It took a few days, but Ed Carpenter Racing and Team Penske were finally able to hit the track to test at Texas Motor Speedway on Thursday.
The two teams, along with Chip Ganassi Racing, were originally scheduled to run on Monday, but cold weather led to postponing the day’s event. As a result, CGR opted out entirely and will now make up their test day on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
The weather on Thursday was more favorable as ambient temperatures hit above 60F, as Team Penske’s trio consisting of Josef Newgarden, Scott McLaughlin and Will Power were joined by the ECR duo of Conor Daly and Rinus VeeKay.
The test comes ahead of the XPEL 375 at the 1.5-mile oval, which is the next race on the calendar for the NTT IndyCar Series on March 20. The combination of last week’s rookie test along with Thursday’s running means a total of 11 drivers have been able to get a feel for the aero options – barge boards and trimmed sidewalls – that are new for this year’s race at TMS. The significance of the barge boards – a curved, plate-shaped piece of carbon fiber, located on the leading edge of the underwing, creates front downforce while reducing the reliance of the front wing – are to help the trailing car follow more closely by preventing an aero washout effect.
The optional pieces were added to help create more on-track action. Last year’s doubleheader had a combined 240 passes for position, with 15 lead changes, while the COVID-impacted race of 2020 featured 180 passes for position with five lead changes.
During a mid-day availability with select media, Newgarden, who won at TMS in 2019, shared some of the differences, albeit in single-car morning runs, compared to last year.
“Well, it’s definitely a lot more stuck than last year, I’d say, but it’s also a really good day,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet. “You know, conditions are pretty favorable. It’s been cool. We haven’t run in the afternoon yet, so I think you can get a better read once you run in traffic, but by ourselves in the morning it’s been more stuck than last year by ourselves.”
Power, a two-time winner at TMS, shared his own thoughts, which included a way to improve the second groove that has been stained by the PJ1 traction compound put on for the NASCAR events.
“Yeah, definitely more downforce, hopefully it leads to better racing,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet. “I really, really hope we have a second lane. I think that will make this place awesome. So they’re going to obviously spray it off (Note: this was not confirmed by TMS). I mean, we just got to run up there, that will make that work. I keep pushing the series to have a session – like the 15 minutes of the last practice starts – where you can only run the second lane, or 20 minutes and you get a set of tires if you do it; that would bring it in and people would be confident to go up there. But hopefully the downforce just allows us to be a bit more comfortable.”
For McLaughlin, who finished runner-up in Race 1 of last year’s doubleheader at TMS, he echoed the thoughts of both teammates.
“Oh, it’s definitely a lot more stuck,” said McLaughlin, driver of the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet. “I mean, we’re easily being able to be close – if not to – flat for the majority of the run by itself. So, it’s going to be interesting when we do a traffic run later on how close we’ll be able to follow, but it’s certainly a little bit different to how it was last year. I think it’s going be a good change for the racing. I just hope we can get that second lane running and we can get some decent passing out of it and be able to make some moves around the lower banking and really enjoy it.”
Although the aforementioned aero pieces are not mandatory, Newgarden believes every team is likely to utilize them for the upcoming race weekend regardless of starting position.
“I mean, the new aero stuff is just the key of what’s efficient,” said the two-time IndyCar champion. “Like, if it’s efficient, you’re going to run it. You’re going to take as much downforce as you can efficiently. So, when it comes to the sidewalls and the barge boards, if we’re able to run it efficiently and it’s not slow, everyone’s going to stack it on. There’s no one that’s not going to take it. If it’s an efficient downforce gain, it’s going to help everybody. So, I’d be surprised. I haven’t run it yet [prior to the afternoon session], but my guess will be you’ll see everybody that has everything on. That’s just normally what happens.”