FORT WORTH, Texas – Texas Motor Speedway looks nearly the same as it did when the Verizon IndyCar Series last visited in 2016.
But what a difference a few months makes.
The facility underwent a multi-million dollar facelift over the winter which resulted in the 1.5-mile oval being repaved and Turns 1 and 2 widened and re-profiled to 20 degrees while Turns 3-4 remained at 24 degrees.
Click it: Practice 1 results; Practice 2 results; Combined results
“The track has changed a lot,’ Team Penske’s Will Power said during the Verizon IndyCar Series’ one-day open test at TMS. “There’s a lot of grip once the rubber goes down and there’s no tire degradation, so (the track) really looks after the tires. It's very easy to follow (another car) and we’re going to do more running to get a better picture and see how it is.
“(Turns 1 and 2) is quite different, a tighter radius, less banking,” Power said. “But once the grip comes and you’re wide open, it’s quite similar (to before).”
Teams spent much of the day's test time working to perfect the aero configuration that will be used when they return on June 10 for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600. But midway through the test, 14 cars and drivers also participated in a full-tank run to simulate racing conditions for cars running in traffic.
“It’s a different layout, for sure,” said reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud. “The radius of Turn 1 is different, the exit of Turn 2 is as well. It definitely helps promote the side-by-side racing. The tarmac is really smooth. The bumps are all gone. It’s just about us learning how to make the tires work best with the race track.”
Scott Dixon paced the session posting fast laps in both the morning and afternoon free practice sessions that were held before and after the race simulation.
The four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion posted laps of more than 220 mph in teammate Charlie Kimball’s No. 83 Tresiba Honda during the test after several Honda-powered entries, including Dixon’s No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, were held out as a precaution after arriving at the track mounted with higher-mileage engines.
“It is hard coming to a place for the first time,” Dixon said. “It is probably 20 degrees cooler than when we come back down the road, so you try to take in a lot of information and make the best decisions for something that will work for everyone.”
In all, 14 drivers turned 1,780 laps with the goal of matching the show fans were treated to in 2016 when Graham Rahal edged James Hinchcliffe for the win last August in a pitched wheel-to-wheel battle that also included Tony Kanaan and Pagenaud.
“When you repave a track, you have more grips and fewer bumps, but that’s what made Texas, Texas – tire degradation, bumps and low grip,” Hinchcliffe said. “Now it’s completely the opposite.
“What made last year’s finish so great is that it was a mad dash at the end over new tires but the race allowed to get more strung out. This year we will be that much tighter over a whole stint, so it makes a finish like last year that more likely (to happen).”