First Honda twin-turbo track test at Fontana
Simon Pagenaud tests Honda Performance Development’s twin-turbo INDYCAR engine – Anne Proffit photo
The Indy cars held a single-day manufacturers test at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA, in anticipation of the season finale next month. The MAVTV500 is the third jewel in the newly reconstituted Triple Crown and offers $250,000 to Tony Kanaan if he’s able to add this trophy to his BorgWarner bling earned at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in this year’s Indianapolis 500.
There were 23 cars circulating the two-mile oval on a warm Tuesday afternoon where the wind came into play as the afternoon session transpired. As it became warmer, quick times were more difficult to find, so point leader Helio Castroneves’ morning speed of nearly 219 mph was tops for the test. Marco Andretti was second and teammate James Hinchcliffe was third. Will Power and Scott Dixon rounded out the top five, the latter turning an unofficial 216.2-mph in the afternoon session. The top four drove Chevrolet-powered Dallara DW12s while Dixon is a Honda driver. There were 12 Chevy runners and 11 Honda entries.
Helio Castroneves was dressed in his AAA colors but his racecar wore Hitachi black for this test – Anne Proffit photo
The interesting bit – testing means different things for different teams – was the appearance of three Sam Schmidt Motorsports entries. SSM has already assigned its allegiance to Honda for the 2014 season, the first team to do so. As a reward, lead driver Simon Pagenaud became the first to evaluate Honda Performance Development’s new twin-turbo solution to INDYCAR’s mandate of this turbocharger setup for the upcoming season.
Honda’s had the engine on its dynamometers for testing but it wasn’t until this test that it’s taken to the track. Reportedly, Pagenaud completed more than 50 laps around the banked oval without incident (or at least none that could be seen or smelled). The sound of the twin turbo isn’t much different (maybe a bit more throaty) than the single turbo Honda engine, and Pagenaud expressed his pleasure at being chosen for the honor. He’s done quite a bit of sports car testing for HPD in the past, making him an easy choice.
“I can’t discuss the engine,” Pagenaud admitted, “but it was a good outing.” I tried to pry details out of the Frenchman, who secured his first two Indy car victories this year (Detroit2, Baltimore) but he knows where his loyalties lie. “I hope I get to do more with this engine,” he grinned.
There were only a few instances. Takuma Sato, who started the year so strongly with his first INDYCAR victory at Long Beach yet has been MIA for the past few races, ticked the wall in the afternoon, damaging his rear wheel guard. Unfortunately, team owner AJ Foyt was on-site to see the incident, making his first appearance since hip surgery in July. Seeing Super Tex, even as he struggled to walk, was great for morale for the team and the series.
A.J. Foyt was a welcome site in the pits and on the press conference dais – Anne Proffit photo
Josef Newgarden brushed the wall in the afternoon as well and Charlie Kimball spun in the morning without hitting anything. Spins are part of testing so let’s all shrug them off and move on to the next one. Poor Graham Rahal had engine issues all day that limited his time on-track and gave him the ignominy of being slowest on the day, fully 10-mph behind Castroneves’ unofficial mark.
As the afternoon wore on, fire was spotted in the foothills near the racetrack but had no bearing on the outcome as everyone pounded round. Whether this test outing will have any bearing on the outcome of the season finale on October 19th is questionable as well. The teams tested, will practice and qualify during daylight hours yet they’ll race into the cooler night.
By Anne Proffit