Jay Howard

MADISON, Illinois – Jay Howard couldn’t stop smiling. The 36-year-old Brit had just stepped out of the cockpit of an Indy car for the first time in six years, following on oval refresher test at Gateway Motorsports Park.

“I’m a happy camper,” Howard said after turning laps in James Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda on the 1.25-mile oval. Howard will drive a third team car, the No. 77 Team One Cure Honda, in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Howard, the 2006 Indy Lights champion, last drove in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2011. His lone Indy 500 entry came that same year, when he finished 30th for the Schmidt team. Since that time, INDYCAR has introduced the Dallara IR-12 chassis, aero kits and engine competition.

With that in mind, the team prepared a conservative car setup with extra downforce for Howard’s re-introduction to Indy car racing.

“Obviously, things have changed since I last drove,” Howard admitted. “The first couple of runs were just getting used to the speed and just really trying to feel the car. After that, kind of cracked on with our program, so to speak.

“The driving part just came back immediately,” he added. “I’m glad I’ve been training hard because the guys cranked a lot of downforce into it for this test. I could feel the downforce. Yeah, it was a workout.”

Howard was originally slated to take the refresher test April 12 at Texas Motor Speedway but was unable to do so. Piers Phillips, general manager at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, was pleased with Howard’s showing.

“The point of it was a refresher for INDYCAR and from our side to get him acclimated with the team, with the way of the car and some of the tools and just get him settled again,” Phillips said. “And it was perfect. He ran through three sets of tires and got quicker and quicker and quicker. His feedback was good and his technical understanding his communication with the engineers was excellent, so really good job.”

Phillips believes Howard will be a solid addition to team, giving SPM three solid Indy 500 entries with Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin. After waiting six years to get back in a car, Howard admitted the itch to do so again will be even stronger until practice for the 101st running opens May 15.

“It felt like forever to this point,” Howard said. “Now it’s going to feel even longer.”

Drivers take on fans in Forza competition at St. Louis mall

Takuma SatoOn the eve of Tuesday’s open test at Gateway Motorsports Park, four Verizon IndyCar Series drivers visited the Microsoft store at the Galleria in St. Louis. There, they challenged fans in the Forza Motorsport video game, signed autographs and chatted casually about racing.

Drivers Ed Carpenter, Conor Daly, Ed Jones and Takuma Sato were enthusiastically received and displayed their prowess on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval and road course, taking turns competing against interested fans and game players.

Carpenter, driver and namesake owner of his team, understood the value of the event.

“It’s good to interact with the fans away from the track for a bit,” Carpenter said. “As much time and access as we try to give everyone at the track, we’re focused on what we’re doing in the car. To go and be able to play some video games and hang out in a much more casual setting, it really allows you to spend some time, answer more questions and give them a chance to get a feel for what we’re really like – which is just big kids still.

“Most of (those who attended) were definite INDYCAR fans already and I think a couple kids that came through probably will be INDYCAR fans now. It was a good time.”

Conor Daly, Takuma Sato, Ed Carpenter, and Ed Jones