Six NTT INDYCAR SERIES teams put the Firestone rubber on the road during a private test Jan. 18-19 at Sebring International Raceway in Florida, continuing preparations for the season that starts Sunday, April 11 at Barber Motorsports Park.
While times and speeds aren’t released from private tests, various reports and social media content gave a window into what unfolded on the historic, notoriously bumpy airfield circuit, allowing us to shift our minds into fifth gear and make a few itemized deductions.
Five takeaways from the first two days of private testing in 2021:
Top teams roll off truck fast
Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport – two of the “Big Three” teams of INDYCAR in recent years – participated in the test, with Ganassi on track Monday and Andretti turning laps Tuesday. It should come as no surprise that it was reported reigning series champion Scott Dixon was quickest Monday in a Ganassi Honda and perennial series title contender Alexander Rossi was tops Tuesday in an Andretti Honda.
Cream rising to top … yeah, you get it.
Palou could flourish
The arrival of quick 2020 rookie Alex Palou from Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh to Chip Ganassi Racing this season will capture the attention of many series fans and observers, as landing a Ganassi ride comes with the implicit expectations of victory. After all, Chip has said many times that he likes winners.
Palou appears to be an excellent fit for the team, as he was right in the tire tracks of teammates Dixon and Marcus Ericsson in the reported times Monday. Palou could be poised to become a breakout star this season in a Ganassi ride
Jimmie’s process continues
Jimmie Johnson is one of the greatest stock car drivers of all time, but let’s face it: The guy is drinking from a fire hose right now.
The challenge of converting his brain and feet from more than 20 years of driving a 3,500-pound stock car with narrower tires and limited downforce to driving a 1,700-pound open-wheel car with wider tires and much more downforce is immense. Oh, and don’t forget: His new ride has no power steering and far different braking characteristics, and he said in a social video Monday that he is trying to dial in his feel for the more powerful braking of an Indy car.
Seven-Time is doing everything possible to accelerate that learning curve, including driving a lower-powered Formula 4 car during the offseason just to get used to wings and slicks.
But this is a process. Even an otherworldly talent like him needs time to get used to driving an Indy car. Like Philadelphia 76ers former general manager Sam Hinkie said during his rebuild of that NBA franchise last decade, “Trust the process."
Foyt’s elevator rising
Scott Dixon receives a ton of worthy praise for still driving at his legendary peak at age 40, winning his sixth NTT INDYCAR SERIES title at that age in 2020. But there’s another 40-something who hasn’t lost any speed off his fastball, either – four-time INDYCAR SERIES champion Sebastien Bourdais.
Super Seb is driving for AJ Foyt Racing this season as a teammate to second-year driver Dalton Kellett, and the Frenchman’s talent and technical know-how already are paying dividends for Super Tex’s team. Both Bourdais and Kellett were close to the leading Ganassi trio in Monday’s test. Kellett was the only Foyt driver on track Tuesday, but reports indicated he still stayed within shouting distance of Rossi atop the charts.
The 2021 season could mark a revival for Foyt’s team, led by a French veteran and a Canadian kid.
Are you getting stoked yet?
Testing isn’t always the most accurate barometer of pure performance, especially this early in the preseason. Teams are working on different aspects of setup and probably not focusing on outright speed.
For example: The punishing nature of the Sebring circuit makes it an ideal place to test dampers. If your shocks and springs keep the car glued to the track at Sebring, chances are it will stay stuck at any track on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule.
And powerful Team Penske, whose drivers have won four of the last seven season championships, didn’t come out to play this week at Sebring. But still, how cool was it to see Indy cars and your favorite drivers on track again? How cool was it to see photos and videos on social media of drivers talking from the pits, wearing race suits and sweaty after a hard day’s work at Sebring?
If you haven’t started your countdown clock to April 11 at Barber Motorsports Park, what are you waiting for?