March 19, 2014 — BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – INDYCAR photo — If, as Simon Pagenaud says, the two-day Verizon IndyCar Series Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park “is like going back for the first day of school,” then he graduates in 10 days in the initial practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“I’m really looking forward to the start of the season at St. Pete; it can’t come fast enough,” said Pagenaud, driver of the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports car who placed third in the 2013 series championship.
Shared anticipation is prevalent up and down pit lane as 22 drivers totaled 2,082 laps March 17-18 on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn road course in preparation for the season opener March 30.
For the second consecutive day, Will Power topped the time chart Tuesday in the Chevrolet-powered No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car with a lap of 1 minute, 7.0608 seconds. He posted a best of 1:07.6492 on March 17. Justin Wilson in the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing entry was .0038 of a second back and the quickest with the new twin-turbocharged Honda engine.
Power recorded 62 laps in the session that was delayed because of cold temperature and an intermittent mist in the morning.
“Coming back to Barber, hopefully we found a happy place,” said Power, who’s won the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber twice in its four years. “Obviously the temperature will be a lot different, and I think that brings out imbalances in the car. It was so cold today and there was so much grip that I think it was hard to get good reads on changes.
“We’ll see where we go and head to St. Pete. It’s going to be really tight.”
The depth of the field was evident on the time sheet: 17 drivers were less than a second off Power’s pace.
Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato joined Power among the top five on the time sheet both days. Also for the second consecutive day, Honda and Chevrolet split the top 10 on the time sheet.
Dixon, who has been the runner-up each of the four races at Barber Motorsports Park, had a best lap of 1:07.0791 in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car. Sato, driving the No. 14 ABC Supply car for A.J. Foyt Racing, was fourth at 1:07.3314. Ryan Briscoe, who returns to Chip Ganassi Racing Teams for the first season since 2005, was fifth quick (1:07.3705) in the No. 8 NTT Data car.
Andretti Autosport rookie Carlos Munoz laid down a field-high 121 laps over the two days.
“I learned a lot these two days,” he said. “Also, the team tested out a lot of different things, so we were able to get a lot out of it. I think, personally, I need to work a lot more to get used to the car. The circuit was quite tough; there was a much more downforce than I’m used to having come from Indy Lights. I’m definitely more comfortable at this test than previous ones. I think we’ve made a lot of progress, and today was better than yesterday. Each time I get in the car is better than the last, so I’m just really looking forward to St. Pete.”
Barber hosts the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama in five weeks.