Preparations for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season continued Feb. 10 in two California locations as six Chevrolet drivers completed a one-day test session at Sonoma Raceway while three Honda drivers tested at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
The Sonoma test marked the first Indy car activity of the year on the 12-turn road course in Northern California, which will host the 2016 series season finale at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, Sept. 16-18.
Participating Chevrolet drivers included Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, as well as all four Chip Ganassi Racing Team drivers: Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and the newly signed Max Chilton, who took his first-ever laps in an Indy car.
“Any time we can get on the track is valuable,” said Dixon, the defending series champion and Sonoma race winner. “We get such limited days, so we have a long list of stuff to go through whether it’s the new 2016 brakes, some new aero pieces, some mapping for the engine and a lot of unanswered questions we have as a team. We could probably spend about a week out here and still have a list of stuff to go through. It’s great to be back in Sonoma.”
Chilton becomes the first British driver in more than a decade to have driven full-time in Formula One prior to joining the Verizon IndyCar Series in the same capacity. At 24, Chilton joins the team after making 35 starts in Formula One from 2013-2014 for the Marussia Formula One team and driving in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2015.
“It’s a bit of a shock today,” said Chilton. “I haven’t been in a racing car in six months and that was an Indy Lights car, so I’ve got to learn the track today and the car. But I think the morning went swimmingly well. I was quicker than I thought I would be. It’s a really nice kit and I can’t wait to explore it throughout the season.”
Castroneves, who captured the 2008 victory in Sonoma, saw the test as a great chance to bolster Team Penske’s championship chances for 2016.
“To win this race, you’ve got to put all the pieces of the puzzle together,” the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said. “You have to have a good combination and there’s no question I have one of the best teams in the paddock and that’s why we’re confident that every time we come here, we’re going to do well. This track is very suitable for IndyCar because we are going really, really fast. No question it’s going to be another challenging race, and I’m looking forward to coming back here.”
Meanwhile, testing on Auto Club Speedway's 2-mile oval for Honda were Schmidt Peterson Motorsports' James Hinchcliffe and Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay and Carlos Munoz.
Hinchcliffe, eager to return to competition after missing most of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season recovering from injuries sustained in a crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, was uncharacteristically tight-lipped over the Honda test.
"Honestly, I can't say much because of what we were doing," Hinchcliffe said. "Definitely a productive day, it was nice to get back out on a big oval and start prepping for Indy. Obviously that's everyone's focus right now and I think we learned a lot."