Thirteen Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires drivers tested April 5 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, and the unpredictable spring weather in Indiana provided a fascinating glimpse at performance.
Drivers and teams continued to prepare for the next event in the series May 1 at Barber Motorsports Park and also looked ahead to the first doubleheader weekend of the season May 13-14 on the same 14-turn, 2.439-mile IMS circuit on which they tested Tuesday.
A few takeaways:
Split personality: Testing was split into morning and afternoon sessions, with a dry track in the morning. But Mother Nature intervened during the lunch break, as light rain started that eventually turned the track into full wet conditions.
That weather divide offered an excellent look at performance in different climate conditions.
Benjamin Pedersen of Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports had the edge in the dry – but just barely. Pedersen’s top lap was 1 minute, 15.1859 in his No. 24 machine. That was just .0019 of a second quicker than Hunter McElrea in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport entry.
St. Petersburg season opener winner Matthew Brabham was seventh in the dry morning session in the No. 83 Andretti Autosport entry, .4477 of a second behind Pedersen.
But Brabham came alive in the rain and led the afternoon session, proving he could be the series’ rain man this season. His top lap of 1:26.8213 was .5313 of a second quicker than McElrea, his closest pursuer.
So, it wouldn’t be surprising if Matty Brabs brings an umbrella to Barber and IMS in May and prays for rain.
Mr. Consistency: While the varying weather conditions made it tough to determine the best overall performances, McElrea was the most consistent driver of the day on the time sheets. He was second quickest in the morning and afternoon.
That should serve him well at Barber and the IMS doubleheader as he tries to recover points lost when he crashed out of the lead early at St. Petersburg.
Tight field in dry: Wet conditions create greater separation in the field in almost all forms of racing, and that was no exception Tuesday. There was a 5.8-second gap between the seven drivers who turned at least 20 laps in the rainy afternoon session.
But the field was tighter than a freshly made bed in the dry conditions of morning. Just .1797 of a second separated leader Pedersen from Linus Lundqvist, who was third in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry. The competitive nature of the field continued down the speed chart, as the top eight drivers were within .4726 of a second.
Punching power: Manuel Sulaiman continued to show he could contend for podium finishes soon, as he was fifth quickest in the morning session in the No. HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry, .4200 of a second behind Pedersen.
Sulaiman ran a limited Indy Lights season last year in conjunction with a partial season in Indy Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires. He finished a solid sixth at St. Petersburg in his first race with HMD.
Mexican driver Sulaiman comes from a family with boxing lineage. His late grandfather Jose Sulaiman was the longtime president of the World Boxing Council, one of the sport’s major sanctioning bodies. His uncle, Mauricio Sulaiman, is the current WBC president.
Clash of titans: HMD Motorsports fields five cars in this series, with Andretti Autosport putting four cars on track. So, it didn’t take much mental gymnastics before the season started to figure these two teams once again would duel for race victories and the championship in 2022.
That was borne out in the season debut at St. Petersburg, where Andretti drivers finished first and fourth and HMD drivers took second, third and fifth.
Nothing changed in that struggle during testing Tuesday. HMD took the first (Pedersen), third (Lundqvist) and fifth (Sulaiman) spots overall, while Andretti Autosport drivers were second (McElrea) and fourth (Sting Ray Robb).
This should be a dynamic duel between the two top teams in the series all the way to the season finale Sept. 10-11 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.