Helio Castroneves can’t wait. Neither can James Hinchcliffe, Will Power or Max Chilton.
That’s because the Verizon IndyCar Series will hold a private test Friday on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s famous 2.5-mile oval in preparation for May’s 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The session was moved up from Saturday because of a threat of weekend rain, but Friday’s forecast looks promising with a high temperature in the mid-60s and only a slight chance of rain.
“When I heard there might be rain (Saturday), I was like, ‘Oh, no,’” said Castroneves, the three-time Indy 500 winner for Team Penske. “It’s great that they moved it up a day. We just want it to be dry. Our cars are very sensitive to temperature, but we just want something that allows us to try to prepare for the Indy 500.”
Honda rented the track to use as a manufacturer test day for its teams participating (Chip Ganassi Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports). The INDYCAR rule book permits teams from the other manufacturer to use a team test day on those days, so Team Penske is joining the session with all four of its Chevrolet-powered cars.
For the drivers involved, it only means one thing: track time at Indy.
“We never need an excuse to test at the speedway,” said Hinchcliffe, who won the pole position and finished seventh last year in the Indy 500 in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. “It’s the first test of the year at the track, so it’s super important for everybody. It will be nice to know what you have going into the month of May. We were strong there last year, so we feel good going back.”
For Chip Ganassi Racing, the test provides a chance for its four drivers to sort out what it has at the IMS oval after moving from Chevrolet to Honda during the offseason. For Ganassi driver Max Chilton, it’s also an opportunity to continue learning.
“Indy is one you just have to take with caution and build up to it,” said Chilton, who started eighth and finished 15th last year as a rookie. “I’ve never driven a Honda around there and the team haven’t been in a Honda there for quite a while, so it will be sort of just getting a good basis there.”
For others, the battle between manufacturers is already in sight for the month of May, which begins May 12 with preparation for the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS road course and ends May 28 with the 101st Indianapolis 500.
The gains made by Honda during the offseason were evident in the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener March 12 at St. Petersburg, Florida, where Honda took seven of the top 10 positions on the temporary street course, including Sebastien Bourdais’ victory. One of Honda's two race wins in 2016 came thanks to Alexander Rossi in last year's Indy 500.
“We definitely need to focus on finding some good stuff there,” Team Penske’s Will Power said of Friday’s oval test. “We’ve got a lot of items to go through. We’ve got to try to close that gap to Honda.”
As exciting as returning to Indy in March might seem, drivers are reminding themselves of one thing: This is only a test.
“We won’t be trying to set any world records,” Chilton said. “Just getting ourselves ready for the month of May.”
Since it is a private test, no official times will be posted. Slated to run from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. ET Friday, the test is open free to the public. Fans can watch from the Turn 2 viewing mounds inside the track, the IMS Museum parking lot and the South Terrace Grandstands.
For ticket information to the INDYCAR Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500, visit ims.com.