The two-day open test at The Thermal Club offered a unique challenge to the 27 drivers of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
Marcus Ericsson stood atop the leaderboard at the end of four combined sessions, with his No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda navigating the 17-turn, 3.067-mile natural terrain road course near Palm Springs, California, the quickest at 1 minute, 38.4223 seconds. Reigning Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Ericsson also logged 79 total laps, third fewest over the two days.
Overall, it was a stout showing out of the gate by Chip Ganassi Racing as all four of its drivers ended in the top 10: Ericsson (first), Marcus Armstrong (fifth), Alex Palou (seventh) and Scott Dixon (10th).
The Pilot Episode of Callum & Co.
After four sessions spread across two days, Callum Ilott was fastest of the Bowtie brigade with his No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet ending fourth overall at 1:38.8404. Fittingly, he was followed closely – by .0005 of a second, to be exact - by former roommate and INDYCAR newcomer Armstrong, who was fifth overall and quickest of all rookies – in the No. 11 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
It wasn’t the only time the pair were attached as they took part in the post-test press conference at the end of Day 1 and were featured in a funny video via INDYCAR Twitter in the middle of Day 2. Needless to say, expect some shenanigans and some interesting stories from these two this season.
And a glimpse into the aforementioned press conference following the opening day of the test….
Moderator: “One of the things we were talking about was that the camaraderie you guys have always had. Where did that develop? How good of friends are you two?”
Armstrong: “Terrible friends (laughter).”
Ilott: “As you can tell, he's the boring one. He's really slow and steady. We lived together for a year in Italy.”
Armstrong: “The longest year of my life (smiling).”
Ilott: “I could agree. It was good fun. We survived. I think we're quite polar opposite, but it worked sort of. I wouldn't do it again, but it worked.”
Moderator: “Once is enough?”
Moderator: “Any irony now you're together in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES?”
Armstrong: “He was a really good housecleaner, by the way.”
Ilott: “He was a really good one at making me clean everything. There's more to that, but anyway we don't need to delve into those times. Yeah, we know each other quite well, unfortunately.”
It was an interesting couple of days for Kyle Kirkwood.
Kirkwood, entering his second NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, moved during the offseason from AJ Foyt Racing to take the reins of the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda, formerly occupied by Alexander Rossi. Initial impressions seem extremely positive as the Floridian ended up in the top three in three of the four sessions, including taking the top spot in the afternoon test on the final day.
Kirkwood, the 2021 INDY NXT by Firestone champion, ended up third on the combined results at 1:38.7885.
There were a couple of issues to note, though. In the second session, on Thursday afternoon, a clutch change by the team left him only completing one lap. Then, despite leading in the fourth session, the outing was cut short when a mechanical issue forced him to stop off course in Turn 2, climbing from the car as a plume of smoke erupted from his front brakes.
“It's a new team for me, new group of guys, kind of jelling with them to see how everyone operates,” Kirkwood said. “I wouldn't say that we found something here that is going to translate to anywhere, right? This is a very unique track, although it was a lot of fun to drive, and it kind of surprised me in the amount of grip that it actually produced.
“Honestly, it felt pretty easy to get to the top in this car. It's not really needed to try and overextend anything.”
It was a busy two days for Dale Coyne Racing as both David Malukas (in the HMD-affiliated No. 18 Honda) and rookie Sting Ray Robb (in the Rick Ware Racing-affiliated No. 51 Honda) drew level to run the most laps, at 122 each.
In addition to Malukas and Robb, the other drivers to top 100 laps of testing were Scott McLaughlin (111), Rinus VeeKay (110), Christian Lundgaard (103), Armstrong (101) and Dixon (101).
The top five drivers to run the fewest laps were Kirkwood (66), Santino Ferrucci (70), Ericsson (79), Pato O’Ward (80) and Rossi (83).
There were a total of 2,560 laps logged during testing at The Thermal Club, which equals 7,851.52 miles.