A new Indy car tested at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but it was the old guard leading the way.
Tony Kanaan, at 43 the elder statesman in the Verizon IndyCar Series this season, was fastest in Monday’s open test at the 2.5-mile oval for drivers with previous Indianapolis 500 experience. The 2013 Indy 500 winner and driver of the No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet posted a top lap of 226.181 mph to lead the 21-car field following six hours of on-track activity.
“Every year we come back (to Indianapolis) the first day, everybody has a huge smile on their faces,” Kanaan said. “I love it, I love this place. I mean, it’s magical. I wish we could do this every race.
“It was a beautiful day out there. Got a lot of laps in, a lot of learning to do.”
Simon Pagenaud was second fastest in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, at 225.910 mph, with Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian’s Marco Andretti third at 225.637. While all the drivers’ best laps were aided by aero tows from cars in front of them, Kanaan also racked up the fastest non-tow lap of 223.240 mph.
“Always such a pleasure to drive here,” said Pagenaud, looking to add to his two INDYCAR Grand Prix wins on the IMS road course with an Indianapolis 500 victory on the iconic oval. “Having the opportunity to be one of those drivers to hit the track 240 miles an hour, it’s pretty cool. We did a lot of work today. It was really a good day of testing. Great day, great conditions for testing as well.”
The open test allowed drivers and teams to become acclimated with the 2018 Indy car and its universal aero kit in superspeedway trim, in advance of the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on Sunday, May 27 (11 a.m. ET, ABC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).
More than 1,800 laps were turned as teams ran alone and in small groups to better understand the nuances of the new package.
“I think it was pretty smooth,” Kanaan said. “You saw everybody came up to speed pretty fast, which is pretty remarkable, in my opinion. To me, it was a lot quicker down the straightaways, which was quite fun. It was like back in the day.
“You definitely feel the speed going down the straightaway. You have to hang on into the corners. A little bit different, to be honest, but fun.”
The test day also featured the return to IMS of Helio Castroneves. The three-time Indy 500 winner has shifted gears to racing full time this season for Team Penske’s sports-car operation, but team owner Roger Penske promised Castroneves the opportunity to return to INDYCAR this May and bid again to join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only four-time champions of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
Castroneves placed 10th on the test speed chart with a lap of 224.673 mph in the No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet, but was giddy to be back in the surroundings that have treated him so well in his two-decade Indy car career.
“It’s great to be back … awesome,” said Castroneves, who will join Kanaan as a 43-year-old on May 10.
“It’s like you’re playing with your old toy that (you) miss so bad,” he said. “It’s really great to be back in INDYCAR. Twenty years I’ve been doing it, so the details, I’m like, ‘Hey, I remember this.’”
Four other past Indy 500 winners participated in the open test. Scott Dixon, the 2008 winner who competed late Sunday night in the city qualifier for NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior” held in downtown Indianapolis, was fifth in testing in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (225.448 mph); defending race winner Takuma Sato was 15th in the No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (223.510); 2016 winner Alexander Rossi was 18th in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda (222.732) and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay 19th in the No. 28 DHL Honda (222.727).