Fifth Gear: Five Takeaways from Second Sebring Test

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For the second time in two weeks, NTT INDYCAR SERIES teams got us salivating for the start of the 2021 season with a private test Monday, Feb. 1 at Sebring International Raceway in Florida. The on-track action comes as the season is scheduled to get underway April 18 at Barber Motorsports Park.

Times and speeds aren’t released from private tests, but various media reports and social media content offered us a quick glimpse at the work teams were putting in down in the Sunshine State, allowing us to shift our minds into fifth gear to see what we can expect on the road ahead.

Here are five takeaways from the second private test of 2021:

1. Pato on top; Arrow McLaren SP means business.

Arrow McLaren SP ended the 2020 season on a high note as Pato O’Ward drove his No. 5 Chevrolet to a second-place finish in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and a fourth-place finish in the season standings.

According to reports, O’Ward picked up right where he left off and was the quickest driver of the day at Sebring. The 21-year-old came close to Victory Lane several times in 2020, and it looks like he and his team found something over the offseason that might finally get him on top of the podium.

New teammate Felix Rosenqvist was right in O’Ward’s tire tracks Monday, appearing to crush any expected learning curve in his transition to the black-and-orange No. 7 Chevrolet after two seasons at Chip Ganassi Racing.

As year two for AMSP begins, one thing is clear: This team means business.

2. Andretti Autosport came to play.

Florida has been good to Andretti Autosport as of late. Two weeks ago, the team participated in a private test at Sebring where it was reported that Alexander Rossi topped the charts. It appears he and his teammates backed up that performance at Monday’s test as all four of Andretti’s cars were close behind O’Ward in the reported times.

It’s no secret that 2020 was a down year for Andretti Autosport, with Colton Herta scoring the team’s only win at Mid-Ohio 2. However, the last time the NTT INDYCAR SERIES was in Florida for the season finale, Rossi dominated before a rare mistake, and Herta and James Hinchcliffe were in contention for the win, too.

Keep an eye on Andretti Autosport for a big rebound in 2021.

3. #ScottLearnsAmerica … and INDYCAR.

The rookie class for this year’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES season features two of the best racers in the world, with one of those being Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin. While he did get a race under his belt at St. Petersburg last fall, the Kiwi had an entire day Monday to acclimate himself to driving a 1,700-pound open-wheel car that is far different from the touring car he drove to domination in Australian V8 Supercars.

The 27-year-old posted on social media that he’s leaving the test feeling good as he continues to learn and understand these challenging cars.

McLaughlin has taken racing social media by storm by chronicling his new journey in the United States with the hashtag #ScottLearnsAmerica, but let’s not forget that he is also learning INDYCAR. It’s going to take time for the three-time champion Down Under to get his feet underneath him, just like the experience seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is undergoing this year as he switches to INDYCAR. But it the reports from Monday’s test are any indication, McLaughlin is off to a solid start.

4. Too close for (their) comfort.

Reports from Monday’s test gave us a lot to digest as we prepare for the 2021 season to begin April 18 at Barber Motorsports Park, and one thing that stood out the most was just how close this field is. The 14 drivers that drove the short circuit at Sebring appear to have been in each other’s tire tracks with even the “slowest” driver not that far from O’Ward’s top time, with reports showing less than seven-tenths of a second separating the entire field.

What does that mean? It means buckle up, because the competition in this year’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES field may be closer than ever. Yes, Monday was just a test in very windy, brisk conditions, but nobody can deny how close this group of athletes were. With so many drivers so close to each other based on times, they will be elbows up, all-out each and every week trying to outduel each other.

The 2021 season really could be anyone’s to win.

5. That’s a lot of laps!

Combined, the 14 drivers down in Sebring turned almost 2,000 laps as the teams took advantage of one of the few opportunities available to apply what they learned over the offseason.

But all those laps turned also means that the drivers were loving life. They were back in their natural habitat behind the wheel of these open-wheeled beasts, roaring down straightaways, ripping through corners and completing as many laps as time would allow.

Clearly, the INDYCAR field is absolutely ready to get this season underway. Are you?

From the fans