Two Indy Lights champions, an Indy Lights runner-up, and the back-to-back Australian Supercars champion shared Sebring International Raceway’s short course on Monday as part of test by Chevy-powered NTT IndyCar Series teams.
Arrow McLaren SP’s Oliver Askew, the 2019 Lights title winner, turned his first laps with the team as his main championship protagonist, Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus Veekay, also made his 2020 testing debut. Sage Karam, the 2013 Lights champion, added to the Road To Indy trio in Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s entry, and DJR Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin was given his first taste of an IndyCar as a reward for all he’s achieved with The Captain’s Supercars outfit.
Of the unofficial times the four reportedly turned, VeeKay was fastest by a considerable margin (52.3s), with Askew (52.9s), McLaughlin (53.3s) and Karam (54.3s) in tow.
“It’s been three months since I’ve been in an IndyCar, and I’ve never been that long away,” VeeKay told RACER. “It felt good right away, and very happy with how the day went. It’s a great connection I have with the team; my teammate Conor Daly was there to be part of it. I think we worked very well together, and I will be moving to Indianapolis to be closer to the team and be there with them.”
With the unofficial fastest lap of the day – one that impressed a few veterans who inquired about Sebring speeds – VeeKay says the mood within the ECR outfit was positive.
“The spirit was great, very delighted,” he said. “After three months, everybody wanted to work again on the car, and I learned a lot, and we learned a lot on setup. It was an A-plus day. It was my first time saving fuel, and it was a lot of new things to do today. I’ve never learned so much in one day of driving.”
All four drivers tested with the new and mandatory aeroscreen fitted to their cars, which added to the list of items to learn and optimize during the one-day outing.
“I felt like I got up to speed quite fast, as it’s the track I’ve tested at the most,” Askew said at the end of a day when temperatures hovered in the 80-degree range. “I was comfortable right away with a new seat and aeroscreen and driving position. It wasn’t so hot today, and the cockpit cooling isn’t an issue. As far as visibility and noticing the aeroscreen, it didn’t really cross my mind. It’s just been about learning to work with my new team.”
VeeKay echoed Askew’s aeroscreen sentiments.
“The aeroscreen was quite a good change for me,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was behind glass. Everything felt perfect.”
To achieve the most effective cockpit cooling results, a taller driver like Askew asked for a new seat to be poured and height adjustments to be made in order to align their helmets with the airflow coming into the cockpit at the base of the aeroscreen.
“For as tall as I am, I like to sit as low as I can, and have always liked that for my sightline and to lower my CG (center of gravity),” Askew said. “But we have had to raise myself up a little bit to align with the aeroscreen air inlet; I’m about an inch higher than usual, but we expect to make another seat to get a little lower just for my preference.”
The last time DRR turned a lap on a road or street course was at the 2013 Brazilian round in Sao Paulo with Oriol Servia at the controls.
“It was good for us because it’s been so long since we’ve been at a track other than Indianapolis,” Karam said. “They’re learning just as much as I’m learning. Our day started off well, and once we started pushing the brake zones harder, we found a slight issue and spent most of the day dealing with it. Once we found it and solved it, we went way faster. We’ll be back here Wednesday, and the car’s in a good position when we continue testing. Overall for Day 1 of testing with DRR making its road course return, it was a pretty successful day.”
Like Askew and VeeKay, Karam quickly adapted to driving behind the aeroscreen. For his cockpit cooling, he chose an add-on scoop that feeds air to a duct fastened to the top of his helmet.
“It was super-good and I had zero issues,” he said. “I wasn’t any hotter than I was in any other IndyCar I’ve driven. I did run the scoop on top of the aeroscreen blowing into my helmet, and it was not an issue and I didn’t have any vision issues. Big props to everyone who put in the time to make it come together. No complaints here.”
For Askew, who tested in Scott Dixon’s No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda at Portland in August, the chance to work with Chevrolet for the first time proved to be an intensive experience.
“Working with the Chevy engine and engineers has been seamless,” he said. “I drove a different engine four or five months ago, and it has been great to test with Chevy and to learn the tricks like fuel saving and pit stops that you don’t get to do on the Road To Indy. We’re all learning, the Arrow McLaren SP team as well, and there’s a lot of homework to study after this test. Looking forward to digesting it all and taking what we’ve learned to COTA next month for Spring Training.”