SONOMA — The IZOD IndyCar Series doesn’t officially get under way until March 30, but that didn’t stop 10 teams from participating in a private test session at Sonoma Raceway, Wednesday.
And these weren’t just any drivers. These were household names in the IndyCar world, including Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Will Power, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe and even the return of Juan Pablo Montoya.
Needless to say, the drivers jumped at the chance to get in some laps around the Wine Country’s 2.38-mile road course.
“This quite a technical track. . . . You can’t make mistakes and it’s easy to lock up (the brakes),” said Power, who won here last season for his third career victory at Sonoma. “It’s low grip. It’s all about putting good laps together. The car can help you a lot. You get outside the (time) window and it’s painful. You have to find the balance. To me, it’s the hardest track on the circuit to get right. It’s hard to get back into it like Juan. If you can be quick here, you can be quick anywhere.”
Montoya, back in the seat of an IndyCar after testing the waters in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series the last eight seasons, likes the idea of getting his feet wet again in the series that he loves, and joins a team that is a known winner.
“The secret is simple,” Montoya admitted. “It’s all about being in a winning car. All I know is that Ganassi in IndyCar is a pretty good team and has been successful. Over the years, in stock cars, they’ve struggled. It’s been hard for them. For me, I wanted to be in a winning car. To be honest, if you asked any driver who they wanted to race with, I think a lot of people would say Roger (Penske). For me to have the chance for me to race for him and help the team is a huge thing. I’m really excited.
“(Open wheel cars) drive 100 percent better. I have to get used to the restarts and the overtaking and out-braking people again. It’s part of the process, but I felt really comfortable in the car today. The most fun I’ve ever had is in IndyCars back in the day and I want to do that again. This was the right time to do it.”
Kanaan, the defending Indianapolis 500 champion, comes to Chip Ganassi Racing to drive the N0. 10 car of the now-retired Dario Franchitti, who was seriously injured last fall in a wreck in Houston.
“This morning (my teammates) reminded me that I’m sitting in the car that started on the pole here (last season), so I said, ‘I better do something,’ ” Kanaan said of Franchitti’s car from last season. “It feels different that what I’m used to. This track, it’s very good for testing because in just one day you can get different scenarios from weather to track temperature to wind (readings). So you like to learn as much as you can with all the scenarios.
“We’re not really concerned with the lap times, but we want to be fast. In the morning, it’s foggy, then the sun comes out and the wind changes. Those are the things you can actually go back and look at what time of the day those conditions that we had (and adapt them) to the race weekend. I’m happy to be back on a road course. We just came from Fontana. I’ve had some success here and it’s nice to be back.”
Though Franchitti isn’t racing anymore, Dixon likes that he’s still a part of the team, kind of like a mentor.
“He is very smart and is quick at relaying information,” Dixon said of Franchitti. “That’s definitely useful. We’ve lost him as a fellow competitor but gained him as a good person to learn on and have to pull information out of.”
That’s what teammates and testing is all about.
Reach Brian Arnold at 427-6969 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/barnolddr.