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By Lenny Sundahl

There is only so much that can be gleaned from a testing session; generally speaking, the whole point is not to see who’s fastest, but to make sure that everything’s working right and fine-tune the team’s operation before things start mattering. Yet, after last week’s two-day test at the Thermal Club, a few things stood out–some no-brainers, but a few surprises as well…

photo: Indycar


While none of Chip Ganassi Racing’s drivers led a test session, 11 of their combined 16 sessions–across six-time Indycar champion Scott Dixon, defending Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson, 2021 Indycar champion Alex Palou, and rookie Marcus Armstrong–finished with top-10s, with Ericsson having the fastest time overall through the two days. Given the caliber of drivers he now surrounds himself with, Armstrong looks to have taken to his new team well, and should be as competitive as his teammates out of the gate at St. Petersburg.


The other three sessions were paced by Andretti Autosport cars: two by Colton Herta, and one by Kyle Kirkwood, who has immediately shown himself to be Herta’s equal. Save for the second session, in which Kirkwood only completed one lap due to a clutch issue, his was overall the faster of the two. But this emphasizes something we’ve seen in the past: the Andretti pace has not consistently been matched with a complete full-race effort, with breakdowns, mistakes and over-aggression plaguing their weekends in the last couple of seasons. Add to that last season’s dismal chemistry–which may have eased with the move of Kirkwood in place of Alexander Rossi–and 2023 will hopefully be a needed rebound season for the team as a whole.


Always fast in a single lap, defending champion Will Power never dropped outside the top 6 on the timesheets, as the Team Penske operation moved along in its usual businesslike fashion. Scott McLaughlin and Josef Newgarden, were further down the order, though consistently in the sharp half of the field. Perhaps most importantly, all three drivers ran at least 97 laps across the two days, with McLaughlin leading all drivers with 111 laps run.


In contrast, McLaren had a rough opening day of testing, and as a result all three of their drivers–Pato O’Ward, Felix Rosenqvist, and new arrival Alexander Rossi–were in the bottom six in laps run. They improved notably in the second day, and the hope is that this progression continues into St. Petersburg to have them right there with the top teams when it matters most.

photo: Indycar


Three notable drivers from otherwise midfield teams to showing good pace:

Christian Lundgaard–the second-year driver for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has been impressing ever since coming to the series, and was right up with the top drivers all through the test. He scored RLL’s only podium last season, at the Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis, and looks good to build on that performance.

Simon Pagenaud–After sharing the win with the rest of the Meyer Shank Racing team at the Rolex 24 at Daytona–their second in a row–Pagenaud was consistently in the top 10 throughout the Thermal sessions. Outside of that 2022 Daytona win, his first season with MSR was a thorough disappointment, but he heads into St. Petersburg with some positive momentum that hopefully converts into race results.

Callum Ilott–In their first full seasons in Indycar, Ilott and Juncos Hollinger Racing showed modest but positive results in 2022, and their pace improved over the course of the two days at Thermal Club. They will be a team to watch for surprises as the season progresses.


Ed Carpenter Racing and Dale Coyne Racing were mostly quiet during the sessions, but were notable for how much running they managed: both Coyne drivers, David Malukas and Sting Ray Robb, led everyone with 122 laps run each, and ECR’s Rinus VeeKay ran 110, three of the top four in laps for the Thermal sessions. The other Carpenter driver Conor Daly, also ran a respectable 94 laps.


Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s other two drivers, Jack Harvey and Graham Rahal, were down the order, which stands out particularly because of how high up the timesheets Lundgaard was. Harvey, Meyer Shank’s Helio Castroneves, and Andretti’s Devlin DeFrancesco will be on the hot seat this season, with chatter already starting that Castroneves will be on the way out in favor of MSR’s defending IMSA co-champion Tom Blomqvist.

Meanwhile, Juncos Hollinger’s selection of Argentine touring car ace Agustin Canapino has so far turned out well; while he’s not lighting the world on fire, he’s not lighting his car on fire either, and was consistently either at the end of the midfield or the front of the backmarkers, depending on your optimism level.

Someone must be last, and it looks like, as last season, this will be AJ Foyt Racing. Their drivers, Santino Ferrucci and Benjamin Pedersen, brought up the rear in two of four sessions–three of four if you consider the one session where Kirkwood only turned a single lap–and never got out of the bottom third of the timesheets. Last season the Foyt stable made up the bottom three cars in entrant points, and it looks to be another long season for the Texas team.

photo: Indycar