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BARNES: Notes and Observations from IndyCar Rookie Testing at Texas

Romain Grosjean pounds out laps during the rookie test at Texas Motor Speedway.
Romain Grosjean pounds out laps during the rookie test at Texas Motor Speedway.
Romain Grosjean ended up with the fastest no-tow speed during the rookie test at Texas Motor Speedway. Image courtesy of Joe Skibibski / Penske Entertainment

A rampant day of rookie testing for the NTT IndyCar Series at Texas Motor Speedway on Wednesday concluded with plenty of unique details.

  • Starting with what I’m guessing is the most pressing question to many is the condition of the track surface ahead of the XPEL 375 on March 20. Simply put, the controversial area  in Turns 1 and 2 that were stained dark black from the PJ1 in previous trips by NASCAR is still obviously there. Even though some parts looks a shade lighter than last year, it is still just as treacherous. Kyle Kirkwood, who ended up with the day’s best lap at 219.784 mph, mentioned he touched it just slightly at one point and it felt “like ice.” Additionally, some team members noted there was still PJ1 on the track from NASCAR’s visit last October and that it wasn’t removed, just aged.
  • Due to PJ1 taking up much of the second groove, it made the transition off of Turn 2 onto the backstretch easier. JR Hildebrand, who provided the early morning shakedown for Kirkwood’s No. 14 A.J Foyt Racing Chevrolet, noted that “because of where the PJ1 is, you’re not up where that transition is really aggressive; it’s worse higher up on the track.”
  • There are new aero options available on the ovals for 2022, and the five teams on-site at TMS – A.J. Foyt Racing Andretti Autosport, Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports, Juncos Hollinger Racing, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing – did some running with them in the afternoon. One of those options are barge boards, a curved, plate-shaped piece of carbon fiber, which is located on the leading edge of the underwing, creates front downforce while reducing the reliance of the front wing. The other option was trimmed sidewalls. Talking with Rob Edwards, COO of Andretti Autosport, about running the optional pieces he simply stated vaguely that he liked “some more than others.”
  • The pace around the 1.5-mile oval by all six rookies – Callum Ilott, Christian Lundgaard, David Malukas, Devlin DeFrancesco, Romain Grosjean and Kirkwood – were 216.913 mph and above, which is quicker than Josef Newgarden’s pole speed of 215.74 mph in 2020 (Note: qualifying was rained out for last year’s doubleheader event at Texas.)
  • There were 957 combined laps logged by all six drivers, with Grosjean’s No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda best among the no-tow speeds at 218.691 mph, which stood atop the charts for a majority of the day. The top time set by Kirkwood came with a tow during the final hour of the session.
  • Speaking of tows… they are rookies trying to figure out closing rates and the feeling in and out of traffic, so take this with a grain of salt, but it appeared like the Chevrolet-powered entries of Kirkwood and Ilott, who was second-fastest on the day with the aid of a two, could spool up faster and really close on the driver ahead. This simply could have been a byproduct of gearing, but on several occasions Kirkwood was able to push through the dog-leg and really get a run on the lead car entering Turn 1. There was no real attempt to pull off an high-line pass due to the uncertainly of the second groove in Turn 1, but he was able to maintain about a car length gap behind. Kirkwood did note, though, that setting up a pass takes “a couple of laps and gain momentum, because you’re able to hold (Turns) 3 and 4 flat and get in the tow.”
  • Although it was a rookie test where 957 laps were put down, with Malukas pounding out a session-best 210, there were no incidents on the day.
  • According to one of the drivers, they were not testing on the same tire that will be used for the race weekend on March 19-20. However, some of the veterans schedule to test at TMS next Monday, March 7, will be using the same Firestone tires that will be utilized for the race weekend.
  • Aside from Hildebrand, Graham Rahal was also on-site and helped provide a shakedown ahead of Lundgaard’s oval inauguration. Ryan Hunter-Reay was also present with Juncos Hollinger Racing, but was only there to help mentor Ilott and did not shake the car down.
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