What Did We Learn From Last Weekend?
The Test in the West in Phoenix is now over and in the books. Most of the information learned by the teams last Friday and Saturday will never be discussed outside of team circles. But the question that I’m curious about is; how much did we fans learn?
We know that Andretti Autosport left Phoenix with the biggest repair bill. Alexander Rossi had the biggest hit of the weekend when his car snapped around and slapped the Turn Two outside wall with the left side of the car on Saturday afternoon. Rossi was unhurt, but he couldn’t say the same for the car. They were able to put the car back together for the evening practice, but Rossi only put in seven laps that night.
The newcomer to Andretti Autosport, Takuma Sato, had a similar shunt Saturday evening, although he had gone a little further into the corner before the car stepped out on him. But by the time the session ended, Sato’s time before the crash was still good for fifth in the session.
Others leaving Phoenix with damaged race cars were Graham Rahal and JR Hildebrand. Hildebrand left Phoenix with the fastest time of the weekend. He and teammate/car-owner Ed Carpenter led Session Three. Hildebrand’s quick speed for the weekend was 193.234 mph with a time of 19.0401seconds. That is a mind-boggling speed for a one-mile oval. I remember when they were talking about breaking the 20-second mark in the nineties. Everyone considered that to be sacred. Now the 19-second mark could be in danger. Hildebrand’s time was a tenth of a second quicker than the pole speed set last year by Helio Castroneves.
The four sessions over Friday and Saturday had four different leaders. Josef Newgarden led Session One on Friday, while Marco Andretti paced the second session. After Hildebrand’s quick time in Saturday’s afternoon session, Ryan Hunter-Reay led the way in the nightcap session on Saturday.
So what did we as fans learn? Well statistically, we could deduce that the Honda engine and aero kit may be faster than the Chevy at night, but the Chevy holds the edge in the daylight hours. But to come to that conclusion would probably be foolish. It could be that Honda teams were concentration on qualifying setups at night, though that would be foolish with qualifying for the April race taking place in the daytime.
Yes it’s possible that all things being equal that the Hondas may have the edge in the night air. It’s possible, but not likely. There are a million different things that the various teams and two manufacturers were looking for. Topping the charts for each session was probably not one of them.
The two teams that were searching for the most answers probably didn’t find them all. Chip Ganassi Racing and AJ Foyt Enterprises have swapped manufacturers, meaning not only different engines but a change in aero kits as well. As usual, the Ganassi drivers did not tip their hand – but the Foyt camp was a little more candid. Larry Foyt admitted that they were having a little trouble coming to grips with the new Chevy aero kit.
A glance at the combined speed chart shows that Tony Kanaan was the fastest Ganassi driver, with the seventh quickest lap overall. Scott Dixon was eleventh quick, while Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball were fifteenth and nineteenth respectively. The Foyt team struggled even more. Carlos Muñoz posted the seventeenth overall quickest time, while Conor Daly could only manage to be twentieth quick of the four sessions.
It will be interesting to see what magic the Ganassi team can work with the Honda aero kit. Of course, whatever they come up with will be out the window in 2018 when the common body kit goes into effect. As for the Foyt team, let’s just say that after one two-day test – it appears they have their work cut out for them.
Usually the first glimpse of the season shows us what new liveries we can expect to see. Those of us that get a thrill out of such things, came away disappointed. The only thing different from any of the cars were a lack of any livery for Scott Dixon, Mikhail Aleshin and Takuma Sato. Rossi was back in the NAPA livery that adorned his car at Indianapolis last May, but the “NAPA” was written at a diagonal to offer a better view of the sponsor’s name. The same went for the name “Arrow” on the car of James Hinchcliffe. Hunter-Reay’s sidepods had “DHL” split between the side and the top of the sidepod.
When we’re talking about fonts and the placement of letters, we know we’re really talking about minute changes in sponsor’s livery for 2017.
So what is the number one thing that we learned by watching the four practice sessions streamed over the usual outlets with no announcers? Well, for one thing – we learned that not having a talking head in the booth wasn’t so bad. It was more like sitting in the stands watching practice.
But the main thing we all learned from watching the test this weekend, is that we want more – a lot more. It just became that much more apparent that we are ready for the offseason to finally come to an end twenty-three days from now when the first practice session starts in St. Petersburg – but who’s counting?