Nearly three months after Josef Newgarden was crowned the best IndyCar driver of 2017, a long and busy season has been put to rest as the last laps of testing were turned on Thursday at Sebring.
Following Wednesday’s Manufacturers’ test where Chevy’s A.J. Foyt Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing and Team Penske closed the chapter for the Bowtie, Honda’s Chip Ganassi Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports completed the final miles of the year with Scott Dixon and Robert Wickens at the controls.
SPM’s James Hinchcliffe was originally scheduled to drive, but spent the day coaching his friend and fellow Canadian who made his debut using the 2018 universal aero kit.
“We’re debriefing with our teams right now, and we had no dramas and learned a lot. We’re pretty happy. It’s nice to know we’re at the end of this manufacturer testing, it hasn’t been a very quiet offseason, a lot of miles, and I think we’ve learned quite a bit about how the car works,” Honda Performance Development race team leader Allen Miller told RACER.
We’ve got a new umbrella holder here at @sebringraceway today. He looks familiar… pic.twitter.com/cHUn21kLIy
— Schmidt Peterson (@SPMIndyCar) December 14, 2017
“We worked through a lot of issues since we started this testing program in the summer with IndyCar, and I think we’re going to be able to turn our teams loose with a lot of good information when they go testing on their own in January.”
Cool temperatures produced plenty of speed from Dixon’s vantage point.
“It was amazingly gripped-up today; too much so, I think,” the four-time IndyCar champ told RACER. “In hindsight, I think the test we did here in September was more realistic for car performance, but it was a lot of fun, regardless.”
On top of the work CGR conducted for Honda, the No. 9 car also made a valuable contribution to ironing out some of the electronic bugs that have plagued testing.
“Most of the [2018-spec] cars that have done all these manufacturer test have been on the old electronics, and we’ve been pretty consistent in having all the new Cosworth stuff on the NTT Data car,” Dixon explained. “I think the Penske [Chevy] guys were on the new stuff yesterday, but most haven’t been, and even though we’ve had some issues at previous tests, I think a lot of headway was made and everyone seemed happy with where we were by the end of the day. That aspect of things was really good.”
Having worked with Dixon and Hinchcliffe for years, and after elevating the SPM team to a higher status within HPD’s IndyCar partner programs, getting a feel for Wickens’ contribution was the only new portion of Honda’s program at Sebring. According to Miller, he was impressed with everything the IndyCar rookie delivered.
“I think he’s a good new person to have involved, gave good feedback, put in good times, got comfortable quickly, and got up to speed quickly,” he added. “We ran through some programs with him of tuning things we offer, which he seemed to appreciate, and I think it’s working well with Robert.”
With the five manufacturer tests in the books, Chevy and Honda will take what they’ve learned with the UAK18 bodywork, distill it into aero maps for their respective teams to use when private testing opens up on January 8, and hope everything they’ve gathered will arm those teams with the knowledge to be successful.
“We’re working through next week and people will have some time off for Christmas, but will come back and carry on,” Miller said. “We have a lot of data from these tests, have been doing a lot of simulation tests, wind tunnel tests, and will collate it all and give it to our teams before they start test in a few weeks.”