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Indy 500 Open Test Guide: Ilott in, Abel out, Larson in traffic and other stories to follow

Written by Archie O’Reilly

The NTT IndyCar Series returns to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) oval on Wednesday 10th and Thursday 11th April for the annual Indianapolis 500 Open Test ahead of the Month of May festivities. DIVEBOMB gives an overview on everything you need to know and key stories to follow across the test…

Oval veterans, ROPs and refreshers

The two-day open test commences with a five-minute period for teams to run installation laps, followed by a session for oval veterans from 09:05 am until 11:00 pm ET. This has been brought forward by two hours amid the threat of inclement weather during the test, particularly on Thursday. 

The ‘oval veterans’ label predominantly consists of drivers that have competed in an oval race since the last Indy 500. This means one-off entries Conor Daly and Ryan Hunter-Reay - for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing - and Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Takuma Sato will feature. Callum Ilott will also be a part of this session as he deputises for David Malukas at Arrow McLaren.

Then comes a two-hour period from 11:00 pm until 01:00 pm ET when Rookie Orientation Programmes (ROPs) and refreshers will be run.

Oval rookies Kyle Larson, Marcus Armstrong, Linus Lundqvist and Tom Blomqvist ran their IMS ROPs in October and are eligible to run the initial veterans session. But Kyffin Simpson, Christian Rasmussen and Nolan Siegel will partake in this second session as they still need their first taste of the IMS oval despite recently passing an ROP at Texas Motor Speedway.

This will see drivers have to show their ability to control the car by running a set number of laps in gradually increasing speed brackets before being allowed to be on track with all cars.

As part of the refresher aspect of the segment, Marco Andretti and Pietro Fittipaldi will be on track due to a period without an oval race. Last year’s Indy 500 was Andretti’s last appearance and Fittipaldi has not competed in an oval event since 2021 having returned to the series this year

Late Dale Coyne Racing addition Katherine Legge will also have to run a refresher programme having not competed in IndyCar since last year’s Indy 500.

Valuable time for all-car running

The rest of the test is more simple. Following the veteran, ROP and refresher running, there will essentially be free-reign test running for teams as they attempt to test different set-ups and possible development concepts ahead of May. 

This includes running from 01:00 pm until 06:30 pm ET on Wednesday - extended by two-and-a-half hours compared to initial plans. Running from 10:00 am until 04:00 pm on Thursday, with hot stops allowed in the final hour, is still planned for now. This scheduling likely remains subject to some change amid the ominous forecast, with IndyCar not running on ovals in any sort of wet weather.

The annual reminders have to be given that the timings, which are split into both a tow and no-tow order depending on whether runs are done in traffic, are not gospel - as with any test, especially given a difference in conditions between April and May. It is usually most important to see which cars look strong in traffic, albeit development is always paramount for teams.

The temperatures will be different in over a month but any running is better than no running for teams, who spend much of their off-seasons focusing on the Indy 500 as well as the rest of the season. It is a good opportunity to better refine plans for the considerable amount of practice time in the fortnight prior to the race.

Ilott in for Arrow McLaren

Free agent Callum Ilott completed the first two events of the season for Arrow McLaren - in the season-opening race in St. Petersburg and the $1 Million Challenge exhibition event at the Thermal Club - with new signing David Malukas recovering from surgery on a dislocated wrist

The suggested six-week recovery period after having his stitches removed suggested Malukas would likely be available for the open test at IMS. But the team has confirmed he is not yet ready to return to the car and will miss the Grand Prix of Long Beach next week.

A replacement has not been announced for Long Beach, with Ilott unavailable due to World Endurance Championship commitments.

It compounds a nightmare start to the year for Malukas, who will enter the Month of May without the same level of preparation as others if he is fit to compete, on top of missing out on further race experience. He has already missed valuable testing time too. 

The decision to stick with Ilott for the test, as opposed to a possible outing for 2013 Indy 500 winner and now-Sporting Director Tony Kanaan, would appear to affirm McLaren’s belief in Ilott as a future full-time option for the team. He has been competitive with teammates Pato O’Ward and Alexander Rossi and has evidently impressed the team sufficiently.

And, after overcoming a tumultuous month of car trouble in 2023, it would seem last year’s 12th-place finisher in the Indy 500 is firmly in the picture if Malukas is not cleared come the start of next month’s running.

Abel Motorsports miss the test again

When RC Enerson arrived at the second of IndyCar’s annual Content Days decked out in his Abel Motorsports overalls, it seemed as though last year’s debutant team were set to head into the 2024 Indy 500 campaign much more prepared than in 2023. 

