First 2012 INDYCAR Test At Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Marco Andretti was quickest in Indy testing - IndyCar/LAT USA

Marco Andretti was quickest in Indy testing - IndyCar/LAT USA

It's almost May.

When the Dallara DW12 first tested last fall, the teams and drivers were not terribly happy with the behavior or the speed of the car, whose aerodynamics were not compatible with the flat, Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.5-mile oval. Dallara did reconfigure the aero between now and then and, of course, all the IZOD IndyCar Series teams have more experience with the car and the engines than they did at that time, having tested and raced the new cars and engines twice (albeit on road/street circuits).

Nine teams and drivers took to the IMS oval today, April 4, for the first oval test of the year, gathering data for both chassis and engines in anticipation of the month of May and the 96th Indianapolis 500. Teams were looking at handling characteristics and performance levels, with both Honda and Chevrolet teams participating. There were no Lotus teams in attendance as that manufacturer works to ramp up its engine program.

Honda drivers included Scott Dixon, Takuma Sato, Mike Conway and Justin Wilson. Chevy testers were Ed Carpenter, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti, JR Hildebrand and Helio Castroneves. All cars ran in Speedway trim with the new rear-wheel guards that are taller, lighter and have a slightly different shape from the sets being used on road/street circuits and at other oval contests set for Texas Motor Speedway, Iowa Speedway and The Milwaukee Mile.

As is their custom, nobody wanted to be first on-track for the test, but eventually everyone got on the oval and tried out the new bits for the Speedway configuration (that may also be used at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA for the finale).

During the morning session, some teams reported ECU and boost problems - similar to those experienced by Lotus teams at the previous two races. There were reports that some Chevrolet drivers did have difficulty leaving the pits - but these issues were solved before the afternoon session commenced.

By the time 5 p.m. rolled around, Marco Andretti turned in the quickest lap of the day in his Andretti Autosport Chevy-powered Dallara DW12 at 41.166 seconds for a top speed of 218.625 mph. While this didn't meet INDYCAR vice president of technology Will Phillips' goal of 220, it was close - and since the engines used in this test are also going to be raced next weekend in the 38th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, some conservation was necessary. Andretti made a total of 51 laps during the day.

Tony Kanaan was second, in his KV Racing Technology Chevy-powered machine at 41.201/218.439; he completed 68 laps, the most of any driver on the track. The Brazilian, INDYCAR's 2004 champion said the car "felt faster than the (previous) test; I went out of the pits and went flat right away, so I have to say that the aero kit is definitely a little bit better." He found that the car was "more balanced than it was last year and that's what it is. We worked on it, we talked about it.

"It's a new car that we've got to figure out," Kanaan reminded. "Dallara did a great job, along with Will Phillips and it's helping. It's going in the right direction and making the car better. We're drivers and we're always going to complain, but it's definitely better than last year," when he tested.

Scott Dixon tests at Indy - IndyCar/LAT USA

Scott Dixon tests at Indy - IndyCar/LAT USA

Scott Dixon was third in teammate Dario Franchitti's No. 10 Honda-powered car, turning 41.267 at 218.094 mph over his 56 laps. He, too suffered problems with boost controls early in the day. "We're just kind of working through some of the small stuff and we've got to be careful because we're running engines that we have to run for the next two races. All in all, it's pretty cool to be back out there at the Speedway and running around, and the cars definitely look drastically different. It's been fun out there."

Lap speeds and times dropped off a bit from Dixon's but this is, after all a test to find out what works and what doesn't.

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