Among the rolling changes to the NTT IndyCar Series’ 2020 schedule, private and open tests have been cleared from the compressed calendar, and while it won’t have a large impact on veteran drivers, the four rookies in the field will feel its effects.
“We all have testing planned and that’s gone, so that hurts your preparedness, and it really hurts the rookies, especially our rookie Alex Palou because the other rookies have all run Indy Lights, but our rookie has never seen these racetracks,” team owner Dale Coyne told RACER. “It’s going to be a tougher road for Alex this year going to races he’s never been to. We had planned to test at a lot of those tracks. Now that’s gone and that’s going to impact his rookie year.”
Outside of the limited running Palou, AJ Foyt Racing’s Dalton Kellett, Arrow McLaren SP’s Oliver Askew, Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay, and Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin completed at Texas Motor Speedway prior to COVID-19’s influence on the sport, the rookies will be light on IndyCar oval mileage as four of the first eight races will be held across Texas, the doubleheader at Iowa, and the Indy 500.
In response to the testing concerns, IndyCar has inserted a 30-minute practice session for rookies prior to opening practice at TMS on June 6. The session is set to conclude and move straight into a 1h20m practice session for all drivers, giving the rookies a chance to get up to speed without 20-plus veterans flying around the harrowing 1.5-mile oval.
“We’ve had them all go run at Texas last fall, and that was to qualify them do that in the Indy Open Test in April that didn’t end up happening, so they’ve had a day of running at Texas, but in different conditions,” said IndyCar president Jay Frye.
Prior to the pandemic, IndyCar’s testing regimen would have seen the lapping at Texas and the Indy Open Test serve as valuable educations for rookies before heading into intensive running overt the two weeks that cover the Indy 500. Instead, their oval racing baptism will come at TMS, where small mistakes can deliver big consequences. Looking ahead, Frye hopes to offer more oval experience for all of IndyCar’s drivers at an early point in the schedule, as it last had in 2018 with Spring Training and a short-oval race in Arizona.
“That’s the reason I always thought Phoenix was so important, to have an oval race before the 500,” he said. “I think that’s something we need to look at in the future, to have an oval event race before the 500 would also be a really good thing going forward. Or at least have oval testing as part of the official pre-season tests.”