SEBRING, Fla. – Mike Conway selects a spot out of the direct rays of sun on the makeshift Sebring International Raceway pit lane to convene a conversation with Ed Carpenter Racing and Chevrolet engineers.
The dialogue during an extended break during the scheduled 9-5 team test day includes performance characteristics of the twin turbocharged 2.2-liter V-6 engine, handling on the abrasive 1.67-mile surface, shocks, balance, braking. Conway recalls details of every alteration, almost every lap of the program checklist that includes new components from brake supplier Brembo and tweaks to the engine since it last ran.
“This is our third test and fourth day with Mike,” said Ed Carpenter, the lone team owner/driver in the IndyCar Series. “It takes time to get to know each other and for him to learn how we work and communicate and for us to understand how Mike communicates. That’s not the type of thing that happens in one test day, so these days are really important for being prepared for St. Pete. I feel we get better each time we go out.”
Adds Conway, who will drive the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka car in the road/street course events this season that commences with the March 30 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg: “It’s me knowing what I need from the car and trying to find out what I want and not just driving around.”
Each team is allotted 18 test days (Nov. 7 was the start date) through the final 2014 race event, comprised of engine manufacturer, team, Open Tests and full-size wind tunnel tests. Entrants also are allocated two additional team days for testing of a rookie driver and two additional team days for testing an Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires driver.
Open Tests are scheduled for Barber Motorsports Park (March 17 and 18), the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course (April 30) and Auto Club Speedway (Aug. 27) – all in advance of races on those tracks.
Without much track time during event weekends, preseason on-track days – as Conway notes -- are crucial.
“You have to get the car as best as it can be because it’s so competitive (in the series),” said Conway, who won the first of the doubleheader race at Detroit last year. “You have to have a good base setup to start with, which makes things a lot easier. After every day we come out with a lot of positives. I’ve been learning a lot.”
Conway will get additional seat time Feb. 12 at Sonoma Raceway as part of a Chevrolet manufacturer test day and in the Open Test at Barber. Carpenter will participate in a Chevy test Feb. 10 at Auto Club Speedway. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports drivers Simon Pagenaud and Mikail Aleshin and Carlos Huertas, who was testing for the second time for Panther Racing, joined the Carpenter crew Feb. 3. The Andretti Autosport drivers -- Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Carlos Munoz -- are scheduled to join the fun in the sun Feb. 4.
Ed Carpenter Racing race engineer Matt Barnes worked out a test program with the engineering staff before the new year.
“On an oval track, you usually want to test a race setup,” Barnes said. “A team and driver want to run in traffic if possible. At a road course, you could basically be by yourself if you want. Then you can do things all day to improve the car. At a road circuit, you tend to change a lot of things.
“Trying to stay focused on the test plan is the most important thing. You still can be learning about your car even if you are not as fast as others. Often, the manufacturers are doing different programs, too.
“I think we have high expectations what we can accomplish with Mike this year.”