They missed last year’s test but Enerson still made the field without having to compete in Last Chance Qualifying, albeit an issue in the race brought their day to a premature end. Speaking in January, Enerson was very confident that the team would make the test and have “double the amount” of time to prepare for the 2024 event.

But things have not worked out this way. Last month, Enerson advertised on Facebook that a primary partner is still required for the effort and nothing has been sorted in advance of the test.

Enerson felt the team would have been in an even stronger position having made the open test last year - able to refine their race car more as opposed to a pure focus on qualifying. But they are now set to enter May on the back foot again, whether with Enerson or another driver.

Legge fills a second TBA slot

Dale Coyne Racing are another team that were initially listed as a ‘TBA’ on the entry list for the open test - right up until the day prior.

It took until the week prior to the opening race of the season before drivers that would begin the campaign were revealed - an announcement during which rookie Nolan Siegel was confirmed to be running the Indy 500 as part of a four-event deal on top of his Indy NXT sophomore year. And the remainder of their lineup for May is now clear.

Katherine Legge is the driver Coyne have opted to sign to fill the vacant No.51 seat. She was the only Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver to automatically make the field and avoid contending on Bump Day in 2023 on her return to the Speedway after 10 years, ousting her three full-time teammates. 

Legge’s race came to an early end in 2023 but she still proved herself as a safe pair of hands, as has been evident through her exploits as a mainstay in the GTD category of the IMSA SportsCar Championship. 

This is ultimately a further case of uncertainty until the last minute for Coyne. But at least they have the test and a vast amount of practice time to gel and try and avoid having a car in Last Chance Qualifying like last year.

Larson’s first traffic running

Arguably the biggest story of the IndyCar season is the venture of modern NASCAR great Kyle Larson to IMS to take on the Indy 500. He is the first driver since Kurt Busch, in 2014, to attempt ‘Double Duty’ by also running the NASCAR Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway later in the day.

Thus far, Larson’s outings in an Indy car have been limited to his Rookie Orientation Programme on the IMS oval in October and a more recent test at the shorter Phoenix Raceway in February. He is yet to experience running in traffic - possibly the biggest challenge yet to be overcome - and will get that opportunity this week.

Larson is yet to run with any other driver as a marker of his progress, so running with 33 other cars this week will be massively enlightening for the driver of the No.17 Arrow McLaren car, partnered with Hendrick Motorsports, in learning where he stacks up.

Valuably, he comes into the test having had the chance to become familiar with intricacies such as pit stops, plus some of the different buttons and means of adjustment, despite Tony Kanaan - in a mentoring role - ensuring Larson’s learning has been gradual. But the open test will be Larson’s greatest test yet, coming in the thick of the start of the NASCAR season.

It will be a fascinating early insight in what could be expected throughout the Month of May. His progress will be a real watchpoint through the test and week of practice in the lead-up to qualifying next month.

Lighter cars… faster testing speeds?

Initially, when IndyCar’s new hybrid system was set to be introduced from the outset in 2024, drivers were to be faced with the challenge of adapting to the IMS oval with the new technology. That will no longer happen given the delay until mid-season, but the cars are still fitted with lighter components in anticipation for the hybrid unit.

Keen eyes will be kept on whether times are exceeding those from last year’s test, which saw Josef Newgarden top the time sheets with a fastest average lap speed of 227.686 miles per hour. 

The track record will not be threatened this week with the power not turned up as high as it is during the qualifying segment of the two-week May event. But, come qualifying weekend, there may be a chance of speeds getting close to record-breaking heights. The test should offer an early insight into whether increases on 2023’s speeds are to be expected given the lighter cars.

Will Rahal Letterman Lanigan rebound?

It is hard to suggest there will be more eyes on any team aside from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL). Their three full-time cars were required to return to the track on Sunday in their fight to make the field, with Graham Rahal’s No.15 and Jack Harvey’s No.30 RLL entries ultimately having to fight to see who would be bumped from the field.

Harvey pipped his teammate by the finest of margins, seeing son of team owner Bobby Rahal face the same fate he suffered himself during his racing days. It was the low point of a poor year for the team on ovals, with Rahal even going as far as saying the car was the worst he had driven on an oval at one point during the late-season short oval swing.

The team’s returning drivers, Rahal and Christian Lundgaard, have both spoken about the team working hard to turn their oval woes around during the off-season. And, once cars emerge on track at IMS on Wednesday, there should be a clear indication of how much RLL have actually progressed as a result of their off-season work.


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