The NTT INDYCAR SERIES season doesn’t start until Sunday, March 10 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, but an important dress rehearsal unfolded Jan. 22-24 on the road course at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Most teams got their first chance to turn laps in the technical configuration the series will compete with until hybrid technology is added to the 2.2-liter twin-turbocharged Chevrolet and Honda engines after the 108th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, during the second half of the season.
The start of the 2024 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season is expected to feature enhanced possibilities of track records with lighter chassis components (aeroscreen, bellhousing and gearbox) prepared for the hybrid addition. Once the hybrid unit is integrated, the remaining 2024 races will feature the intensified engineering and wheel-to-wheel precision of the hybrid power era.
Each team was permitted to run one car during the three-day test on the Homestead-Miami “roval,” with drivers rotating in and out of that chassis. Ten cars turned laps each day.
While times and speeds were not released, a few trends could be discerned from media reports and social media posts from the test:
Andretti Global Flexes
It was a strong three days for Andretti Global, as Colton Herta was quickest Tuesday, and Kyle Kirkwood topped the time sheet Wednesday. For good measure, Marcus Ericsson was second-quickest Monday on the opening day.
What’s more impressive was the consistency the Andretti team and its drivers found with the chassis it brought to South Florida.
Herta’s top lap Tuesday was quickest overall in the test, but Kirkwood’s top trip around the circuit Wednesday was less than a tenth of a second behind Herta’s best. Ericsson, who joined the team after last season, was less than three-tenths behind Herta’s test-leading lap. That’s a good sign for a team aiming to win its first NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver’s championship since 2012 with Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Meyer Shank Focused on Improvement
Another team looking to climb the pecking order is Meyer Shank Racing, which had no top-10 finishes last season on road and street courses with drivers Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, Conor Daly, Tom Blomqvist and Linus Lundqvist.
MSR isn’t fielding an IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship team in 2024 for the first time since it joined the GRAND-AM series in 2004, and the increased focus on its NTT INDYCAR SERIES program already appears to be paying off.
Felix Rosenqvist joined MSR from Arrow McLaren after last season, and his impact was instant in his new role as team leader alongside rookie teammate Blomqvist. “FRO” led the opening day of testing Monday with a lap time surpassed only by Herta over the three days.
Blomqvist, who struggled in his first three NTT INDYCAR SERIES starts last season, showed big improvement at this test. He was fourth quickest Tuesday, topped only by Herta, six-time series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing and Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren.
Wednesday was even better for Blomqvist, who won the Rolex 24 At Daytona twice and the 2022 IMSA prototype championship with MSR. He was second quickest overall, less than two-tenths of a second behind two-time 2023 race winner Kirkwood.
Brighter days could be ahead for MSR.
Steady Going for Ganassi
While Andretti Global and Meyer Shank Racing made headlines with their chart-topping performance this week, the reigning series champions at Chip Ganassi Racing reminded everyone the race for the championship goes through them.
CGR placed a driver in the top three overall in all three days. Even more impressive, it was a different driver each day.
Two-time and reigning series champion Alex Palou was third Monday, less than three-tenths behind Rosenqvist. Dixon was second Tuesday, about two-tenths behind Herta. And 2022 INDY NXT by Firestone champion Linus Lundqvist, who joined the team for his rookie season this year, was third Wednesday, less than four-tenths behind Kirkwood.
Palou, Dixon and Lundqvist were the only drivers in CGR’s five-driver lineup for 2024 to test this week at Homestead-Miami.
Canapino Getting Comfortable
Agustin Canapino was one of the most compelling stories of the 2023 season, jumping from his status as a touring car legend in his native Argentina to competing in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES for the full season with Juncos Hollinger Racing despite almost no open-wheel experience.
Canapino did better than most expected, finishing second in the series’ Rookie of the Year race and producing a best finish of 12th three times for the small team.
But Canapino must have raised even more eyebrows this week amid the palm trees of South Florida, as he ended up fifth overall Monday and Tuesday in his JHR machine. He was the quickest among the runners Tuesday morning before handing the car to new teammate Romain Grosjean.
Fifth out of 10 may not look that impressive, but consider the drivers slower than Canapino on Monday: two-time series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske and multiple race winner Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. On Tuesday, Canapino was quicker than two-time series champion Will Power of Team Penske and Grosjean.
Testing isn’t always the most accurate barometer of performance, as teams sometimes focus on technical development more than outright speed. Still, it was an impressive performance by the Argentine.
Coyne Taking a Look
Dale Coyne Racing remains the only team still to name its driver lineup for the 2024 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, but the team was at the test this week, taking a look at a few familiar names.
NTT INDYCAR SERIES veteran Jack Harvey tested Monday and Tuesday with the Coyne team, while 2023 INDY NXT by Firestone rookie standout Nolan Siegel climbed into the car Wednesday.
Siegel, who won two races and finished third in the INDY NXT standings last year, continued to show why he’s a star on the rise. He ended up sixth quickest Wednesday, ahead of multiple series race winners Alexander Rossi of Arrow McLaren and Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske.
Again, teams have different programs for tests. Still, it was an impressive showing for Siegel, who will join several other INDYCAR SERIES and INDY NXT drivers this weekend in competition in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and then focus on a run at the INDY NXT championship with HMD Motorsports starting at St. Petersburg.