1. Wheldon puts 2012 car through paces at Iowa
2. Wilson making steady progress in recovery
3. Star Mazda frontrunners earn test days
1. Wheldon puts 2012 car through paces at Iowa: In two days of testing the 2012 prototype chassis, Dan Wheldon drove almost the equivalent of an IZOD IndyCar Series race each day on the .875-mile Iowa Speedway oval.
It was time well spent, according to INDYCAR vice president of technology Will Phillips, as the car went through a battery of short and long runs for the first time on an oval. Four road course tests preceded the time at Iowa Speedway, where the IZOD IndyCar Series will compete next June.
"I'm very pleased with how it went," said Phillips, who is overseeing the initial phase of the testing program. "We put in good mileage with no issues at all. We ran all sorts of aero configurations."
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway will play host to the next oval test of the 2012 car next week. Engine manufacturers will commence with their own on-track testing program in earnest in early October, and teams are scheduled to take delivery of their first chassis in mid-December.
"The tests are very disciplined with everyone involved," said Wheldon, the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion. "We have several different manufacturers here that are testing their products: Honda, Dallara, Xtrac and several more so this makes for lots of different components that we need to test during our runs.
"Because this is the first test on an oval, there are measurements that have to be done. Things have to be tested and looked at after each given run so it is always good to be doing stuff like this. This program is very rewarding. The people involved in it, Bryan Herta Autosport team, has done a phenomenal job. The car has really evolved from our first test.
"We have some great manufacturers with a common goal to not only impress the fans with a new car but also build excitement."
Wheldon, who will compete in the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships on Oct. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, said though not all the in-car tools have been at his disposal yet all the drivers will appreciate the additions and safety features.
"INDYCAR has a great momentum right now. One thing I keep saying in the debriefs is that it is going to be difficult to improve significantly with the on-track product," he said. "The races this season have been phenomenal, whether it has been on a road course or an oval so that will be difficult to beat. But we are certainly working on that.
"This is a fresh look and it's more modern with a lot of great things about it. It has only two pedals in the car because of the hand clutch. It has a turbocharged engine. We are going to have multiple engine manufacturers involved, and with all of these changes comes a lot of excitement.
"I think when the team owners receive the 2012 car, they are going to know that Dallara has made every effort to improve on the current car. It's exciting from a safety aspect. There has been a lot of effort that has gone into that. This has been a great program to be involved with and I hope it gives me a leg up for next year."
2. Wilson making steady progress in recovery: Six weeks after sustaining a back injury in a practice crash at Mid-Ohio, Justin Wilson, pilot of the No. 22 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing entry, is on the fast track to recovery
Wilson was involved in a single-car incident in practice for the Honda Indy 200 in July. During the Saturday morning session in Mid-Ohio, Wilson ran off on the exit of Turn 1. As a result, he dropped two wheels off the asphalt and then went hopping through the grass, which then sent the car airborne. Wilson sustained an anterior compression fracture of the fifth vertebra, which has kept him out of the car for the remainder of the season.
The British driver recently returned to training for the first time since his accident.
"If I think back to how I felt immediately afterwards, and compare that with what I can do now, it's been great progress," Wilson said. "It started to get less painful after the first two weeks and a couple of weeks ago I was able to raise my arms above my head for the first time. Now I'm in the swimming pool every day and doing some upper body exercises, so things are starting to feel normal again.".
During the 12-week recovery process, Wilson has had to be treated by bracing. Even though the back brace provided by Dr. Terry Trammell at OrthoIndy has been pretty uncomfortable, it was key to Justin's recovery. Sitting on the sidelines has been hard, but getting back to training is making each day go faster.
"Now I know what a turtle feels like! But it's been worth the discomfort knowing that I'm going about the recovery the right way," Wilson said. "It's obviously been frustrating not being able to drive the No. 22 car. I felt we'd turned the corner on a disappointing start to the season and had genuine hopes of being up near the front in the second half of the year. But it won't be long now until pre-season testing starts and I can focus on 2012."
While Wilson might be fit enough to get in the car for the final race in Las Vegas on October 16th, he doesn't want to take any chances.
"I might be fit enough to drive at Vegas, but for the sake of one race, when I'm not in contention for anything in the championship, it just doesn't make sense," he said. "Jumping in the car after 11 and a bit weeks isn't the right way to see if my back is 100 percent healed or not."
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing will announce Wilson's replacement for the final two races of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season shortly.
3. Star Mazda frontrunners earn test days: Three of the top four finishers in the 2011 Star Mazda Championship got their first taste of Firestone Indy Lights car this week during private tests with Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Davey Hamilton Racing.
Young American driver Connor De Phillippi and Nick Andries, who finished second and third, respectively, in the point standings for Team Pelfrey, took their first laps at Putnam Park on Sept. 20 in a car prepared by Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
J.V. Horto, who finished fourth in Star Mazda for Juncos Racing, joined them for a test on Sept. 23 at Kentucky Speedway in a car prepared by Davey Hamilton Racing.
Also testing at Kentucky in preparation for the final two events of 2011 were Victor Carbone (Sam Schmidt Motorsports), Jorge Goncalvez and Jacob Wilson (Belardi Auto Racing), Oliver Webb (Jensen MotorSport), Brandon Wagner (Davey Hamilton Racing) and Rusty Mitchell (Team E).
The next IZOD IndyCar Series event is the Kentucky Indy 300 on Oct. 2 at Kentucky Speedway. The race will be televised live at 2 p.m. (ET) by VERSUS and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. The next Firestone Indy Lights race is Kentucky 100 on Oct. 2 at the Kentucky Speedway. The race will be televised by VERSUS at Noon (ET).