Dixon drove the Chip Ganassi Racing car while Hinchcliffe – officially re-signed last week to a multiyear extension – was in the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry, with Honda officials closely monitoring the session on the manufacturer test day in preparation for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Other Honda-supplied teams also had a representative on hand to watch the testing on the 1.5-mile oval.
“Today, we’re learning everything," said Hinchcliffe, who finished second to Graham Rahal in the 2016 race at Texas Motor Speedway by 0.008 of a second, the closest finish in track history.
“The kit obviously is brand new and a lot of different elements and components to it. This is our first chance as teams to take a first crack at it on a speedway. I think Scott and I were pretty impressed with it right out of the box.
James Hinchcliffe“It does all the things that a race car should do and not a whole lot of the things that a race car shouldn’t do, which unfortunately has been something we’ve dealt with the past couple years with the (previous) aero kit. So excited to finally get some miles on it and just keep learning."
In addition to testing for Honda, Dixon and Hinchcliffe also assisted sanctioning body INDYCAR in determining proper downforce levels to run in the 2018 race at Texas Motor Speedway.
“That’s part of what we’re trying to do here today for INDYCAR," said Hinchcliffe. “The one characteristic that I don’t think there’s much you can do about – and it can be a very good thing – is the car does seem to close up on the car it’s following much faster than the old car. There were times here, there were times at Pocono, times at Indy where you felt you just needed that last little bit of speed and you were having to pop out very late to make moves.
“I don’t think that is going to be an issue with this car. It seems to punch a big enough hole (in the air) and catch up to the car in front pretty well. So if we can balance that out with the mid-corner grip and mid-corner speeds, hopefully we can avoid getting into any kind of group situation that is not desired.
“It’s a bit early to tell what it’s going to be like, but I think we’ll get it sorted."
Dixon, the four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion who will be entering his 18th Indy car season in 2018, pointed out the differences in the new kit’s car performance compared to the aero kit used the past three seasons developed by Honda and Chevrolet.
“It’s just a just a lot less grip," said Dixon. “You’ve got to brake earlier. The car doesn’t roll the speed as fast through the corner. The power down is not as good, but you’re going down the straights faster, too. It’s a fair amount less drag.
“I think that some of the tracks we’re seeing an increase of about 10 mph top speed on road courses, and even today the speeds are creeping up pretty quickly compared to the last car.
“For me, I think it’s a welcomed adjustment. Being a universal kit is one thing that I definitely look forward to and then, secondly, the car being generally more difficult to drive is one thing that is, for me, a good thing as well."
Manufacturer testing continues through the end of the calendar year, with team testing commencing in January. The first series-wide official test is scheduled for Feb. 9-10 at Phoenix Raceway. Joey Barnes/IndyCar