Traction was in short supply on Tuesday at Sonoma Raceway where more than half of the IndyCar Series field took part in a one-day test ahead of next week’s GoPro Grand Prix.
Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay led the morning and afternoon sessions which were run in temperatures closing in on 90 degrees. Wheelspin, locked brakes, oversteer and wind ruled the day.
The reigning IndyCar Series champion turned an unofficial lap of 78.8 seconds after the lunch break, well clear of the 79.3 set by teammate James Hinchcliffe, to claim and Andretti 1-2. Panther Racing’s Ryan Briscoe clocked a 79.6 to take third on his return to the cockpit after fracturing his wrist at Toronto.
“It will be interesting to see how things go when we come back for the next test (on August 21) because we just didn’t have any grip today,” RHR told RACER. “It was the same for everybody, so you had to make the best of it, and we made some good headway in the DHL Chevy.”
Briscoe looked fast and steady all day and will get another chance to test his wrist this weekend when he participates in a sports car test at Circuit of The Americas.
“We’re pretty happy,” said Briscoe. “My wrist held up pretty good, although the (carbon fiber wrist) brace is a bit of a nuisance, but we made good progress and worked through our program. The wind this afternoon made it tough, but I’m pleased with our pace and we’ll come back next week to find more speed.”
Of the other drivers in attendance, AJ Foyt Racing’s Takuma Sato, who ran eighth, was also nursing a sore wrist after aggravating an existing injury while moving houses after the Mid-Ohio race, and Dale Coyne Racing’s Justin Wilson saw his day cut short when a broken header caused his Honda engine to go off-song with 45 minutes left.
Two impressive performances by rookie drivers came late in the afternoon as 19-year-old Ryo Hirakawa and 34-year-old Lucas Luhr set noteworthy times.
Hirakawa, the 2012 Japanese F3 champion, had never seen Sonoma Raceway prior to the test, yet settled in quickly, and other than a harmless spin on his first outing, showed great respect for the harrowing road course as he worked up to speed. He’d post an 80.8 on old tires during his final stint and looked like he gave it all he had after climbing from the car.
“In those conditions, he really did a fantastic job,” said John Dick, his Dale Coyne Racing engineer. “He was worn out at the end, but that was very promising.”
Hirakawa’s team owner echoed Dick’s sentiment.
“I don’t think anyone could have set the time he did like that at the end of the day,” said Coyne. “He made a good impression on everyone.”
Hirakawa’s place in the car for the Sonoma race is in question as it’s believed only enough funding came through to allow for today’s test. Coyne would not be drawn on whether he’d allow Hirakawa to drive for free, or look to draft in someone like Detroit Round 1 winner Mike Conway to take over the controls.
Sports car champion Luhr made a last-minute outing in the No. 97 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing entry, losing considerable track time as the team diagnosed and fixed a radio harness problem that left the lanky German with only 20 minutes to get acclimated with an Indy car. The team also lost a good portion of the morning session with a brake component issue, forcing primary driver Josef Newgarden to run later than expected before handing over to Luhr.
Luhr turned a best lap of 83.6 in 10 laps on used tires the same set Newgarden used on the No. 97 to produce an 82.0 before he bolted on a new set and posted an 80.4. Being within 1.6 seconds of Newgarden with the same tires and in similar conditions was nothing short of impressive for the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing ALMS LMP1 driver.
“My very first out lap it was a shock,” said Luhr of his first time in an open-wheel car since his days in German F3. “It is a big thing for me.”
Luhr also found the Honda-powered Dallara DW12 to be less of a shock as he got toward the end of his run.
“After a few laps I just had 10 laps in total I kind of got a feeling what it’s about and how you have to drive it different a little bit than the LMP1 car,” he added. “It’s just me getting used to the car, understanding the technique, what kind of changes I have to do to fit my driving style. And then it should not be so bad.”
Luhr, will have the car all to himself during next Wednesday’s official test.
All Times Unofficial
Position, Driver, Lap Time
1 Ryan Hunter-Reay 78.8
2 James Hinchcliffe 79.3
3 Ryan Briscoe 79.6
4 Marco Andretti 79.6
5 EJ Viso 79.7
6 Sebastien Bourdais 79.7
7 Sebastian Saavedra 79.7
8 Takuma Sato 79.8
9 Justin Wilson 80.0
10 James Jakes 80.1
11 Graham Rahal 80.3
12 Josef Newgarden 80.4
13 Ryo Hirakawa 80.8
14 Ed Carpenter 81.1
15 Lucas Luhr 83.6