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AJ Foyt Racing driver Matheus Leist topped the speed charts among the eight drivers in action during the IndyCar rookie test session at Phoenix on Thursday.
The Indy Lights graduate turned a best lap of 19.9700 seconds at 184.236mph in his Dallara-Chevrolet to narrowly eclipse Dale Coyne Racing’s Pietro Fittipaldi, who was experiencing an open-wheel car on an oval for the first time.
Leist won at the first two ovals he raced on in Lights last year – Indianapolis and Iowa – but the Thursday test was his Phoenix debut.
“The car is fast and a big jump from Indy Lights, but it needs pretty much the same technique as Lights so that’s good for me,” he said.
Formula V8 3.5 champion Fittipaldi sealed a part-season deal with Coyne earlier this week, having already tested on the Sebring and Sonoma road courses.
He clocked up 139 laps at Phoenix and set his best time, 0.0969s off Leist, two laps from the end of the day.
“It was just amazing. I did ovals five years ago but in stock cars and only on half-mile tracks, so first time I went out today, it was a bit intimidating,” Fittipaldi told Autosport.
“It’s very fast, the steering wheel is really heavy in the middle of the corner, and on the exit, the wall is coming up pretty quick!
“It was all about getting up to speed slowly. It’s not like trying a road course for the first time, where some corners are forgiving and you can make a mistake. Here, if you make a mistake, you’re going to hit the wall.”
Team boss Dale Coyne was extremely enthusiastic about Fittipaldi’s performance, which came three days after he had got within 0.2s of four-time Champ Car champion team-mate Sebastien Bourdais at Sonoma.
“Pietro’s doing great, he’s doing everything right so far,” Coyne told Autosport.
“The Sonoma test was great, first of all. Penske 1-2-3, then a Coyne 4-5, with a driver who’d never been there. That was good.
“And now here, he took to the oval right away.
“We started the day with higher downforce on, higher than we’re allowed to run on these cars, just to give him a feel for the track.
“Then we took it away and warned him the car was going to feel a lot different, and he just shrugged and said it was no big deal.
“He just lifted more for the corners, and went faster on the straights and he went quicker. So another great performance.”
Third fastest time went to Robert Wickens in the #6 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Dallara-Honda, a quarter of a second off the top spot.
Spencer Pigot, who did not participate in the Phoenix race last year as he was sharing his car with team boss Ed Carpenter in 2017, was fourth fastest, ahead of Andretti Autosport’s newest recruit Zach Veach, and the Juncos Racing Dallara-Chevrolet of Kyle Kaiser.
Marco Andretti shook down Veach’s car, and narrowly beat Gabby Chaves in Harding Racing’s first short-oval outing.