Skip to content

IndyCar opener coming up fast — and so are the drivers

Mar 15, 2013, 11:33 AM EDT

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

Latest Posts
  1. Team Penske, Carl Edwards look to earn Sprint Cup title for Ford – and Detroit (VIDEO)

    Oct 25, 2014, 8:02 PM EDT

    Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 - Practice Getty Images

    Motor City connections are plentiful between the three Ford drivers still standing in the Chase.

  2. Audi: Rumors of potential F1 entry just “pure speculation”

    Oct 25, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT

    AudiDuval1 Getty Images

    The 4-Rings takes to Facebook to dismiss yet another revival of the rumors that it’s going Grand Prix racing in the near-future.

  3. NASCAR Trucks: Crafton still controls title race, but Bubba looming larger

    Oct 25, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT

    Kroger 200 - Qualifying Getty Images

    Battle for Truck Series championship becomes three-horse race.

  4. Bubba Wallace pays homage to NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott with encore win at Martinsville

    Oct 25, 2014, 4:04 PM EDT

    (Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images) Getty Images

    Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. won his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway last October. He returned to the short bullring one year later to win there again in Saturday’s Kroger 200.

  5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Justin Allgaier trying to bounce back after missing Talladega

    Oct 25, 2014, 2:28 PM EDT

    Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 - Practice Getty Images

    Stenhouse and Allgaier will start mid-pack on Sunday at Martinsville.

  6. Haas: Starting F1 team my biggest challenge yet

    Oct 25, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT

    Gene Haas Formula One Press Conference Getty Images

    Says first five years in F1 are about surviving, but cannot see the project failing.

  7. Kevin Harvick quickest in final Sprint Cup practice at Martinsville

    Oct 25, 2014, 1:04 PM EDT

    Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 - Practice Getty Images

    Harvick turns in a 19.457-second lap around the Virginia half-mile to top “Happy Hour.”

  8. COTA set to provide Vettel with a dose of nostalgia

    Oct 25, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

    F1 US Grand Prix Auto Racing AP

    German driver looking forward to tackling the Circuit of The Americas in Austin next weekend.

  9. Dale Jr. Foundation gives brand new 2015 Corvette to ailing fan

    Oct 25, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

    (Photo courtesy WITN.com) (Photo courtesy WITN.com)

    Despite fighting breast cancer for the third time, NASCAR fan Wendy Smith decided to spend $25 to help others even less fortunate. Her gratuity paid off in a big way, earning a brand new $65,000 Chevrolet Corvette.

  10. Danica Patrick angry with NASCAR over ‘Dega qualifying, questions its diversity program

    Oct 25, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 - Qualifying Getty Images

    Patrick not afraid to tackle thorny topics yesterday at Martinsville.

  11. Bubba Wallace honors Wendell Scott by earning pole for Martinsville Truck race

    Oct 25, 2014, 11:35 AM EDT

    (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) Getty Images

    On a weekend that carries a lot of significance for honoring NASCAR Hall of Fame-elect inductee Wendell Scott, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. paid tribute in his own way to Scott, earning the pole for Saturday’s Kroger 200 Camping World Truck Series race.

  12. Karthikeyan: F1 completely unsustainable for small teams

    Oct 25, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix Of India Getty Images

    Former HRT driver casts his damning judgement on the current cost crisis in F1.

  13. Will the top powers in F1 now get the message about the cost crisis? Don’t count on it

    Oct 25, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-JPN-F1 Getty Images

    The demise of both Caterham and Marussia has been on the cards for some time, yet Formula 1 has allowed it to happen.

  14. Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon pace early-morning Sprint Cup practice at Martinsville

    Oct 25, 2014, 10:03 AM EDT

    (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Despite chilly temperatures in the mid-40s in the 50-minute early-morning session, Jimmie Johnson led all drivers in the next-to-last Sprint Cup practice with a best lap of 98.023 mph, the only driver over the 98 mph mark.

  15. Sir Jack Brabham’s life and legacy celebrated in special event at Silverstone

    Oct 25, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT

    Australian F1 Grand Prix - Race Getty Images

    Over 400 people attend special event in celebration of Brabham’s life and legacy.

  16. Maldonado hoping for strong finish to 2014 season

    Oct 25, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Practice Getty Images

    Lotus driver has failed to score any points in 2014, but feels that next season will hold better things.

  17. Moto GP: Marquez breaks pole position record in Malaysia

    Oct 25, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT

    MOTO-PRIX-MAS Getty Images

    Yet another record falls to the Spanish sensation in Malaysia.

  18. Marussia also set to miss United States GP

    Oct 25, 2014, 5:48 AM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-RUS-PRACTICE Getty Images

    Bernie Ecclestone claims that there will be just 18 cars racing in Austin.

  19. Jimmie Johnson: ‘That day is out there’ when he’ll split with crew chief Chad Knaus

    Oct 24, 2014, 11:50 PM EDT

    (Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

    In a surprisingly candid admission, six-time Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson says that while nothing is imminent, the day is coming when he and crew chief Chad Knaus will go their separate ways.

  20. ‘Hey, I’m Kevin (Harvick), welcome to Outback. Can I get you a table?’ (with video)

    Oct 24, 2014, 11:32 PM EDT

    (Photo courtesy Outback Steakhouse) (Photo courtesy Outback Steakhouse)

    In a bemusing video released Thursday, NASCAR star Kevin Harvick spent one of his recent off nights working the room at an Outback Steakhouse.

Video from NASCAR America

Remembering the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. R. Preece (1826)
  2. K. Busch (1387)
  3. M. Kenseth (1376)
  4. R. Newman (1276)
  5. L. Cassill (1186)
  1. J. Johnson (1161)
  2. K. Kahne (1151)
  3. D. Coby (1142)
  4. R. Rovelo (1025)
  5. B. Keselowski (1019)