Photographer: Watkins Glen International
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ANDRETTI TRIO HAS SUCCESSFUL INDYCAR TEST AT WATKINS GLEN

Seven Andretti drivers took the 3.4-mile circuit of Watkins Glen International yesterday, participating in a Verizon IndyCar Series test. Of those seven drivers, three climbed into the cockpit of an Indy car for the very first time. Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires drivers, Dean Stoneman, Shelby Blackstock and Dalton Kellett borrowed their INDYCAR teammates’ Honda-powered machines for a total of 123 laps around the permanent road course in the morning session before the rain fell and cut time short of the remaining five hours.

Dean Stoneman, who borrowed the No. 28 DHL car from 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, clocked the fastest time of the Indy Lights drivers that participated in the August 11 test. With a best time of 1:27.14 within his 38 laps around the 11-turn course, the Indy Lights championship contender thinks his run went very well, given he had never driven an Indy car before.

“Yesterday was a new learning curve for me and I had been really looking forward to it!” Stoneman stated, “We went out this morning for 25-laps, two stints consisted of new-tire runs. We started by getting a feeling for the car with a quick out-lap and an in-lap, so the engineers look over that data. I took about five laps for me to get a feeling for the car. It was really enjoyable to drive the car and over the runs we were able to get quicker and quicker, making improvements more and more. I was looking at Alexander [Rossi]’s data compared to mine and just seeing where I could improve. There are some high-speed corners that just rely on confidence from me - knowing what the car is going to do and the way it behaves. The car is quite physical to drive, but it is a great car. I think I did a great job this morning, bare in mind that I have never driven an Indy car before.”

Indy Lights veteran, Shelby Blackstock turned 35 laps in the No. 26 Honda of Carlos Muñoz for his first IndyCar test.  No stranger to the circuit, the 26-year-old set a fast lap of 1:28.76.  Blackstock made comment about his career coming full circle at The Glen - he attended his first race working as a crew member at the track in 2009 and returned to the track yesterday to achieve another goal. 

“The day went pretty well yesterday and it was great to be back at Watkins Glen – it was awesome to have my first IndyCar test there especially since that is where it all started for me in racing,” Blackstock exclaimed. “The day started out good, we progressed really well. Once we put on the sticker tires, I was able to feel the real weight of the steering. Luckily, when Carlos [Muñoz] jumped into the car right after me, he said it was a bit excessive too.  That was the only fall back I had. We were going to try the steering a bit lighter for the afternoon session, but unfortunately the rain started and we didn’t have the opportunity to go back out. Overall, I am really happy with the experience – I had a blast in the car and seeing how the Andretti INDYCAR team is ran.”

Dalton Kellett shared Marco Andretti’s No. 27 United Fiber & Data / Snapple Honda for his maiden IndyCar test.  The Canadian enjoyed his time getting to know both the track and car while recording a fast time of 1:29.96 within his 50 laps turned.  With future aspirations set on the Verizon IndyCar series, the Engineering Physics graduate of Queens University admired the complete package of the Indy car.

“It felt great to be at Watkins Glen and get behind the wheel of an Indy car. The track was a lot of fun – there are a lot of high-speed corners,” said Kellett. “Getting used to the physicality of the car and track has definitely been an adjustment. The steering wheel was not as heavy as I thought it was going to be but there’s definitely a lot of force on the neck. We were focusing on building up to getting used to the car during the morning session yesterday since these cars are a lot different than the Indy Lights cars. There’s lot of power - the response from the Honda engine is very good - so it was definitely an adjustment to what I am used to with the IL-15.  The car is a great package. It’s a lot of fun to drive, just the way the car handles the curves and the way you can really tackle the entries – and I think that was one of the things that I had been working on (in the morning session) was just getting used to the down force and using the grip on entry. There is a lot of potential there with the car, having more than twice the down force than I am used to. Unfortunately, our time was cut short in the afternoon session due to rain, so we were unable to run as much as we had wanted. It was great working with Marco and his team; they were very helpful to getting me up to speed with the car. “

Each Indy Lights driver split their time in the seat with the respective IndyCar driver for the morning session, while reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi remained in his seat for the session’s entirety, completing a 2016 Rookie Test Day. Once the veteran drivers climbed in to the cockpit of their cars and headed back on track, the trio spent their time on the timing stand listening in on the radio and keeping a close eye on the monitors to learn about timing stand communication and decision-making. The test deemed to be beneficial for the entire team.

“I think it was good from a team perspective,” explained Rob Edwards, Director of Engineering and Race Operations for Andretti Autosport. “All three of the Indy Lights drivers did exactly what we were looking for them to do. We really felt by having the [Indy] Lights drivers drive first, then having the regular drivers get in the car, gave them a chance to really think about what had happened in the morning and how to build on it for the afternoon session. I think all three of them did really well, but from the team perspective we have some unfinished business, as we were unable to complete the program due to weather. Overall, we are happy with the first half of the day, but disappointed with the second half purely because of the unfortunate weather.”

All seven Andretti drivers of the Verizon Indy Car Series and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires will return to Watkins Glen International Labor Day weekend for racing action. The Indy Lights team will begin Round 16 at The Glen Saturday, September 3 at 1:35 p.m. ET. The Verizon IndyCar Series will see the green flag wave over the field Sunday, September 4 at 2:37 p.m. ET. To get the scoop on all things Andretti, follow us on Twitter @followandretti or visit our website at www.andrettiautosport.com.