Teammates Over Prodigal Drivers
A muted yellow car (which everything is muted next to Simon’s Menard’s Team Penske Chevy) and a bright green car were supposed to be the focus of everyone’s attention this weekend. I offer another car that stole the show. The gold Schmidt Peterson Motorsport Honda of James Hinchcliffe. I fully expected to write about how Helio’s testing went and Danica’s return to IndyCar (which do expect something on that), but as I sat down to write this I kept going back to the car that was on track every single session.
During open testing on Monday, James Hinchcliffe drove the #5 car for a reasonable 95 laps hitting a top speed of 221.666 mph. On Tuesday, Robert Wickens was slated to drive his #6 Lucas Oil/SPM Honda for his Rookie Orientation Program (“ROP”), but a gearbox issue cropped up (yes the second gearbox issue on that car, I’m getting a Catholic priest on speed dial) and the team was a flurry of activity to try and first fix the issue and then get Hinch’s car ready. In the post-ROP presser, Wickens indicated that aside from the seat, the car was really set up for Hinch. So on Tuesday morning, Wickens turned 37 laps, reaching the best speed of 220.111 mph. Then Tuesday afternoon, and I’m not entirely sure why Jay Howard completed the veteran refresher in the #5. 61 laps and a top speed of 219.648 mph. That car is the little engine that could this weekend, going 482.5 miles in two days. That’s approximately driving from Indianapolis to Rome Georgia, of course as speedy as we get on our car trips, we’re not hitting above 100 mph…consistently.
I’m still all-in on SPM, I think cohesiveness is necessary for a team, especially a small team like SPM.
What was curious was that the cars during the ROP and the Refresher did not really interact with each other. It seemed like one driver would do their laps, then another could go out. Or if they were two cars on the track at the same time, they were nearly half a track length away from each other. Per the rulebook, part of both programs was seeing how the drivers handled their cars when they were interacting with others. None of that happened. The cars did not interact with each other at all. I can understand perhaps with the rookies they’ve now had an oval (Phoenix) though that’s only one oval and nothing compares with Indy. However, with the veterans, I would have assumed Danica would have been asked to interact with other cars given her 6+ years away from the sport. It seems that despite what the rules indicate (126.96.36.199.4 and 188.8.131.52.8) ROP and Refresher: you just run laps at pace and you’re done. I’m not surprised there have been some owners asking for a revamped ROP/Refresher program. I suppose at the very least make them interact with each other. Maybe at a slower speed as I understand any team owner’s butt just clenched at the thought of having rookies run in packs at IMS on their first day. Just seems like that should be a part of the program.
You know, these were just testing and orientation programs. You can look at the speeds and think perhaps that will give an indication of something. But quite honestly they were just getting the cars out there and letting them drive on the greatest track in the world. I honestly could not think of a better kick-off to May then hearing the sounds of the cars on the track. I think the cars still are an enigma to drivers. In the post-test press conference: Tony Kanaan (who was fastest) said he felt the cars were faster on the straightaway. Conversely, Simon Pagenaud (who was second fastest) didn’t feel like they were fast in straightaways. It’s going to be a crazy month.
Finally, they gave us media credentials. Okay, they didn’t just hand them to us, we went through the whole process but wow. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remember that this is real. This is a real thing. It’s happening. Like on Tuesday when we were the only people not affiliated with a team on pit lane taking a few pictures. Or what felt like the only people in the garages not affiliated with a team (totally saw Jay Howard and Ed Carpenter). This is part of the reason why Abby and I started this, we’re not trying to claim to know everything. We’re not going to try and beat everyone to the news and be the first to break, we’re experiencing this as fans, we’re discussing things as fans, and we’re hoping to brighten your day with some great IndyCar news and opinions. We've all ready recorded some great interviews for you (and at one point we were in the presene of two of the four Penske team members and well...that was just cool). May is going to be hectic and fun, and since I will forget – thank you.