Although the lap times were unofficial, most in attendance on Wednesday at Sebring positioned Andretti Autosport as the fastest team among the sizable group of drivers to lap in optimal afternoon conditions.
Of the 13 drivers in action, Andretti’s Ryan Hunter-Reay reportedly led teammates Alexander Rossi and Marco Andretti by two tenths with a lap of 51.1s, Graham Rahal was fourth in his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda four tenths back from Hunter-Reay, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Robert Wickens was fifth a half-second behind, and they were followed by Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, Andretti’s Zach Veach, SPM’s James Hinchcliffe, RLL’s Takuma Sato, Carlin Racing’s Max Chilton, A.J. Foyt Racing’s Tony Kanaan, DCR’s Zachary Claman De Melo and Foyt’s Matheus Leist.
“It was day two for me with the new car, were able to iron out some kinks from the first test we did here in the new bodywork, and I was in the car pretty much the whole day,” Hunter-Reay told RACER. “We found good changes that put us in the right direction on a lot of things, but the underlying characteristics people talk about with the new car is still there; it’s still on top of the track without all the downforce we had last year. That still takes some getting used to.”
The lower downforce and rear ride height sensitivity with the UAK18 bodywork has made for exciting times in the brake zones and while turning after braking, which Hunter-Reay believes is a reality that cannot be overcome with normal setup changes.
“It’s a busier time behind the wheel, especially with a full stint on tires,” he said. “Our goal needs to be to make it as tied together and balanced as possible through the different phases of a corner, but that more lively rear end could be here to stay. I’m a fan of the direction we’re going, back to the lower downforce days of 2012-2014. It’s a good call by IndyCar.”
Rahal got to grips with the new bodywork and a different seating position on Wednesday.
“We tried to stick to a list and work our way through it, and by the end of the day, I felt like we got to where we wanted to be; I really enjoyed it, and the Andretti cars were quick, but they already had a day there so there’s no surprise they went fastest,” he said.
“I started the day with a different seat that had me a lot lower in the car, so that was visually different and took a while to adjust to, but I like the car a lot. It’s really fast; it accelerates like crazy. It brakes really well. It’s fun.”
Rahal spent the day working with Tom German as his new race engineer, and made sure to give IndyCar’s Holmatro Safety Team some input on the car as well.
“I saw the Holmatro guys and told them to be ready because they’re going to be very busy this year with all the spins and stuff I think we’re going to see,” he said with a laugh. “The car’s a blast, but it’s also a handful, so it’s going to be exciting everywhere we go. And working with Tom was great. He’s very direct; he doesn’t want to know too much – just the most important things that are going to help improve the car – and I like that approach. I’d say we got off to a great start together.”