- John Oreovicz, Autos, Open-Wheel
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INDYCAR's final major test of the 2012 calendar year occurred this week at Sebring International Raceway, with about half of the expected 2013 Izod IndyCar Series field taking part.
Times were closely matched Tuesday through Thursday, with Team Penske's Will Power setting the pace with a lap unofficially clocked at 52.84 seconds.
Power said he was pleased to be back in a racing car -- especially on a road course -- for the first time since the IndyCar season finale in mid-September.
"We had no issues with the car and got up to speed quickly," he said. "The engine, of all things, has evolved the most. As for the car, there's not much you can change or develop, so we've not gone drastically in any direction. Dampers are about all you can develop. Everything else is the same and standard.
"It's very competitive, and there were 10 cars lapping within a couple of tenths of each other. This gives us something to think about over the break until we are able to test again in January."
Scott Dixon had to overcome a suspension failure on his Dallara DW12 and rain that slowed action the first couple of days but said he was pleased with what he and the Ganassi team accomplished after running just 0.1 seconds off Power's pace.
"A very positive test for the Target team," Dixon said. "We broke a suspension early but ended up being pretty fast overall, so I'm very optimistic.
"The car is more refined and more reliable, and that will only contribute more to the great racing we saw in IndyCar in 2012."
Graham Rahal and Simona de Silvestro tested with their new teams. Day 3 was unproductive for Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing due to a problem with the chassis they were unable to diagnose at the track.
Rahal ran 205 laps over the three days with an announced best lap of 53.48 seconds -- slowest of the 15 drivers who ran.
"There is something in the car that has caused several issues all day, whether they be handling issues or braking issues, that we could not get a handle on," Rahal said. "The guys did a great job. They changed more in one day than I can ever remember changing. It was pretty busy, and they responded well."
As well as adapting to a new team (KV Racing Technology), de Silvestro is experiencing Chevrolet power after being the only driver who completed the 2012 season using the inferior Lotus engine.
De Silvestro was eighth fastest at 53.01 seconds, a tenth better than new teammate Tony Kanaan.
"So far pretty good," said the IndyCar Series' top female racer. "It's nice driving and knowing that you can catch somebody. But there are a few things I have to get used to compared to the Lotus, and I've had to change a couple things in my driving style.
"The car itself has come a long way in the past year. The teams have taken what they learned from all the drivers, and it's coming together. KV was lucky to run all three days, and it was truly helpful."
Two rookies got their first runs in Indy cars and made the most of the opportunity. Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier ran the Sam Schmidt Motorsports entry on the final day after regular driver Simon Pagenaud ran the first portion of the test.
Vautier finished with the second-fastest lap of the week, a 52.85 that was just 0.01 seconds slower than Power's best effort.
"I loved it!" Vautier exclaimed. "It feels like a big Indy Lights car with a few things to change in the driving style. I tried to improve throughout the morning, and the engineers were very good to help me. They made quite a few changes to see how I reacted and we moved forward. I'm just happy and honored to be taking this step with the team after they brought me the Lights title this year."
Meanwhile, Conor Daly, son of former Formula One and Indy car driver Derek Daly, made a strong impression in A.J. Foyt Racing's DW12. He was credited with a 53.29-second lap.
Schmidt is hoping to put together a second car for 2013, while Foyt has not announced the driver for his No. 14 machine sponsored by ABC Supply Co. but is expected to tab Takuma Sato. Daly is under consideration for a second car.
Daly hopes to continue his career in Europe in GP2 or Formula Renault 3.5 but wants to run a partial IndyCar schedule in America as well.
"Daly and Vautier were very quick and very impressive," Power said. "Those two guys are rookies, and it was their first time in the car ever."
Will Power unofficially ran the fastest lap during INDYCAR's three-day test at Sebring, but rookies Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly weren't far off the pace.