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IndyCar opener coming up fast — and so are the drivers

Mar 15, 2013, 11:33 AM EST

IndyCar Testing Day One Getty Images

The beginning of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season is a week away and, to some extent, the season opened this week with the only official preseason test at Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Ala. This year’s test has a little more significance than last year at Sebring because not only will they race at Barber, but they’ll be back in just a few weeks in race number two. The purpose was to not only run through the preseason checklist and try out the engineers’ offseason ideas, but also specifically prepare for the race at Barber.

The drivers also needed to continue to work off the rust. Though many had some testing at other tracks since January (Sebring and Sonoma), last year’s debut of a new car and engine package necessitated far more testing. At Monday’s media session, most drivers mentioned their disappointment in the lack of testing this year and a couple even said there may be more on-track incidents early in the season because of the inactivity.

Monday was media day and a parade of about 25 drivers through the media center. The great thing about a new season in any sport is the optimism. Everyone is still undefeated (or in motorsports, tied atop the championship standings) and there is hope for significant improvement over the prior season or that a move to a new team will be the answer. We think we have an idea how things will play out, but there are many variables and uncertainties. This time last year, how many would have picked Ryan Hunter-Reay to win the title?

What did we learn on track Tuesday and Wednesday? Well, we already knew Will Power was fast and he reconfirmed that – leading both days of testing. We also learned the engineers, crews and engine manufacturers found some speed this winter. Power was more than three seconds quicker than last year’s pole speed without using the softer and quicker optional red side-wall tires (worth about half a second) and all 28 drivers (in 26 different cars) were quicker than last year’s top qualifying speed. Cool conditions (temperatures in the 50s and low 60s), a recent track grinding to improve grip, and a different Firestone tire compound also contributed to the quicker speeds.

We also learned the competition is going to again be tight. The field was separated by 2.8 seconds (1:07.1 was the best time) and the top 16 were within a second. Among those that likely came away pleased were James Hinchcliffe (2nd quick), Justin Wilson (3rd), Tony Kanaan (4th), Takamu Sato (7th in his new ride with Foyt), Charlie Kimball (8th), James Jakes (11th in only 1 day with his new team, Rahal Letterman Lanigan) and Simona de Silvestro (12th with KV Racing) who said she was shocked when she first felt the Chevy power after suffering with the underpowered Lotus program last year. Graham Rahal (fuel supply issue), Marco Andretti and Sebastian Bourdais were in the group that didn’t get as much done and/or find the speed they were seeking. AJ Allmendinger ended up 18th quick as he tries to readjust to IndyCars while continuing his NASCAR Sprint Cup career. After talking with him, he seems most concerned with having the patience needed to get reacclimated. He understands the stiff level of competition and that he can’t just walk back in and pick up where he was when he won 5 ChampCar races in 2006. But, he’s used to running up front in these cars and has a high standard for himself. He also confirmed if Roger Penske is willing to offer a full-time program, he’s willing (and happy) to commit to IndyCar as his first priority.

The NBC Sports Network crew was also on hand at Barber this week to gear up for the season. The production team gathered many of the elements that you’ll see throughout the season while the announcers and producers reviewed some tape (from our broadcasts and examples from other shows) and got caught up with drivers and team personnel. Like the drivers and teams, we all wish the offseason was shorter as well. But, it’s almost here! We’re excited that we get to bring you the opener this year and I hope you can join us next weekend from St. Pete.

Kevin Lee is an IndyCar pit reporter for NBC Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KevinLee23

  1. f1fan1 - Mar 15, 2013 at 1:28 PM

    Again, can we do away with the IRL junk on this site?? NBCSN has F1 now…no need to have any “indy car” junk polluting everything around here.

    As stated earlier, today’s version of “Indy car” is a train wreck and nothing like it used to be when it was a real (not to mention incredibly popular) racing series otherwise known as CART.

    Now it’s just a cheap BS spec series with slow, ugly cars “racing” mostly on low speed street courses. Most real race tracks won’t even have them anymore unless do it for no sanction fee. Kill it off and make the world a better place.

    • gbfan83 - Mar 15, 2013 at 6:33 PM

      f1fan1,

      Really, do you want to live in the past a little more. Maybe log into profootballtalk and post replies about how negative the NFL/AFL merger was. Actually maybe probasketballtalk would be better and give you two cents on the ABA/NBA merger, that might interest you more. If you haven’t noticed and I’m sure you have the majority of teams are former CART teams and those who you love to hate aren’t even involved or employed any longer. I know this will fall on deaf ears and you’ll reply to my reply attempted to state your case on why you don’t like IndyCar racing any longer and blah blah blah. The same old thing, like it’s 1996 all over again…..

      Anyway, I’m looking forward to the 2013 season, enjoying really good competitive racing and watching RHR defend his championship in the red 1.

  2. Jeff - Mar 15, 2013 at 1:52 PM

    I can’t wait for the season to start, just wish IndyCar would add more ovals – maybe like Chicago or Phoenix.

  3. supertex14 - Mar 15, 2013 at 3:29 PM

    Looking forward to the first race. I know pre-season practice times can be misleading, it’s nice to see the mix of teams at the top after Barber. Thanks to NBC Sports for helping Indycar move forward, and for giving F1 a new home in the U.S.

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