Drivers Ready For Testing

One hundred seventy days after Scott Dixon was crowned the IndyCar Series champion at Chicagoland Speedway, teams and drivers will re-fire their Honda engines and begin on-track preparations for the 2009 season.

Drivers and teams are scheduled for 10 hours of testing Feb. 24-25 on the 1.5-mile, variable-banked oval at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Rookies will receive an additional five hours of testing on Feb. 23.

"Testing is always important, one just to get back on track," said Vision Racing's Ed Carpenter, who recorded two top-five finishes last season. "That test used to be a little bit more urgent, because that track was also our first race. Now we'll be testing there and not going back until the end of the year, so I think it may change the test a little bit, because you're not going to be testing as specific, getting ready for the event.

"Either way, it's time to get going again. The teams have all probably made minor changes, personnel, different things on the car. It's always exciting to get out and test new stuff and get going again with the guys."

While Carpenter, Dixon and Andretti Green Racing drivers Danica Patrick, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti and Hideki Mutoh are among those returning to the same team in 2009, the test will provide valuable time for acclimation for drivers such as Vitor Meira, Mario Moraes, Will Power and Dan Wheldon, who are moving to different teams.

"It's definitely important for me and Panther Racing in particular, because we've got to figure out where we need to improve as a group so when the season starts we're very, very strong," said Wheldon, the 2005 series champion, who joins Panther Racing after three seasons with Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

"Those first few races for points are very, very important. We're not taking it lightly by any stretch. We're going to work very hard to make sure we come out of the blocks swinging."

Another driver champing at the bit is 2007 series champion Dario Franchitti, who did not compete in the series in 2008.

"When I broke my back (in 2003), I was out of the car for the same kind of time that I was when I went to NASCAR (in 2008), said Franchitti, who will be teammates with Dixon in 2009. "It was easier to get back into the car having driven nothing than driving something else and getting a feel for the car and all that. Testing time is going to be really important."

The Open Test at Homestead-Miami will mark the third consecutive season the IndyCar Series has tested there under the lights in preparation for the start of the season.

The series will also conduct on Open Test on the road course at Barber Motorsports Park March 22-23 prior to the season-opening race on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on April 5.

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Auto Club 500

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