The NTT INDYCAR SERIES open test at the Circuit of the America got off to a slow start Tuesday with cold temperatures and rain curtailing on-track activity to just install laps on the 27 cars that came to test.
Weather improved for Wednesday and the teams got down to business including A.J. Foyt’s team which arrived with new drivers, new engineers and new liveries on the No. 14 and No. 4 Chevrolets.
Four-time IndyCar champion Sebastien Bourdais, who will drive four races this season for Foyt including the first three street and road circuits, was the top performer as he put the sleek black with red trim No. 14 at the top of the speed charts before exiting the car in mid-afternoon. Engineer Mike Colliver rejoined the team and will be on board for at least nine of the 17 races scheduled.
“It was a good start for sure," said Bourdais, who was born in Le Mans, France and now lives in St. Petersburg, Fla. “I’m quite pleased with the way the team operates and the interaction with the engineers. The baseline was a mix of a lot of different ideas and philosophies and you’re always kind of like, ‘Well, I guess we’ll see how it shakes out,’ but yeah, I’m pretty pleased with the way the baseline rolled out. The conditions were a bit tricky and challenging and evolving so it’s always tough to evaluate changes but the team did a good job overall.
"We obviously didn’t get into tuning the car whatsoever, we just tried to get a couple of answers on things that Mike (Colliver) was looking to try and evaluate. It’s tough to say if we got the read completely because a lot of things changed with track conditions but at least the car seemed to make sense. It was pretty well-balanced and I enjoyed it and it was decently fast so it was definitely a good start."
Originally the plan was for Bourdais to run the first day and rookie Dalton Kellett to run the second of the scheduled two-day test but the inclement weather forced the team to split the session between the two drivers on the second day.
Rookie Dalton Kellett observed for the first half of the test while Sebastien Bourdais was driving the No. 14 Chevrolet.
With Kellett being taller than Bourdais, the team not only had to switch the custom-molded seats, but also the steering column and the pedals, all of which was made a bit more time-consuming with the new aeroscreen bolted atop the cockpit.
Kellett, who ran just 20 laps, was impressed with the car which he drove for the first time.
“It was a great experience and a great opportunity to drive here for my first Chevrolet Indy car test," Kellett said. “I can’t thank the AJ Foyt Racing team enough and we’re all looking forward to a great season. We’re sharing the car with Seb so we didn’t get a lot of time in the car but nonetheless got out, didn’t make any mistakes, didn’t put the car off track and slowly built up to speed. Seb showed earlier today that the car’s definitely got good pace in it. It felt really drivable, loved the setup and think we have something really great to work from so I can’t wait for the next time I’ll be strapping in."
Did the experience meet his expectations?
“It was everything I thought it would be and maybe a little bit more," the 26-year-old Canadian said. “Coming from Indy Lights, this car just handles a lot better, more power, more downforce, it was definitely exhilarating and a lot of fun. The Firestone tires were great, they have so much grip, even when they’re cold, they come up to temp really nice, all around a more drivable car."
Charlie Kimball made his Foyt team debut in the No. 4 Tresiba Chevrolet and began working with veteran race engineer Mike Pawlowski who joined the Foyt team this year.
“I’m really happy with my first day in the No. 4 car," Kimball said. “There are a lot of
things that are new, the aeroscreen, the personnel, new number, new track for me, so being able to come in, despite the challenges that Mother Nature threw at us, and get a lot of laps in and run problem-free from the drop of the green has been really encouraging. Working with the AJ Foyt Racing crew has been a lot of fun from the race shop, getting fitted in the car to the race track itself. Everyone seems especially hungry this year to make sure the results equal the effort that’s being put in because it’s obvious they’re putting in a lot of effort behind the scenes. So I’m excited, I’m invigorated and looking forward to every race this year. There’s still work to do but I don’t think any of us are afraid of hard work."
Both Bourdais and Kimball commented on the aeroscreen which was designed to protect the drivers from flying debris from accidents landing in the cockpit.
Bourdais said, “No particular complaints at all, you just have to get accustomed to the new environment. We ran somewhat in the wet, a tiny bit, (there were) projections of your dirtying up the screen when you follow someone but it seemed under control, so no major complaints. Obviously it is very cold today so it was actually not a bad thing that it was warmer than usual inside the car."
Kimball was also satisfied, saying, “I think there are still some cooling issues to work through. It is not particularly warm today but at the same time, I didn’t have any vision issues and, it’s a lot quieter in the car. There is a lot less wind noise, and I think the radio is clearer, so if we can figure out how to stay cool on a really hot day, we’ll be in good shape. Even with the puddles and the dirt and all the other stuff that’s been on the aeroscreen today, I haven’t felt like I lost any significant vision."
Although Bourdais was quickest at the time of his exit after 35 laps with a lap time of 1 minute, 48.836 seconds, in the final tally he slipped to 24th as the track got faster and teams improved on their setups. Logging 52 laps, Kimball was 23rd (after making some changes to the setup which did not pan out) with a lap time of 1 minute, 48.692 seconds. Kellett was 27th with a lap time of 1 minute, 50.994 seconds after 20 laps. Will Power was quickest with a lap time of 1 minute, 46.760 seconds.
The Foyt team has another test scheduled at Sebring in early March with all three drivers before the March 15 season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix in St. Petersburg. Tony Kanaan, who is driving the No. 14 Chevrolet in all the oval races, will test for the first time this season at the Richmond (Va.) Open Test on March 25.