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Verizon IndyCar Series back to work at Phoenix open test

The fenderless 2018 Indy car had its first en masse showing in the opening day of the preseason open test at ISM Raceway, aka Phoenix Raceway. Twenty-three Verizon IndyCar Series entries took part in six hours of practice on the 1.022-mile oval that will play host to the second race of the 2018 season in April. More than 2,600 laps were completed to the delight of the drivers involved.

"It was nice to get behind the wheel of a car on an oval after everybody has been talking about it for so long," said Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay, driver of the No.28 DHL Honda. "Got to get in there, get a feel for it myself. I liked it. It was good fun. Definitely (the car feels) lighter, a lot lighter than when we were here last year."

The lighter feeling Hunter-Reay referenced is from the universal aero kit every Verizon IndyCar Series competitor is using for the first time this year. The new design with its bold look produces significantly less downforce than the previous competitive aero kits from manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda.

Most of the downforce is now generated from underneath the car, which can make it feel less stable, or lighter, through turns. It puts driver skill front and center in developing a fast car that handles well.

"It's different," reigning series champion Josef Newgarden, driver of the No.1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, said of the 2018 car. "I think there's definitely adjustments that need to be made from last year, obviously. It's useful to have this time and to be able to work through everything because I think we're all going to need it."

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing set the pace in each of the day's three-hour sessions. Defending Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato, who rejoined RLL this season after five seasons away, led the afternoon practice with a lap of 187.022 mph (19.6726 seconds) in the No. 30 Honda.

Teammate Graham Rahal was fastest in the evening practice and quickest overall in the No.15 Honda, at 189.090 mph (19.4574 seconds).

"We're good and Takuma is right behind us," Rahal said. "And frankly, that lap wasn't anywhere near what the potential was. We were on a (19.30-second lap), but I caught traffic.

"The car has pace. Both cars have pace, and so that's awesome. We haven't had a lot of luck here the last few years. We're used to coming here and getting our butts kicked. To be able to come here and be competitive with this aero kit is awesome."

Sato followed up being fastest in the afternoon by running second to his teammate under the lights with a lap of 189.065 mph.

"I was happy to get back behind the wheel," Sato said. "This is our first oval test with the team. It wasn't flawless because we had some electrical issues again, but the engineers deal with it very well. Once we get going, I think we were very comfortable."

Additional Coverage: Video - Verizon IndyCar Series' Scott Dixon tests windscreen

The lone incident of the day came with less than 30 minutes remaining in the evening practice. Rookie Matheus "Matt" Leist spun in the No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet exiting Turn 2, but did not make wall contact.

"I was already doing race stints, we had already done our qualifying (simulation) stint," said Leist, who was fastest in a Thursday test among five rookies and two drivers who had no previous ISM Raceway experience in an Indy car. "Tony (Kanaan, Leist's teammate) was coming out of the pits and I was behind him, and he stopped too much. I was carrying a lot of speed and I lost the rear and it just spun. Fortunately, I didn't make contact."

Team Penske's Simon Pagenaud, who won last year's Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway, was third at night and overall, at 188.430 mph in the No.22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.

"It's awesome to be back at an oval, especially here for me, since my first oval win was at Phoenix last year." said Pagenaud "I just love the new package with this car. It's quite a bit different, but that's the kind of day I love. It's when you have to work really hard with the engineer to figure it out and understand what does what. We got some good understanding today. We have a bit of homework ahead of us. So now we need to recoup and recap what happened today and understand the package. Overall, it's a good start. They're doing a good job with Chevy and I had a blast tonight."

Newgarden clocked in fourth overall, at 188.182 mph.

Newgarden added, "It was an OK day. It's good to get back. It's fun driving the Hitachi car officially today in an official session. We have a little bit of work to do and I feel like we got off to a good start. We'll try and debrief tonight with everyone and see what we can do for tomorrow and make some more progress. Then we'll come back here in April and we'll be ready to rock."

Other driver comments:

James Hinchcliffe (No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "We certainly have things we can build on. I don't really know what we expected (from today), obviously everything is so new. It's funny how for the same fundamental car - the chassis is the same, the suspension's all the same, all the rest of it - how much just a change in the bodywork can affect the setups, what you need to do, and what the car likes, how it behaves. We're all, up and down pit lane, in a bit of a learning process at the moment, and we found some good things, and found some bad things, but it's all part of the process."

Robert Wickens (No.6 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "I thought it was a very productive day. The rookie test yesterday was fairly straightforward, and today was very interesting for me. We got through some setup stuff, got to run in traffic, got to run with a lot of people on track - unlike yesterday where it was a maximum four of the six people were on track at the same time. I thought it all went well. The Lucas Oil team did a great job. I feel very comfortable in the car, which was the first thing I wasn't actually sure about with it being my first oval, and I wasn't even sure if I liked them to be honest. But I do - they're good fun. I'm looking forward to another day on track tomorrow."

Scott Dixon (No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "There are a lot of unknowns here with the new car to be honest. We are trying to do a lot of things and go through a lot of changes to understand this car. One of the main focuses here at the Phoenix test is mechanical grip. We are spending time developing it and doing our homework with the goal of being ready for the start of the season, as well as when we come back here for the race in the PNC Bank car."

Will Power (No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "Not bad. We ran through a lot of different stuff, and we got to do a full-tank run, and running in some traffic. We're making some progress with the new car."

Tony Kanaan (No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): "Positive day for us. First day on the oval, first day with this car. A lot of work to do trying to understand what we need when we come back, but I'm happy. We had a trouble-free day apart from problems that we had that were not up to us to solve them - some telemetry issues and software issues. Slowly we're getting the team to work better together. It's nice to have the Boss (A.J. Foyt) around all the time. He lights up the timing stand for sure."

Sabastien Borudais (No. 18 Sealmaster Honda): "A bit of a trying day for us. We unloaded a car that was fairly similar to what we had mechanically last year and that wasn't awesome, so we tried something different and it's probably a bit worse. I don't know. We have work to do. I think we can kind of fake it on new tires, but that's not going to last too long. We just need to review the data and try and find something better."

The second day of the open test follows the same schedule as Friday, with practice set for 3-6 and 8-11 p.m. ET Saturday. Both sessions stream live on ISM Raceway is opening the track free to fans for Prix View Day, with a driver autograph session held between the practices.

The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season consists of 17 races and opens with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11 (12:30 p.m. ET, ABC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). The Phoenix Grand Prix takes place April 7 at ISM Raceway (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).

Afternoon practice results - Evening practice results

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