Rookies learn valuable lessons about ovals
AT TEST AT AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAYTristan Vautier entered the Firestone Indy Lights test at Auto Club Speedway knowing he had a lot to learn.The Sam Schmidt Motorsports driver got his first lesson on his first oval lap around the 2-mile oval."The first time I got out there, I could hear the wind in my helmet and my helmet was moving around because I didn't know you had to have a wicker on," said Vautier, driver of the No. 77 Mazda Road to Indy/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car. "(Auto Club Speedway is) a really big oval and it's easier to drive a Firestone Indy Lights car on an oval than a (Star) Mazda. It's more stable and doesn't move around as much. It was good. I need to keep learning a lot of things."Vautier was one of eight rookies to participate in the one-day test at the track which will host the Firestone Indy Lights season-finale in September. Carlos Munoz of Andretti Autosport led the test with a lap of 38.0635 seconds, 189.158 mph, set in the morning session in the No. 26 Team Dialy-Ser car. His teammate Sebastian Saavedra led the afternoon session with a lap of 38.4536 seconds, 187.239 mph in the No. 27 Team AFS car.Firestone Indy Lights race director Tony Cotman came away impressed with the rookies and the veterans who turned more than 800 total laps."For the rookies, it was a bit of a difficult learning curve, particularly for those who had minimal oval experience," said Cotman, who will decide the oval status of the rookie drivers following the Indianapolis Open Test on May 11. "Today was all about seat time and all in all I hope they came away with good experience and they understand what they need to do. When we get to Indianapolis, that will be the test to see what they've learned."There was one incident in the test as rookie Darryl Wills, who turned 83 laps in the morning session, saw his test cut short when he hit the SAFER Barrier in Turn 4 with the right side of his car. Wills was uninjured in the crash."We might have had a tire failure," he said. "The ambulance driver said he heard a loud pop and looked up and I was headed for the wall. It's a shame, really. The car was doing great and it was going around almost by itself. It just cut loose going into the corner."Still it was a good learning day for Wills and the other rookies."It was different from anything I've done," Wills said. "This track is really easy to drive and the ovals are a lot of fun. You have to be very precise with your line and I enjoyed bringing the car in with the (anti-roll) bars. That was the first time I've really done that. Seeing what that does and watching the lap times improve was a lot of fun."TEST DAY QUOTEBOOK:CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 26 Team Dialy-Ser): "It was an amazing first day on the oval. My first lap was amazing with the banking. Everything was so quick in the beginning, but I got used to it, really fast. I was fast from the beginning and it was nice to have this test day. I had a bit of a race with Sebastian (Saavedra) at the end of the day so I could learn how the car works in traffic. It was really fun."SEBASTIAN SAAVERDRA (No. 27 Team AFS): "It was a very productive day. We took advantage of every time that we could so we could get Carlos comfortable and get myself back in Indy Lights mode. It was a successful day on the job. We started with a very good car and worked our way to make it better both in race mode and in qualifying mode."