The first open test of the IndyCar preseason happened in the desert and the weather wasn’t the only thing hot at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona. A quick summary: Honda and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing were en fuego. Scott Dixon made headlines. More liveries were unveiled with the new aero kit. More sponsors for teams were revealed. And Dale Coyne Racing finally named its drivers for the #19 DCR-Honda.
So who were the winners and losers of the Phoenix Test? Let’s find out.
Winner: Takuma Sato
The 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner went into the desert and dominated it. Returning to RLL Racing in the #30 RLL-Honda, Sato promptly went P1 in the Friday afternoon session. Sato would keep pace in the night session finishing P2 behind team-mate Graham Rahal. On Saturday, Sato went P1 in both sessions.
Perhaps, the Indy 500 win has given Sato the confidence to chase his first IndyCar championship. We’ll see if his testing prowess in Phoenix will translate to wins when the season starts in 28 days.
Winner: RLL Racing
The team was buoyed by the strong testing results of Sato and Rahal but also by the influx of sponsors. This bodes well for RLL Racing who were the only team to expand this offseason, adding a permanent second car and Sato.
More money means more resources and smaller teams like RLL need all the resources they can get to compete with the powerhouse teams of Team Penske, Andretti Autosport, and Chip Ganassi Racing.
Winner: Scott Dixon and IndyCar
The four-time IndyCar champion was selected to test IndyCar’s aeroscreen device and it was good. The images of the Dixon in the car with the aeroscreen brought to mind images of a fighter pilot. However, beyond the aesthetics, IndyCar should be proud of their first test of the aeroscreen which was done in sunlight, at dusk, and at night. The triple-phase testing allowed IndyCar to find any distortion in the PPG-developed aeroscreen in varying conditions. IndyCar president Jay Frye was cautiously excited about the progress of the aeroscreen, according to an IndyCar report.
“We came here, we had a plan to run in light, at dusk and at dark. If any one of those had not gone well, we probably would not have been able to continue. They all went as well or better than we expected. Again, this is part of the process.
Today was all about optics. It’s been in simulators, it’s been in wind tunnels, but until you actually put it on a real car with a real driver, there’s still that element that’s an unknown. Having Scott – which we sure appreciate what he did today and the Ganassi guys did a phenomenal job – it did what we thought it would do. Now we have to take it to that next step.”
Loser: Chevrolet-powered cars
Whether Chevy cars were sandbagging or trying to get to grips with the new aero kit, their performance at ISM Raceway was head-scratching. In the four sessions, Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud was the closest one within a few hundredths of second of Hondas of RLL Racing on Friday. Penske team-mate Will Power made a similar charge on Saturday.
While official timesheets will show that Chevy are within striking distancing, the fact that no Chevys led a session means there’s a potential red flag that Chevy need to address before the actual Phoenix race in April.
Loser: Conor Daly
IndyCar filled out its regular season drivers at Phoenix; with DCR announcing Zach Claman DeMelo and Pietro Fittipaldi will split driving duties in the #19 DCR-Honda. Claman DeMelo is slated for 10 races while Fittipaldi is in for seven.
The reason that makes Daly a loser of the Phoenix Test is because there was thought that if DCR is waiting this long, it has to be to reunite with Daly. The former A.J Foyt Enterprises driver was spotted in the DCR pits helping out, even tweeting a photo holding a number board.
Twitter: I do whatever it takes to be involved. Lol #work https://t.co/79y0Jx3eIy (@ConorDaly22)
There is speculation that Daly will still drive for DCR at the Indy 500, so all is not lost.
In conclusion, with the season 28 days away, Phoenix was IndyCar fans first chance at the new cars and judging by the results, it might just be Honda’s year.