Friday, October 28, 2011

A Test On The Road To Indy

The Chris Griffis Memorial "Road to Indy" test runs today and tomorrow at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and as usual, Junior Open Wheel Talent has this sort of business nicely covered. However, I did want to comment on a few of the driver tests I thought seemed interesting or noteworthy. Even if you aren't normally a huge Mazda Road to Indy fan, there are some names as an IndyCar fan you might want to keep tabs on:

Shelby Blackstock: Reba McEntire's son will be testing at IMS for Andretti Autosport in a USF2000 car. Blackstock's been busy in Skip Barber, but already seems to have plans to run a full Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge schedule for Roush in 2012. It'll be interesting to see if this leads anywhere.

Peter Dempsey: Dempsey never seemed to get a square deal in 2011, what with O2RT being suspended mid-season and missing a week before signing with Andretti Autosport. It'd be nice to see the driver get a full Lights drive for next year; few deny he's got the talent to do something if he can get a few breaks.

Armaan Ebrahim: The F2 Indian driver will be testing with Jensen Racing for Indy Lights, and to put it lightly, opinions are mixed on his talent level. He didn't have many superb finishes in F2, but was proficient in overtaking. He might be one of the biggest cipher on this level if he goes to Lights next year.

Thomas McGregor: The young Canadian was just announced as an Andretti USF2000 driver for 2012, and this will be our first chance to see him in a car for the team. He'll be one of the few drivers already certain of his '12 plans when he takes to the track today and tomorrow.

Shannon McIntosh: After a rookie USF2000 season with Cape/Wayne Taylor, Shannon will be testing alongside J.R. Smart for Pabst Racing. She remains a fan favorite for ladder series fans, so folks will be watching to see just where 2012 takes her.

Petri Suvanto: The "Flying Finn" will presumably be moving up to Star Mazda after winning USF2000's championship. He'll be testing with Team Pelfrey, alongside British Formula Renault 2.0 driver Jack Hawksworth.

Tristan Vautier: The Star Mazda champ takes a Lights test with Team E; this will be his first time in the type of car we'll get to see him in for 2012. Vautier was very sharp in Star Mazda; it'll fun to see how he makes the transition to the next level.

Zach Veach: Veach is pretty sharp at the entire publicity business (seriously), and as such he's become one of the more recognizable names in the ladder series. He got to finish the season in Star Mazda last year, managing a podium result, and you have to think his destination with Andretti is the same this year.

Webb straps back in this weekend.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
Oliver Webb: Webb will be in a Sam Schmidt car for the test, and frankly, it's just going to be good to see a Schmidt car back on track after some had questioned if the team would return to INDYCAR for 2012 after the tragedy at Las Vegas. One test does not a commitment make, but it's still a good sign, and there's an article (still-unconfirmed) suggesting Webb will go to SSM in '12.

It's going to be cold in Indy, with a high of 53/54 both days. It'll be worth following to see how the drivers do on the IMS road course, which is what they'll be utilizing for the test. With 43 cars currently on the entry list, there's a pretty good chance we'll see some last-minute tweaks, additions, cancellations, or other changes along the way.

I plan on taking at least one of the kids to the track Saturday morning. It's going to be chilly, but kids love race cars, whether it's a full-blown IndyCar, or something like the Star Mazda or Lights machines we'll see during this test. It'll be a good opportunity to see some different drivers, check out the ladder talent, and spend some quality time at IMS. Of course, the odds are tough for many of the drivers to one day run the Indy 500 or have a permanent spot in the IZOD IndyCar Series. But I rather like the idea that for at least a couple of them, I'll be able to say, "I saw them test at Indy back before they made it to the top".

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