IndyCar: 3 Takeaways from The Thermal Club Open Test

Marcus Ericsson at the 2023 IndyCar Open Test at the Thermal Club (James Black/Penske Entertainment)

The 2023 IndyCar Series season is officially underway as the annual “Spring Training” open test concluded at The Thermal Club in California.

This week, IndyCar set up camp at The Thermal Club, a private “country club” located in Riverside County, California. Usually, the club’s asphalt is reserved for members to drive on, but for a couple of days, 27 full-time IndyCar drivers commanded the 1.7-mile “Two Palms” layout as we sit exactly a month away from the start of the 2023 season in St. Petersburg.

After two days of testing, the pecking order is still unclear going into 2023.

1. Rookies and Sophomores Trending Upward

While testing at The Thermal Club is a completely new experience for all 27 drivers, it was especially hard for some of the younger drivers throughout the IndyCar field. Rookies Agustin CanapinoSting Ray Robb, and Benjamin Pedersen all found themselves at the bottom third of the timing sheets on both days of testing.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, plenty of younger drivers impressed throughout the two days of testing. 2022 rookie of the year Christian Lundgaard, second-year driver Kyle KirkwoodCallum Ilott, and Kiwi rookie Marcus Armstrong made up spots 2-5 on the second day of testing.

What does this mean for the upcoming season? Given these results, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that one or more of these drivers could fight for a win at some point in the 17-race season. If they’re lucky, one of them could even find themself contending for a championship. Speaking on his second day of testing Armstrong had this to say:

“The way it moves is very natural, if that makes sense. Just, yeah, enjoyable from start to finish.”

The 2023 season could see some very surprising results.

2. New Faces in New Places

As cars were on track for the first time in 2023, multiple high-profile drivers made their debut with new teams.

Alexander Rossi donned the papaya orange of McLaren for the first time as the Californian ran his first laps in the #7 after leaving Andretti Autosport, whom he spent the first seven years of his career with.

In Friday’s press conference, Rossi said that he is “Generally happy” with his time at McLaren so far. However, he still recognized the team’s struggles in saying “…everyone has kind of faced adversity and everyone had just kind of dealt with it.”

Over at A.J. Foyt Racing, Santino Ferrucci is back full-time in IndyCar in the #14 Chevy for the Speedway-based outfit. A team that went through some turmoil in 2022, Foyt is looking to get back on track with Ferrucci and rookie Pedersen.

“It’s on everybody coming together as a team and making this effort a really good effort.” said the 24-year-old. “I’ve basically done everything I can at the shop, working with the guys on the car, making sure everything is there for the organization. I’ve been training in the gym.”

Rossi and Ferrucci aim to start their season off on a good foot in St. Petersburg in just under a month.

3. Ganassi and Penske Looking Strong Again

If there is anything that IndyCar fans can be sure of in 2023, it is that Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske will once again be fighting for wins week in and week out. 2022 marked the 10th year in a row in which a driver from one of those two teams captured the Astor Cup. Last year, it was Team Penske’s Will Power who captured the title.

Based entirely on the results of the two days of testing at The Thermal Club, that streak has a good chance to continue in 2023. Chip Ganassi’s Marcus Ericsson posted the best time of the test at 01:38.4223, and teammates Armstrong, Alex Palou, and Scott Dixon were all inside the Top 10.

On the Penske side, the success was much of the same, with Power, Scott McLaughlin, and Josef Newgarden all sitting inside the Top 12.

With St. Petersburg looming, teams will head back to the shop and get their cars tuned up for the first race of the season.

Next Race

  • Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
  • Sunday, March 5th – 12:00 P.M. on NBC
  • Streets of St. Petersburg – St. Petersburg, Florida
  • 2022 Winner: Scott McLaughlin
Featured Image Credit: James Black/Penske Entertainment