BY JIM MILLER WEEKLY INDYCAR WRITER
With only five races remaining in the season teams took advantage of the week off before the Honda Indy200 at Mid-Ohio on Sunday, July 31 to look at possible drivers for 2017. Current and former Indy Lights drivers were given the chance to navigate their way around the 2.258 mile, 13-turn permanent road course this past Thursday in hopes of being invited to the next level of their careers.
Team configurations will be changing. A few higher-profile drivers of note: Tony Kanaan’s current one-year contract at Chip Ganassi Racing ends after this season, and Juan Pablo Montoya’s contract with Team Penske is done at season’s end as well. Add Alexander Rossi as a possible “Won and Done” after his win at the Indy 500 he has been very open about his desire to head back to Formula One if given a contract, which with his increased notoriety and success it is very likely Andretti Autosports will have his seat to fill. And toss Josef Newgarden into the mix with his contract at Ed Carpenter Racing coming to an end after this year. It has been generally noted that Newgarden has demonstrated the skills and determination that fits the Penkse or Ganassi model, and financials.
Five talented drivers were put in the seat of their dream rides; Felix Rosenqvist, RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Zachary Claman De Melo, and Robin Frijns. Each driver comes with his own list of accomplishments and merit for INDYCAR consideration:
Felix Rosenqvist, has won three Indy Lights races this season with Belardi Auto Racing. He is also a two-time winner of the Macau Grand Prix and the reigning European F3 champion. He was invited by Chip Gamassi Racing to drive the No. 9 Target Chevrolet usually populated by Scott Dixon.
“The car was incredible to drive, it was unlike anything I’ve driven,” said Rosenqvist, the 24-year-old from Sweden. “There’s so much downforce and so much grip, it’s crazy. It was really fun and I think we had a good test. We got up to speed quite quickly.”
RC Enerson competed in the first eight Indy Lights races this season for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian, with a best finish of third place at Phoenix International Raceway. Enerson spent his day driving a Dale Coyne Racing Honda.
Also testing were Jack Harvey and Zachary Claman De Melo with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Harvey, a 23-year old Brit, has competed the past two seasons in Indy Lights capturing six wins with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and finishing second in the championship both years. And Claman De Melo, the youngest at only 18 years old, has three top-five finished in his rookie Indy Lights campaign with Juncos Racing. The Canadian also tested in a Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.
Harvey’s day unfortunately ended earlier than planned when he spun and made contact with the wall. Harvey was uninjured but the No. 5 Arrow Honda normally driven by James Hinchcliffe could not be repaired in time to return to the track.
“Up to that point, everything was going really well,” said Harvey. “It was like a dream day up to that point. You don’t want to have that sort of accident on a test day, especially when I’m borrowing someone’s car. Feeling pretty bad about that.”
Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti looked into his stable of drivers in the Formula E series and brought Robin Frijns, a 24-year old from the Netherlands, to share the No. 28 DHL Honda with Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Frijns was a Formula One test driver in 2013-14 but hadn’t been behind the wheel of a high-downforce car since then. He has spent the past two years in Formula E and the Blancpain GT series in Europe.
“It’s been more than two years since I drove a downforce car,” Frijns said after his day in the Indy car. “The car is in one piece, I’m in one piece, overall I feel pretty happy.”
Aside from Hunter-Reay and Dixon mentoring the young drivers a number of IndyCar veterans also took advantage of the day to test their set-ups for this coming weekend’s race. Included in the day were the four Team Penske drivers (Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power), defending Mid-Ohio winner Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, AJ Foyt Racing’s Jack Hawksworth and Takuma Sato, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan, KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing’s Conor Daly, and Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot and JR Hildebrand who filled in for Josef Newgarden who was resting his sore wrist after hitting the wall in last week’s Honda Indy Toronto race but still insisted on taking a few laps late in the day.