Enterprise to sponsor Pagenaud's car in five races

Team Penske and Hewlett Packard Enterprise announced a multi-year extension of their partnership that will see HPE serve as the primary sponsor for Simon Pagenaud and the No. 22 Chevrolet in at least five races in 2016.

Pagenaud, starting his second season with Team Penske, will race the No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevy in the Verizon IndyCar Series events at St. Petersburg, Belle Isle, Texas, Boston and Sonoma. HPE will continue as an associate sponsor on the No. 22 car for the other races.

Wilson's Indy 500 bid adds SolarAir partnership

Stefan Wilson's #ThinkSolar campaign for the 100th Indianapolis 500 took another step forward with announcement of a partnership with SolarAid to help offset Wilson's racing carbon footprint through a unique social community, Speed of Light, that essentially pays solar forward to off-grid communities without access to electricity.

SolarAid addresses the significant problems of poverty and climate change through an innovative and award-winning distribution model that gets solar lights into off-grid communities. In Africa, nearly 600 million people have zero access to electricity.

"A small solar light saves a family money, protects the environment and enables children to study after dark. One solar light improves the lives of approximately six people, saving a family $180, enabling an extra 1,200 hours of study and averting one ton of (carbon dioxide)," said Tom Moore, digital marketing and communications manager for SolarAid. "We create new markets that transform communities and leave a lasting energy legacy."

Through SolarAid's Speed of Light social sharing platform, Wilson is leveraging his network to convince people to donate solar lights. The platform shows donors where their lights "landed" and where the impact of their giving is focused in Africa. The activity is attributed back to Wilson and #ThinkSolar, effectively offsetting the carbon emissions resulting his bid to compete at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this May.

For more information on the program, visit LetsThinkSolar.com.

Garage Pass Experience will get Phoenix fans up close on race weekend

Race fans can get even closer to the Verizon IndyCar Series' return to Phoenix International Raceway through the Garage Pass Experience available for the Phoenix Grand Prix on April 1-2.

The Garage Pass Experience provides fans with exclusive, behind-the-scenes access during the event weekend, including the Verizon IndyCar Series and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires garage area, the hot pit area during the Indy Lights race and Verizon IndyCar Series pre-race driver introductions before the green flag for the Phoenix Grand Prix on April 2.

The Garage Pass Experience is valid both days of race weekend and available to those ages 18 or older for $50 per person. An admission ticket to the track is also required. For more information or to order, visit PhoenixRaceway.com or call (866) 408-RACE (7223).

PROMOTER TEST DAY QUOTES:

MARK MILES (CEO, Hulman & Co.): (On naming Dan Davis, Arie Luyendyk and Max Papis stewards for 2016) "It was really important to us that we found three very experienced, enthusiastic stewards who will be the stewards for every race. I mean, maybe there's an illness or something, but I think everybody's expectation is same three stewards all the way through from start to finish for the Verizon IndyCar Series this year. I think that has not been the case in the past, so we're looking forward to that."

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]DAN DAVIS (Chief Steward, INDYCAR): "I just wanted to say a couple things. I'm really happy to be here. You all know I was with Ford forever and ever. I learned a lot about the sport, but I wasn't an official. I will tell you things that are so important to me, so important, are honesty, integrity, and fairness. It's led my entire career since I started in the business at 18 years old. I started in the auto business at 18. It's 40 years later. If you don't have integrity, you don't have anything. That's what we're going to write. I mean, that is what we're going to bring to the stewardship. I think it's important and that's what we're going to do. As many of you know, I am passionate for motorsports and I am passionate for open-wheel, and that's why I'm here."

MAX PAPIS (Steward, INDYCAR): "First of all, it's an honor to be here. You guys know well the love I have for the sport. It's been the number one reason why I came here. When Jay (Frye) called me, I asked him exactly what he meant, what he wanted out of me. When he told me about the word 'consistency, transparency', I was sold. I feel that obviously I've always been on the other side. I'm still on the other side. I'm still a racecar driver. But it's a set of eyes that really can determine if things are done — for which reasons things are happening on the track is going to make a really big difference."

JAY FRYE (President of Competition & Operations, INDYCAR): "In general, the league had a pretty good week this week. We made some additions with four new people, Bill Pappas, our new vice president of competition and race engineering, then the three new stewards. We had an opportunity to make the league better, stronger, and we are really excited about what we have been able to accomplish this week."

