Jack Hawksworth has known for five months what car he’ll be driving in this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series. So getting back to work recently testing the new Honda aero kit at NOLA Motorsports Park, where the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana will be contested April 10-12 and at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama were steps one and two of his 2015 season campaign.
Hawksworth’s A.J. Foyt Racing Team car will have a new body style designed by Honda Performance Development and will compete against cars with a body style designed by Chevrolet. Both kits look drastically different and will produce fierce competition between the two brands.
“I look at the cars, and they’re ever so complex,” Hawksworth said. “I think it’s great to have the competition between Chevrolet and Honda.
“I’m pretty sure the cars are going to be pretty quick from what I’ve seen so far today so we’ll see (what happens).”
Chevrolet driver and 2014 series champion Will Power was on hand at both tests and was bullish about the new car’s potential for fast times.
“The aero kits produce so much more downforce, and there’s a lot of grip, so the cars are faster everywhere,” Power said. “I would expect to break lap records just about everywhere.”
The Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana will be the first one on a permanent road course with the new aero kits that will make their debut on the streets of St. Petersburg on March 29th.
The kits have been getting good reviews from drivers, and higher-ups in IndyCar seem to be on the same page, especially the President of Operations and Competition, Derrick Walker.
“They look good, they look fast and the activity of the teams has created a lot of opportunity and a lot of components to play with and optimize,” Walker said. “So from a technical sense, we have serious car competition again.
“We’ve got engine competition, driver competition and team competition. But car competition hasn’t been there.”
It will be an ongoing process to find the optimum setup every week, Walker added.
The testing wasn’t just about getting data with the new aero kits. It was also a chance for drivers and teams, including Hawksworth, to get on track together for the first time after signing new contracts for 2015.
Hawksworth was the 2012 Pro Mazda champion and drove for Bryan Herta Autosport, last year, his rookie season in IndyCar. He signed to drive for A.J. Foyt Enterprises this year alongside 2013 Long Beach GP winner Takuma Sato, giving both drivers their first full-time teammate in IndyCar racing since Sato drove for KV Racing Technology in 2011.
“Taku is a super easy guy to work with,” Hawksworth said. “I’ve really enjoyed working with him so far, he’s very quick on the ovals and on the road courses, so it’s going to be great having him as a teammate, and I’m sure we’ll push each other along.
‘”And more than anything, you’ve got twice as much data and twice as many engineers, and hopefully that makes for a quicker race.”
Sato was upbeat at the prospect of having the young Brit join him as a teammate.
“It’s only really positive; it’s really welcome having Jack onboard our team,” Sato said. “But not only for the driver, look at all the dynamics of the team, having two trailers and doubling up the staff and equipment-wise, and we can use the resources much more efficiently compared to how we were two-and-a-half years ago, and especially nowadays with track time so limited … having two cars with someone doing something else doubles up the data (for us), so everything should be helping us.”
However, testing did not go well for everybody. Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Sage Karam broke a bone in his right hand after he went off the track in Turn 14 at Barber while testing the Chevy aero kit.
“Early on in the test in Turn 14, I just made a mistake,’ Karam said. “It’s a flat-out corner, and the car bottomed out
“I shouldn’t have been carrying that much speed that early on. I tried to catch the car, but it ended up hooking around.”
Despite Karam’s issue, the Ganassi team did well at both tracks, but in different ways. Fellow Ganassi driver Charlie Kimball felt similar sensations in speed between the old car and the new car when he was testing at NOLA.
“The sensation’s very similar (at NOLA). For me, it’s pretty close to what we had when we ran here in January, which to me means they’ve (Chevy) done a good job with all the testing,” Kimball said.
He did notice, however, differences that have been made to the track in preparation for the race in April.
“They’ve made some improvements based on our comments from January, and then some guys came down in February and ran, so they’ve done a lot of work to the track,” Kimball said.” It’s nice to see the grandstands going up, the fencing going up and getting ready for the race in about a month,” Kimball said.
Another Ganassi driver, Scott Dixon, went fastest in the fourth testing session at Barber with a lap of 1:07.3996, averaging 122.849 mph around the 2.3 mile track. Dixon was very open about the differences between the older body style and how the newer one affected the car and his driving.
“It’s just going quicker, and the balance has changed a little bit,’ he said. “I used to struggle with a lot of understeer here, and I kind of started that today.
“But with the (car’s tuning ability), it seems like we were able to get the car very loose.”