Friday, April 12, 2024

What Did We Learn From Testing?

What was supposed to be two days of testing ahead of next month’s 108th Indianapolis 500 turned out to be less than six hours of track time despite all efforts IndyCar made to maximize whatever clear weather could be found at the corner of 16th and Georgetown. Undoubtedly, nobody is leaving Speedway, Indiana satisfied with the amount of track time over these two days, but this is all they will get until the middle of May. 

With the cars packed away and teams turning their attention to Long Beach, this is a chance to pick apart what little we saw from the rain-shortened test.

What did we learn?
Honestly, nothing!

We confirmed Katherine Legge will be in the #51 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, and she is bringing a notable sponsor.

Conor Daly has a sponsor that could end up being at the center of lawsuit within the next decade. 

Christian Rasmussen will use #33. 

David Malukas is still hurt. 

Théo Pourchaire was still in Indianapolis.

Everyone is frustrated that there are about 18 pink cars. There was not much we could learn from such little track time, and almost half of it was dedicated to Rookie Orientation and refresher programs. 

If you look at the time sheet, there were no surprises from the limited track time. Josef Newgarden was fastest, the fourth consecutive year Newgarden was fastest at the April test. Scott Dixon and Álex Palou were both in the top five. Colton Herta and Kyle Kirkwood each were in the top ten, as was Scott McLaughlin. The big names are all there. 

Who does the rain hurt the most?
When you are one of two Indianapolis 500-only teams, you were probably hoping to complete more than 29 combined laps over your two cars, but 29 laps is all Dreyer & Reinbold Racing got between Ryan Hunter-Reay and Conor Daly. Hunter-Reay's seven laps were the fewest any driver completed and Arrow McLaren’s Callum Ilott was the only other driver to compete under ten laps. 

Considering D&R regularly is respectable when it comes to speed, there is not too much concern with D&R. Juncos Hollinger Racing only completed 44 laps and A.J. Foyt Racing only completed 50 laps. The Dale Coyne Racing drivers of Legge and Nolan Siegel were 29th and 31st respectively. 

I would say this hurt Coyne's drivers the most because both Legge and Siegel could have used the time. They both ran more laps than most, Siegel completed 63 laps and Legge ran 59, but they likely don't have many more answers than when they started Tuesday. Two full days would have done wonders for that group.

Will Kyle Larson win the Indianapolis 500?
Two years ago, after the April test, I wrote overreactions to the test days. Here is one for 2024. 

Larson was second in the test, his fastest lap at 226.384 mph. Larson is going to win this race by nine laps. Larson is going to lead 202 of 200 laps this year. Larson's victory will unite the world and he will be carried out of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and on the backs of the people he will be brought to Charlotte Motor Speedway where the Coca-Cola 600 will be postponed for four days to allow the millions of people between the two tracks to come out on their own and offer up adoration as Larson passes. 

Alright, now with that out of the way, no one should be surprised Larson, arguably the best driver in the world, became comfortable in an IndyCar almost immediately. Has there been any race car that has befuddled Larson in his career? He slides behind the wheel and gets it quickly. Larson was suspended for practically an entire NASCAR Cup season, and he won in his fourth race back on his way to his first Cup championship that season. 

A lot of things will happen between now and the checkered flag for the 108th Indianapolis 500. Scott Dixon lost the Indianapolis 500 speeding entering the pit lane for this final pit stop. Engine fails. Unsafe releases happen. Drivers can stall the car. This is not set in stone. No one anticipated a one-lap sprint immediately after a red flag deciding last year's race. 

For anyone to think this race is clearly Larson's to lose is kidding themselves, but Larson is set up to succeed. He is driving for McLaren and has two stout teammates in the same stable. This has been far from a half-assed effort. Whether it ends in victory or not will require the same million things falling just right as with anyone else entered in this race. 

Is there anyone who should at least be happy?
I hinted at it in the testing primer, I think Felix Rosenqvist and Meyer Shank Racing should feel good even on the abbreviated day. After starting on the front row and finishing seventh at St. Petersburg and winning a heat race and finishing third overall at Thermal Club, Rosenqvist was tenth in the test with 49 laps completed. 

It isn't an exact indication where this team is because no one ran a full program and got close to going as far as they felt comfortable for an April test, but Rosenqvist ended up in the top ten should boost MSR's confidence. It is another case of the team being in a competition position a season after the team never was in that spot. 

Add in Herta and Kirkwood being in the top ten, and the Andretti Global/MSR alliance had three in the top ten. That was more than Team Penske, more than Chip Ganassi Racing and more than McLaren. I think this is a good place to start for the Andretti/MSR alliance and something to build from in a month's time. 

Do we have any answers about Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing?
Not really.

If you go based on the combined results from Wednesday, the RLLR cars were 19th (Graham Rahal), 21st (Christian Lundgaard), 23rd (Takuma Sato) and 30th (Pietro Fittipaldi), and Fittipaldi did little more than complete the refresher program. Fittipaldi completed 63 laps while the other three RLLR drivers completed a combined 63 laps.

Last year, RLLR's cars were 23rd, 26th, 28th and 33rd at the April test, and that was a full day where the three full-time RLLR cars all ran over 100 laps. 

It could be worse. That is probably the best way to look at it, but we really don't have enough to be certain. If anything, it is kind of the same scenario we saw last year with RLLR. All the cars are together. There is consistency. The problem was the consistency had three of its cars in the last chance qualifying session last year, and the fourth car was starting 30th. 

It also could have been better. I am sure one of the RLLR cars could have put up a good number and had everyone in the team confident it made a jump forward.

The questions will remain.

Can Ed Carpenter Racing get some love?

Ed Carpenter was seventh while Christian Rasmussen was tenth despite having to complete ROP. Rinus VeeKay was 12th. The speed the last few years at ECR has been with VeeKay in qualifying. The Dutchman has never started worse than fourth in four Indianapolis 500 appearances. Carpenter has started fourth or better in seven of the last 11 years. 

The qualifying speed will likely be there. It is the race where we need to see it. Carpenter is remembered for his runner-up finish in 2018, but his average finish in the Indianapolis 500 since running for his own team starting in 2012 is 17.25, and he has finished in the back half of the field of 33 in three of the last four years. For comparison, in Carpenter's eight "500s" not with his own team his average finish was 13.875 and he finished in the back half of the field of 33 only once. 

ECR has had 30 starters in the Indianapolis 500 since establishing in 2012 and including the 2015 season as CFH Racing. The team has three top five finishes and 13 top ten finishes. It has had at least one top ten finisher in each of the last three years and in five of the last six. 

All signs point to at least one ECR car being toward the front. Can it have a car in the lead group coming to the checkered flag? 

Is there anything else we should know?
I think that covers it. Last year, 3,108 total laps were completed in the one April test day. This year, only 1,327 laps were complete. We basically got half a test. With half a test comes half the answers. It only makes the dwindling days until IndyCar's biggest race that more tense. We will find out more in a month. Let the waiting begin!