Week of testing stokes the Indy 500 fires

IndyCar driver Helio Castroneves gives a thumbs up walking the pits at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during an open testing session (WXIN April 30, 2018).

SPEEDWAY, Ind. – The crowds will be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway soon enough. For this past week though, IndyCar drivers had the opportunity to get reacquainted with the track through testing on the oval.

“I’ve been here a couple times over the course of winter,” said 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato, “but never in the cockpit where you can see it visually. I flashed back to last year. It was an incredible feeling.”

“Incredible to be here and turn laps at 230 miles per hour,” added Simon Pagenaud. “That’s always special for a race car driver.”

It’s a special return to IndyCar for Helio Castroneves, driving the familiar “Yellow Submarine” Pennzoil Chevy for Team Penske.

“It’s like you’re laying with your old Toy,” said Castroneves, on getting back into an IndyCar. “It’s really great to be back and start talking about 20 years I’ve been doing it, details where I’m like ‘hey, I remember this.'”

Memory won’t do much good for a group of three Indy 500 rookies though.

“(Tuesday) was my first day here in Indianapolis with the IndyCar,” explained Matheus Leist. “Pretty happy with the performance, I think.

“Pretty excited and looking forward to the month of May.”

One thing fans can look forward to on the track this month is the new IndyCar. A sleeker design has led to noticeable changes on road and street courses, but maybe not as much on the 2.5 mile IMS oval.

“I don’t think it’s that different, and I think that’s a good thing,” said Josef Newgarden. “I think the race has been phenomenal at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. People don’t want it to change, and I don’t think it’s gonna change too much. ”

Last week also saw the return of Danica Patrick to an IndyCar. In seven career Indy 500’s, Patrick finished in the top 10 six times. Hoping for similar success this year, the newest Ed Carpenter Racing driver is taking things slowly.

“Everything’s felt pretty good,” said Patrick. “Even if all I do is just drive around with really nominal changes all day and keep feeling it, feeling it, feeling it, that is a successful day because that’s building confidence, not breaking it.”

Nothing that should break her confidence so far through one week of testing. For now, the IndyCar drivers put the 500 on pause as the Grand Prix takes over IMS this coming weekend.