ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Will Power would be among the first to raise a hand in support of the new aerodynamic bodywork platforms, which are making their competition debut this weekend in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
The initial 75-minute practice session on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit confirmed his opinion and heightened his excitement for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ 16-race season.
The reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion breezed past the 2014 Verizon P1 Award-winning lap time of 1 minute, 1.8668 seconds produced by Takuma Sato in the Firestone Fast Six with a quick lap of 1:01.4709.
In fact, five drivers posted lower lap times – without benefit of added grip of the Firestone Firehawk alternate tires that they’ll be allowed to use in the three rounds of qualifications March 28.
Click it: Practice 1 results
As a steady rain fell through the afternoon, no drivers turned laps in the companion session. Another practice is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. (ET) March 28 preceding qualifications for the 110-lap race March 29 (3 p.m. ET, ABC).
Last year at St. Petersburg, James Hinchcliffe’s lap of 1:02.9326 topped the first session.
“It was pretty straightforward for us; we just rolled off with a basic set-up,” said Power, who won the season-opening race last March and earned the pole in 2010-13 at St. Petersburg. "As we are starting to understand the new Chevrolet aero kits, it's clear that they have done a proper job in the design and development“The kits produce massive downforce, low drag and the cars are absolutely glued to the track.
“Obviously, as we go along in the year we are going to learn more and more about what we need to push for wins.”
Power’s Team Penske teammates, Juan Pablo Montoya (1:01.6996) and Helio Castroneves (1:01.7000), Scott Dixon (1:01.7777) and Sebastien Bourdais (1:01.8439) also were quicker around the circuit than the 2014 pole time using the Chevrolet aero/engine package.
Second-year driver Jack Hawksworth (1:01.8713) was quickest of the 12 Honda drivers.
Bourdais' track record of 1:00.928 (106.710 mph) set in qualifying for the inaugural Indy car race in 2003 in a different type of car (Lola chassis, 2.65-liter, turbocharged V-8 Ford-Cosworth engine producing 800 horsepower at 13,000 RPM) could come under assault. Watch streaming of practice and qualifying augmented by real-time Timing & Scoring and the IMS Radio Network broadcast on www.indycar.com.
"There’s a noticeable speed increase and that’s from downforce without a lot of drag penalty," said CFH Racing driver Josef Newgarden, who was 10th on the time chart. "They’re very efficient packages and Chevrolet and Honda have spent millions of dollars into making the best aerodynamic pieces that they can. They brake better. You can go deeper in corners and carry more speed through a corner. The rear end is a little more secure. Everything on the car is lot more refined and it’s just faster. That’s the big difference in plain terms."
Added 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay: “Racing, first of all, is all about innovation and development and that’s what we have with the aero kits. The engine manufacturers have been tasked to put on as much downforce as efficiently as possible, and what you’ve see is a complete transformation of this IndyCar where Chevy has its own look and brand and Honda has its own look and brand and stamp on the car.
“The performance is up, track records will be broken this year, and they look like you need to wear protective gloves around them, so they look awesome. They look like they should, which is incredibly fast and somewhat scary.”
Both manufacturers developed front and rear wing endplates, sidepods, engine covers, rear-wheel guards and front and rear wing flaps as part of the “volume boxes” under INDYCAR regulations.
There are multiple combinations of components that crews can utilize to tailor the package to suit drivers and a particular racetrack to optimize performance. They’ve had two weeks of on-track testing available to decipher the characteristics of the road/street and short oval package. The speedway aero kits are scheduled to be delivered to teams April 1 and used for the first time in the Indianapolis 500.
“Since we received the data for the aero kit, we have been analyzing it in comparison to the old car to understand the differences between the last three years and 2015,” said Mike Talbott, who leads the vehicle dynamics program for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “With the 2015 data we run simulations for each circuit to determine what we think is the best aero configuration.
“Before arriving in St. Pete, we tested at NOLA, Barber and Sebring. Certainly we are still on the very steep portion of the learning curve.”
Mechanical setup (grip between tires and track pavement provided entirely by suspension and tires) also has a substantial influence on lap times on shorter tracks and street circuits.