Montoya
Montoya

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA (No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet): "The Verizon car did pretty good here this morning. It handled pretty well. Phoenix International Raceway is one of my favorite tracks and the new banking they put in a few years ago will definitely make it more challenging and will test the strength of our cars. We're just getting settled in and it's good to have so many cars around and run with a little more traffic. This afternoon's session will be even better with everyone running on the track."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet): "We tested here obviously two weeks ago. Just keep going. We're working very close, not only myself, but the entire Team Penske Hitachi car seems to be very dialed in. Again, there were areas we didn't have time to test when we came here because I was mostly looking for the aero balance. This was the first time I was able to make the car the way I want it. So far the track is pretty smooth, no issues. I feel that it's going to be fast. Obviously it's going to be a very tight field. I do believe the rest of the cars are still up to speed, and tomorrow is going to be another fast day."

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "It feels like the first day in school. We traveled to some races in the second half of the year. I still felt like a little bit of an outsider because I wasn't doing my job. To now be back here and be back in the car with everybody, it's great to see all those familiar faces again. I've been driving the car. Obviously testing and driving an Indy car is phenomenal always, but it's competition that you really miss after a while. It's nice to be back here with a bunch of cars on track and get sort of those competitive juices flowing again."

GABBY CHAVES (No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "I think the first session was pretty good. We're just working through our plan and making the changes that we want. We're going in the right direction for sure, and finding speed in every outing. I'm really happy with the work from the No. 7 crew. It's great to be part of it and to contribute to getting better."

MAX CHILTON (No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Chevrolet): "In the first session today I didn't do a great amount of running but it was very productive – getting around 35 laps in. I was comfortable from the start and got flat out pretty quickly. We did a qualifying run and then I got out of the car and went up top to the stands with Dario Franchitti to watch. The turn-in point on this track is critical and I wanted to get a different vantage point and hear Dario's thoughts on what I was doing compared to others."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Chevrolet): "Everything is good so far with Team Target. It's really great being back here at Phoenix and the track is really going to be fast. I'm excited for the race and hope we can put on a good show. We focused the first session on aero work and balance of the car for the most part. We only ran one set of tires where most others did more in the session, so I feel confident where we're at on the time charts."

Tony Kanaan
Tony Kanaan

TONY KANAAN (No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Chevrolet): "It's obviously great to be back racing in Phoenix. Even with a different track configuration than the last time I was here in 2005, it's still one of my favorite race tracks. I didn't do any race runs during that first session, but I didn't feel much difference in the track with the changes they've made. I have a lot of fond memories here with two wins and I'm just glad we're getting the chance to come back and put on a good show."

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "I haven't been here before. Obviously I tested here. It's very smooth. It's fast. It's going to be interesting tonight to run in traffic. Obviously we've just been running by ourselves, probably qualifying-type trim. It's just one of those things you're going to have to work out, understand where you can pass, what lanes you can run, how it's going to behave in traffic. That's what tonight will be all about because it's the time that the race will be held, so we'll see."

TAKUMA SATO (No. 14 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda): "It's great to be back in the car especially on the oval– the sensation of speed is very exciting. New car, new engine and everything felt very positive. Phoenix is a quite challenging track. I like that Turn 1 and Turn 4 are very different in character. Great fun. I haven't run with other cars yet so I don't know how it will be but it's going to be a quite exciting race for sure."

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda): "Testing has gone okay today so far. We have some work to do to get a little more speed and catch up to the competition. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan boys have done a great job because this car is obviously quick and led the pack for the Hondas so far in the first session. We're going to try to keep doing that all year, that's our goal. I'm really proud of our guys for the effort. The car looks amazing with really, really fine attention to detail. But I'm hopeful we can find some more speed today and tomorrow."

Conor Daly
Conor Daly

CONOR DALY (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): "It's really cool to be back in the car and on this type of an oval. It's a whole new experience for me. It's a really cool track though I think, really unique Turn 1 and 2 and very different from 3 and 4. I'm just trying to get used to it. We're going through the day as we planned. It's great to be able to test and just do some work on the car. That's what we're doing, we're here to gather information and make sure that when we come back for the race. We're very well sorted."

LUCA FILIPPI (No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): "I had a good feeling following the first session. It was my first time back in the Indy car since last year but mainly my first time here in Phoenix and my second time only on an oval. There were many things that I had to learn and I had to obviously go step by step. I found a good feeling with the race car and with the circuit as well. We're working with the team in order to get to know each other a little better and we are taking the right steps and going the right direction. So far, I'm very excited and I'm having fun driving around the circuit. It's very demanding, very technical but very exciting as well."

