until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Everything you need to know about vital early Indy 500 test

by Jack Benyon
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

In a series where most teams only got one test day prior to the season starting this year, it might seem excessive that IndyCar has a two day Indianapolis test ahead of nearly a whole week of practice next month before the Indy 500.

Of course, it’s far less testing than days gone by where teams would be pounding around the Speedway for most of May.

With the Indianapolis Open Test coming up on Wednesday and Thursday, we’ve highlighted some of the reasons this test is vital and how teams will be getting the maximum out of the opportunity.

Indy 500 schedule

Apr 20-21 Open test
May 17-20 Practice
May 21-22 Qualifying
May 27 Carb Day (final practice)
May 29 Indy 500

Development work

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IndyCar technical chief Bill Pappas told The Race earlier this year he reckons 60-70% of windtunnel time in IndyCar is focused on the Indy 500.

With the open test happening in April, this is the perfect chance for teams to trial a few updates they might be bringing to the 500 in order to see if they work. If they do, great. If they don’t, you have two or three weeks to evaluate the data and find your issue.

This isn’t the case in practice for the race anymore because you start practice on Tuesday and on Saturday you’re qualifying, so there’s only four days of practice before you’re into competitive action.

Rather than going back to the drawing board with just hours or days to use when the 500 fortnight kicks off, after the open test this week you have weeks to settle on issues.

Even without considering the major R&D, it’s a time to even trial small tweaks and reapply things you may have learned through last year.

“For us, the biggest thing is just going to be to understand where we’re at relative to last year and re-establish that baseline going into the upcoming event at the speedway,” The Race IndyCar Podcast’s co-host and AJ Foyt Enterprises driver JR Hildebrand says.

“Some of the teams that have done a lot of development work over the off-season will probably be trying some of that stuff out, just to gather some data.

“So it’s just establishing, in a general sense, your 2022 baseline for the 500 and most of that I think is just going to be focused on race set-up.

“There’s not enough time to be playing around too much with qualifying. That’s really what this test is about.”

Rookie orientation

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IndyCar’s rulebook has specific criteria by which it can ask drivers to complete refresher courses or rookie orientation programmes to ensure they are prepared and capable of racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

These courses involve driving laps within a certain speed, and need to be carried out by rookies or by drivers that haven’t raced on an oval for six months or more.

They’re a formality usually, and drivers – like Romain Grosjean and Jimmie Johnson who were thwarted due to weather in October last year – can pass the process even if they haven’t completed all parts of the refresher or orientation.

Open test schedule

Wednesday (disrupted by rain delays)

Install lap, all cars 1230-12.35hrs ET
Veterans session 1235-1430hrs ET
Rookie Orientation Program and refresher tests 1430-1630hrs ET
Free practice 1630-1830hrs ET


Free practice 1000-1600hrs ET

IndyCar’s rulebook states: “An applicant must demonstrate car control, placement and interaction with other cars on track to the satisfaction of IndyCar.

“IndyCar may require additional testing including, without limitation, testing in close proximity to other cars, before an applicant may be permitted to participate in an open test and/or race.”

There are no rookies at this year’s event who haven’t raced on an oval yet, so all drivers should be able to head straight into the test, do the orientation or refresher tests and then get to work on race set-ups.

Where this might get complicated is it looks like weather might intervene at Indy again this year with cool temperatures forecast.

Don’t pay attention to who is fastest

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It’s far more important to look at how a car is behaving in traffic than to worry about times at this test.

Josef Newgarden topped last year’s running and had a poor car at the 500 in qualifying especially, but in the race he also struggled.

For those watching, looking at how comfortable a car and driver is, is far more important than what the timing boards say.

Returnees getting up to speed

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The Indy 500 celebrates its one-off entrants, the drivers and teams who merely focus on the one race, year on year.

As well as those, there’s the drivers who run partial schedules where Indy might be their first race, so they haven’t driven an IndyCar since the previous year.

The open test is much more laid back than the start of practice for the race next month. There are rookies completing orientation and teams and drivers settling back into the groove of Indy. It makes for a more welcoming climate to return to.

Because when you get to actual practice at the 500, everything is regimented and any rustiness will not help.

There’s the added pressure of not letting your team-mates down in multi-car teams too, because most teams split testing responsibilities between each car to get more work done and gather more data.

One driver might be focusing on qualifying trim and another on the race set-up. So if you’re slow to get up to speed you might well be halting the whole team’s progress in whatever area you’re testing.

New crew members get a look in

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Indy is also relatively unique in the sense that almost every team will have someone coming into the team who will only do the Indy 500 each year.

Racing calendars are gruelling these days and it’s common for IndyCar crews to have mechanics and even engineers who only work at the 500.

The open test gives them a way to settle back in just like the drivers before the ferocity of practice kicks off proper.

As well as the mechanics and engineers, think of the pit crews as well. They are vital in the Indy 500 and can win or lose a race for their team, so getting Indy 500-only pit members up to speed is absolutely crucial.

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