SEBRING, Florida -- It had been awhile since Zach Veach had driven his race car. Long enough that the first few laps Tuesday at Sebring International Raceway were exhilarating.
“It kind of shocks you how quick these cars are,” Veach said. “You take a few months off, and you kind of forget about that. You get out on track and you’re like, ‘Whoa. These things are fast.’”
Veach wasn’t the only one excited to get back behind the wheel. Ten other drivers, including his three Andretti Autosport teammates, took to Sebring’s short course for an eight-hour test session as the NTT IndyCar Series looks toward the March 10 season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.
The test was the first chance for some to compare data from offseason testing a year ago of the aero kit introduced for the 2018 season. Then, the test sessions involved sorting and organizing the mechanics of the kit, which reduced downforce and made the cars more difficult to handle.
Now, testing is about refining the details.
“We’ve learned a lot about the aero kit and how the car reacts to it, so we’re trying to put everything we learned last year and all the ideas we had in the offseason together and make fine-tuning adjustments to the car now,” said Spencer Pigot, who joined new Ed Carpenter Racing teammate Ed Jones for the test. “Everyone has had a year on it now, so we know the characteristics of the kit and what it does. We’ve had the entire offseason to throw ideas around and point out different things we want to improve.”
The kit was particularly good to Andretti Autosport in 2018. While the championship went to Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, Andretti’s Alexander Rossi finished second in points with victories at Long Beach, Mid-Ohio and Pocono and three pole positions. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished fourth in points, with victories at Detroit and Sonoma and a pole at Sonoma.
“We’re down to the smaller changes at this point,” Marco Andretti said. “Luckily at this point, Andretti Autosport has really good roll-off-the-truck street-course stuff. We’re just trying to make it even better.”
Aside from Veach, Pigot, Jones and Andretti, Tuesday’s test included Rossi, Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato and Swedish rookies Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson. The point for most drivers was continuing to fine-tune the car while applying their knowledge and ideas about it.
“It’s all in the details,” Veach said. “That’s what separates the guys like (Will) Power and Scott (Dixon). For me, it’s fun coming back to a place where I have data from last year to analyze before this test and to be able to put it to use. … I feel like that second little step of speed that we’ve been needing is a little easier to achieve. I hope that keeps continuing throughout the year.”
Pigot spent much of the offseason on a simulator, which helps ECR engineers narrow down their setup experiments before trying them on track.
“Chevy has a sim that we try to use quite a bit,” Pigot said. “We try to narrow down the ideas there and bring them here to the track to finalize them. That’s the process we’re going through right now. We have a big list of things we want to try on different parts of the car. We’re just trying to run through them all. Whether something is better or worse, we’re trying to get a read on it and then move on to the next thing.”
It’s still a work in process, but the kit continues to be popular with drivers.
“I love it, especially on the street courses,” Andretti said. “That had been where I usually struggle, but now it’s where we’re starting to shine. We got a pole last year (at Detroit), and one of my goals going into last season was to get a pole. Now it’s to try to win races, and that’s a definite possibility with the cars they’re giving us.”