After Wednesday's open test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which saw nine team/driver combinations tackle the Brickyard in the Dallara DW12's new speedway aerodynamics package, there was some concern from the fan base about speeds that fell below the 225 mph target set by INDYCAR.
Marco Andretti led the session with a draft-aided lap of 218.6 mph, leaving the DW12 almost seven miles per hour off the mark that the sanctioning body hopes it will hit in time for the 96th Indianapolis 500 on May 27 -- the competitive debut for the new car on ovals.
Throughout its history, Indy has forged its legacy with both tremendous speed and competitive racing. But as the DW12's ongoing process of refinement continues, it appears that at least some fans are struggling to decide which matters more.
Scott Dixon, who won the '500' in 2008, believes that a balance between the two elements -- and perhaps a new track record at the Speedway -- can eventually be found with the DW12 as teams learn more about it.
"I don't think that's out of the question down the road," he said. "But it's a new package. We have to find our ways and develop ties around the new car. The engine manufacturers have to feel safe in pushing these engines to make sure they're going to get to the end of the race."
As for J.R. Hildebrand, who claimed '500' rookie of the year honors last season, he hopes to see the DW12 be at least as quick as the previous machine, the Dallara IR03. But he also echoed Dixon's thoughts about the top priority being to put on a good show.
"Nobody really cares or probably has any idea how fast individual cars are going as the race is going on, whether it's 210, 220, 230, whatever," he said. "I think that piece of it is sort of unimportant."
The DW12 has had plenty of changes since it first hit the track late last year, ranging from suspension improvements for counteracting weight imbalance to new components for its speedway package such as taller rear wheel guards.
Both Dixon and Hildebrand believe that definite progress has been made from the car's shaky beginnings. But it's been a long learning process and they're still much more to come.
"We didn't leave that test with a lot of options to continue picking up speed," said Hildebrand. "I think everybody is kind of in the same boat. We'll have to sort of figure out I guess as a group where things are really going to be at when we come back in May."
Ana Beatriz returns at Brazil, Indy
After battling through a tough rookie campaign in the IZOD IndyCar Series last year, Ana Beatriz found herself without a full-time ride for 2012. But the Brazilian will be making a return to competition later this month in her homeland.
Beatriz had a one-day test outing with Andretti Autosport at the Sebring pre-season sessions, and it will be Andretti Autosport that fields her No. 25 Ipiranga Chevrolet at both Sao Paulo (Apr. 29) and the Indy 500.
In an interesting bit of news, Conquest Racing -- which has shifted focus to the American Le Mans Series -- will provide what AA calls "operational support" for her Indy program. She will be part of a five-car assault for Andretti at IMS, joining regulars Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, and Marco Andretti, as well as the team's full-time Firestone Indy Lights pilot, Sebastian Saavedra.
In 2011, Beatriz finished 21st in the championship and missed the second round of the season at Barber Motorsports Park due to an injury she sustained in the season-opening event.
Newman-Haas rides again
The venerable Newman-Haas Racing team may no longer be full-time, but that's not stopping them from fielding an Indy 500 entrant for one of Formula One's more experienced drivers.
Jean Alesi, 47, has started 201 F1 events but has never raced on an oval. That will change next month as he steps into a Lotus-powered machine for NHR according to him.
NHR was forced to the sidelines this offseason due to a lack of sponsorship, but has kept busy this season helping out Dragon Racing's two-car operation. We're sure that many will be looking forward to seeing them back at the track.
Three drivers cleared for ovals
Two current IndyCar rookies -- Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden -- and USAC national champion Bryan Clauson have been cleared to compete on the speedways after completing rookie oval testing at Texas Motor Speedway.
Both Pagenaud and Newgarden have impressed with their early season work on the road/street courses, but that last bit about Clauson is the one that jumps out. Clauson's 2010 USAC title allowed him to win a scholarship to compete in the six Lights events on ovals last season. His top finish in that stretch was third at Iowa Speedway.
Now Clauson's next task could be breaking into the field of 33 at Indy this year. Late last year, the decision was made to use his scholarship money for the 2011 USAC championship toward netting a '500' ride.