Jon Beekhuis followed reports from the race teams, talked with insiders and got a good sense of the winter-long effort that goes into preparing cars for the Verizon IndyCar Series.
“There’s so much work that goes on behind the scenes to get these cars going,” said Beekhuis, the former driver who begins his 28th year in motorsports broadcasting as a pit reporter for Verizon IndyCar Series telecasts on ABC and NBCSN. Beekhuis will also continue providing his insightful “INDYCAR 101 with Professor B” video series for Indycar.com that explains all things technical within the Verizon IndyCar Series.
“The drivers can train and they can drive other series (to stay sharp),” he continued, “but the testing is really limited now.”
That made the Feb. 10-11 full-field open test at Phoenix Raceway the perfect opportunity to see how an offseason of toiling in team race shops translated to on-track performance.
“The amount of work that goes on in the offseason when you’re not racing is phenomenal,” Beekhuis said. “The teams put so much more time and effort into research, into testing and aerodynamics. There’s not necessarily new pieces on the car, but there’s still a lot of behind-the-scenes work. When they get here on the track, I am looking for validation of what the technical people have done. It’s fascinating.”
He was particularly interested in how the Honda teams performed after their struggles at the 1.022-mile Phoenix oval last year. Marco Andretti’s No. 27 hhgregg Honda from Andretti Autosport led the speed chart in Friday night’s session, with teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay doing the same Saturday night in the No. 28 DHL Honda.
“I wanted to take a look at the car to see if there was a qualifying setup and what was their strategy,” Beekhuis said. “I find it interesting to kind of get a handicap on what people might do to evolve themselves up the time sheet and what the strategy is.
“It’s pretty early to make conclusions, but this was not a good track for Honda last year. There was an aerodynamic change just before the race that caught them off guard. Chevy was ready for it but they were not. It doesn’t surprise me now that they’ve had time to assess their situation and say, ‘We need to get Phoenix right.’”
Beekhuis also is intrigued with driver/team dynamics. He’s particularly interested in Josef Newgarden’s early days as Team Penske’s newest driver.
“I spent a lot of time with Josef over the last few years and was thinking to myself what would that be like if he had an opportunity to go to Penske,” Beekhuis said. “Would he be scared to death? Would he be excited? I was with him this morning, and here’s a guy who seems confident and excited about it.
“I’m like, wow, to be that age again and be that confident.”
The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series opens March 12 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Beekhuis will be part of the ABC talent lineup for the broadcast beginning at noon ET. ABC will broadcast five races in total, including the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 28, as well as Indy 500 qualifications on May 20-21.
NBCSN will telecast 12 races, starting with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9. NBCSN’s coverage includes the final nine races of the season, beginning with the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10.