Four NTT IndyCar Series rookies passed their oval tests on Friday at Texas Motor Speedway as Arrow McLaren SP’s Oliver Askew, Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh’s Alex Palou, Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay, and Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin cleared all phases on the daunting 1.5-mile oval.
With cold temperatures delaying the start of testing until 11:30 a.m., the rookie quartet, plus Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden and ECR owner/driver Ed Carpenter, made the most of the five hours they had to get up to speed and tune their Chevy- and Honda-powered cars with the new aeroscreens in place.
“I only ran a small amount of laps, but everything felt good,” Carpenter said of lapping at 215mph or more with the aeroscreen. “There’s a couple little subtleties just in the way the air moves around. It’s quieter, which is different. Believe it or not that kind of changes the sensation of how you feel the car. Visually, it’s actually very good. There’s not any limits or distortion or anything like that.”
“Conditions produced a lot of downforce. Being my first outing with the windscreen, I was happy it with how it was in the car. I am still curious to see what it is like with traffic on an oval. Good so far!”
Carpenter also gave high marks to his Dutch rookie.
“As far as Rinus, he did a nice job and got comfortable quickly,” he added. “We were able to run some changes through the car to let him experience some things.”
VeeKay, who finished second to Askew in the 2019 Indy Lights championship, reveled in the experience.
“First time on an oval with an Indy car was even cooler than I expected!” he said. “Despite having to start late because of the weather it still was a very useful day and I made a steep jump in my learning curve. I felt super comfortable in the car and the team did an amazing job.”
Penske’s McLaughlin, fresh from stunning the field at IndyCar’s COTA Open Test with the third-fastest lap, marveled at flying around his first oval.
“The last week testing Indy cars with Team Penske in Texas has been like a dream,” said the New Zealander. “Adapting to the car has been a major adjustment for me. The sensation of speed in these cars is just incredible. At Texas Motor Speedway today I logged more than 150 laps, and did 222mph. My out lap was well and truly the fastest I’ve ever gone in a race car in my life. It’s an amazing feeling. You need to be so precise. Thanks again so much to everyone at Team Penske and especially to Roger Penske for putting his faith in me. Now I head back home to start my [Australian] Supercars title defense in Adelaide. Bring it on!”
Spending the day in the AMSP Chevy at Texas reminded Askew of another 1.5-mile oval.
“I love ovals … we did a test at Kentucky Speedway last year in Indy Lights, and I kind of feel some similarities between those two tracks with the tri-oval and with how smooth the tracks are but it’s a completely different car, right?” said the Floridian. “Much quicker. An extra 30mph at those speeds feels like an extra 100.”
Completing the impressions among rookie runners, Palou cherished his first outing on something other than a road or street course in the Coyne Honda.
“It was a crazy experience and I loved it!” said the Spaniard. “It’s awesome to drive on an oval. It was crazier than what I expected, but it was also more fun than what I expected. At first, it was quite eye-opening because of the banking and the speed, because everything is so quick. But you have to take it step by step. All you need are small details to make the car better and make your line better. We went from going slowly, building up my confidence to going out on a new tire run. It felt great.
“I know it’s going to be really different when we come back here in the summer — it will be hot, with lots of cars around — but for the first day I think it was perfect. I can’t wait to go oval racing. I was already really excited to go oval racing because I thought I would like it, but I like it even more than what I thought. It’s just awesome to be able race on ovals this year.”
At a track that has produced its share of frightening IndyCar crashes, Newgarden left Texas feeling proud of the new safety standard the aeroscreen brings to the series.
“This is the biggest change to an Indy car since probably when we went to carbon tubs … you’re talking 30 years ago,” said the defending series champion. “It’s a very large introduction to something new. I think from a safety standpoint, it’s probably the biggest safety innovation since the HANS device, and the HANS device you’re talking early 2000s.”