FORT WORTH (AP) — Helio Castroneves immediately noticed the differences at the fast Texas Motor Speedway oval where he has won a record four IndyCar Series races and led more than 500 laps.
Castroneves and other IndyCar drivers, minus several Honda entries, tested there Wednesday. They got their first laps on the 1 1/2-mile track since it was completely repaved and significant changes made to Turns 1 and 2.
“Very valuable anytime you can come to a play when it’s completely new, because it’s completely new right now,” Castroneves said.
“It’s a different layout for sure,” Simon Pagenaud said.
The Texas test was supposed to be a full-field open test with 22 cars. But points leader Sebastien Bourdais and several Honda cars were held out as a precaution because their engines had higher mileage on them. Other cars not testing included entries designated for four-time series champion Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Ryan-Hunter Reay.
Instead of his usual No. 9, Dixon did laps in the No. 83 car of Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Charlie Kimball. Dixon had the fastest lap of the morning session at 219.362 mph, topping last year’s pole-winning speed at Texas.
While maybe preferable to have more Honda cars on track, Dixon didn’t think it would be too much of a disadvantage in the testing to gather data on the track’s new surface and configuration. Cars also ran in groups at times to help determine downforce levels for the June 10 race.
“Always valuable to get track team as a team, I believe. Multiple cars, maybe not so much,” Dixon said.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Honda and IndyCar had agreed for that team’s No. 5 to use a manufacturer spec engine, with James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin sharing time in the car. But the car was parked after an install lap when Chevrolet made an official complaint based on a series rule that doesn’t allow for spec engines in open tests.
Since IndyCar rules allow spec engines only for safety, engine or tire tests, Hinchcliffe will be able to run the car for a tire test Thursday.
The Firestone 600 at Texas last summer was delayed 2 1/2 months, starting June 12 and ending August 27.
The race was red-flagged because of rain after 71 of 248 scheduled laps June 12, after having been postponed a day by wet weather. The race was still under caution when it started to rain again as track officials worked to repair the safety barrier after a scary crash involving Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden.
Daly and Newgarden didn’t participate in the resumption of the race, which Graham Rahal won on a last-lap pass to beat Hinchcliffe by eight-thousandths (0.008) of a second, the closest IndyCar finish ever there.
Newgarden on Wednesday ran his first laps at Texas since breaking his collarbone and sustaining a small fracture in his right hand during that crash.
“I haven’t really thought about it much to be honest with you,” Newgarden said. “I missed the race, which sucked, but it’s great to be back. I love this track.”
Texas decided to repave the track and do extensive drainage improvements after both NASCAR weekends last year also were hampered by rain. The old asphalt had become porous, almost like sponge, making it difficult to dry in a timely matter.
As part of the project, the banking in Turns 1 and 2 was reduced from 24 degrees to 20 degrees and the racing surface widened from 60 to 80 feet in that area.
“It is actually quite different,” Will Power said. “It’s a tighter radius, less banking. But once the grip comes, once you’re wide open, it’s very similar.”
The IndyCar test came three days after Jimmie Johnson won his record seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series there. Johnson started from the back of the field when NASCAR raced on the redone surface without any previous testing.
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