The first of the real testing sessions for the 2013 IndyCar season has just been completed and New Zealand frontrunner Scott Dixon is happy with his progress so far.
The two-time series and Indianapolis 500 champion was second fastest behind ex-Formula One driver Takuma Sato earlier in the week at Sebring, Florida, and isn't overly concerned he didn't top the time charts.
"It's hard to tell, really [who's going fast or not], as the bigger teams like us and Penske run legal," said Dixon.
"You've got someone like Sato, who's probably 30kg underweight. There's different ways of testing. We tend to run more like we would in a race while others will be using push-to-pass on all three straights.
"A lot of the times are pretty irrelevant but the bigger teams' times are more indicative of what might be more real."
Last year the series saw the introduction of the DW12 Dallara chassis and new engine packages and many teams found the going tough, including Dixon's.
It wouldn't be too much of a longbow to draw to say the Kiwi driver had more DNFs last season than he's probably had in his entire IndyCar career.
"Yeah, reliability was a bit of a problem last year but everyone's been working hard to fix that. It's going to be even harder this year as the engines now have to do 3700km as opposed to 2900km last year.
"The other crazy thing is you now have to use the engine you test with at Alabama at the first race in St Petes. It could be a really rough year and harder on the engine manufacturer as well.
"After five engine blow-ups the manufacture doesn't get any more championship points," said Dixon.
The positive thing is that Dixon's engineers, mechanics, pit crew and sundry have had the off-season to tweak, fettle and improve on a package that was in its infancy in 2012. All the teams and drivers are pleased with the progress and development of the car for upcoming season.
Aesthetically the cars may still look like the rear end needs a workout programme, but safety and handling have been improved.
"The tests are more of a shakedown after all the work done throughout the winter. There are new aero combinations and mechanical changes. We're trying to figure out the right direction to go in before the next two-day test at Barber [Alabama].
"We're trying to get a lot of the big- picture things refined a little bit. There's been some good safety improvements on the side of the tubs and other places that you can't see when the body work is in place," said Dixon.
On top of a few mechanical changes, there's also been a number of race format tweaks. Series organisers have introduced standing starts to a number of events, which should prove interesting, as the cars are not designed to launch from a standing start.
"The cars are getting more refined and we've had a weigh loss programme over the winter to try and strip some weight out of the car.
"This year we have probably three standing starts and the car's not really designed for these.
"The clutch system in the car isn't built for standing starts as the bite points change all the time.
"The sensors don't calculate how far the throw is, rather how compressed the master cylinder is," said Dixon. With such a system a number of drivers are going to struggle, especially with consistency. He said he'd done about 30 practice starts and only five were any good.
In recent years, Dixon's Target Chip Ganassi Racing team has won five of the past six championships.
The Kiwi has not finished outside the top three in the past six years and won his second title in 2008, (teammate Dario Franchitti won in 2007 and 2009-2011).By Eric Thompson