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): "We didn't run as much as we initially thought, we had a couple of issues when we started. That was disappointing as we had just tested here the other day, but we came with a different car and had a couple of electrical issues to work through. Then, Josef was having a good day so we jumped to what he was working on just to speed up the process. Now we're in good shape, I think we're both pretty happy, especially for the minimal amount of running the 20 did relative to everyone else. We still have a lot to accomplish yet tonight and tomorrow."

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): "It was awesome to get back on track, especially with everyone here finally. You can test, simulate, make all the changes you want, but it's tough to get a representative read until you get on track with everyone. It's nice to be back. Phoenix is still awesome and fast like it was when we were here a few weeks ago. It's just cool to come here with Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka, especially with the 100th Running Limited Edition bottle on the car. It looks great and we're feeling good to start the year off."

Carlos Munoz
Carlos Munoz

CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda): "We had our first run with the complete 2016 car and are getting used to trying a lot of stuff. The main goal is to get a bunch of data in different configurations. The race condition will be during nighttime so this afternoon's practice will be more of a read for the race than this morning."

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda): "I love this place. I always have. I even drove the old configuration back when I started, which makes me feel pretty old. That was like 2005. A lot of fun so far. Really it's a place that makes you work. In the middle of turn one in particular it gets pretty heavy. Not a terrible start. But they're putting up some pretty big times. We're just trying to hang in there until we get the car to our liking."

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda): "Today was the first time we've had the DHL car on a short oval with the altered Honda aero kit so we were really just trying to march through a list of items to test. Not the deficit we wanted to see to start out testing, but we have another three sessions – a day and half – left to go so we'll get there. It's great to be here in Phoenix; looking forward to seeing all the fans here at the PrixView event tomorrow and returning for the race on April 2nd."

JACK HAWKSWORTH (No. 41 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda): "I didn't get much running in because we had some radio issues, but we've got it sorted out now. We have a lot of work to do, but I'm looking forward to running under the lights."

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Chevrolet): "Today was the first time I've ever run any laps on the oval here at Phoenix. The last time I was here was actually in 2003 in the F2000 car on the road course. It's definitely a different sensation, but it's really fun. It's a pretty serious race track with a lot of banking in Turn 1 and a little less banking in Turn 3, but a lot of commitment involved. It's really smooth all the way through. It's a lot like Iowa just smoother and a little longer track length. We didn't get a great read on everything quite yet – it was still pretty early in the day. We did get in a good first few runs and were able to make some changes that helped us learn quite a bit and prepare for the rest of the open test."

Combined Results

Rank Car Driver Name Make Session Time Speed Total Laps
1 3 Castroneves, Helio CHEVY Practice 1 00:19.5858 187.850 116
2 12 Power, Will CHEVY Practice 1 00:19.5931 187.780 71
3 27 Andretti, Marco HONDA Practice 2 00:19.6038 187.678 116
4 9 Dixon, Scott CHEVY Practice 2 00:19.6066 187.651 109
5 20 Carpenter, Ed CHEVY Practice 2 00:19.6764 186.985 109
6 21 Newgarden, Josef CHEVY Practice 1 00:19.6810 186.942 154
7 5 Hinchcliffe, James HONDA Practice 2 00:19.6975 186.785 102
8 26 Munoz, Carlos HONDA Practice 2 00:19.7492 186.296 138
9 83 Kimball, Charlie CHEVY Practice 2 00:19.7564 186.228 90
10 10 Kanaan, Tony CHEVY Practice 2 00:19.7688 186.111 111
11 2 Montoya, Juan Pablo CHEVY Practice 1 00:19.7836 185.972 115
12 7 Chaves, Gabby HONDA Practice 2 00:19.7870 185.940 126
13 28 Hunter-Reay, Ryan HONDA Practice 2 00:19.7951 185.864 126
14 22 Pagenaud, Simon CHEVY Practice 2 00:19.8416 185.429 166
15 15 Rahal, Graham HONDA Practice 1 00:19.8501 185.349 89
16 8 Chilton, Max (R) CHEVY Practice 2 00:19.9783 184.160 147
17 14 Sato, Takuma HONDA Practice 2 00:20.0000 183.960 109
18 18 Daly, Conor (R) HONDA Practice 2 00:20.0316 183.670 145
19 11 Bourdais, Sebastien CHEVY Practice 2 00:20.0853 183.179 105
20 41 Hawksworth, Jack HONDA Practice 2 00:20.1181 182.880 86
21 19 Filippi, Luca HONDA Practice 2 00:20.1285 182.786 134

Leave a Reply