AVONDALE, Ariz. — Two days of on-track testing for 21 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers and teams were literally like day and night.
Cars carrying Chevrolet engines and aero kits dominated the day sessions of the Phoenix Raceway open test, while those with Honda equipment filled the top of the leaderboard for the night practices.
JR Hildebrand, who returns to a full-season ride this year with Ed Carpenter Racing, claimed the honor of best lap of the weekend at 193.234 mph (19.0401 seconds) in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. The lap came early in this afternoon’s session and was better than the track record established last year by Helio Castroneves.
However, Hildebrand’s lap is not considered an official record, because it did not take place during qualifications or the race.
“We’d certainly rather be quick than not and we felt good about the laps we’ve been putting in,” Hildebrand said. “We were running at a really good time of day. The conditions tailed off a little after we ran our time. We went back out later trying to go even quicker and had a little bit of a moment.”
Hildebrand had a bigger moment in Saturday night’s final practice, crashing into the Turn 4 SAFER Barrier with less than 30 minutes remaining in the three-hour session. It was one of five incidents on the day, though no drivers were injured.
“(I) just clipped Will (Power) with the right front wing on his left rear pod and it must have just torn off part of the front wing,” Hildebrand explained. “I bent it into Turn 3 and was being cautious with it, but I just picked up huge understeer from not having part of the front wing. Couldn’t really avoid getting to the outside wall there, tried to hit the brakes to slow down and it just turned me straight into the inside wall on the front straightaway.”
Ed Carpenter, Hildebrand’s teammate and boss, had the second-best overall lap of the weekend at 192.404 mph in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, also logged in Saturday’s afternoon practice. The top five spots in the daytime session were filled by Chevy cars, a day after the Bowtie Brigade held the top four spots.
Saturday night’s final practice — when cars were fitted into race trim — saw five Honda entries at the top. Ryan Hunter-Reay set the pace in the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport at 189.716 mph.
Sebastien Bourdais was second tonight in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda at 189.495 mph. Honda cars claimed the first six positions on the speed chart in Friday’s night practice.
“The team did a really good job and we got a lot of really good information,” said Bourdais, the four-time Indy car champion who finished in the top 10 of all four open test practices. “Picking a downforce level will be critical when we come back (for the race). It’s going to be a ton hotter than it is now. We’re just going have to think long and hard about it and see what we come up with.”
“It’s definitely not representative now, especially in the night session, of what we’re going to be facing in April. Hopefully, we have what we need.”
In addition to Hildebrand, on-track incidents on Saturday involved Alexander Rossi, Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato, Josef Newgarden and Bourdais.
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