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Detroit announcements further clarify INDYCAR ‘five-year plan’

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The Verizon IndyCar Series world was a bit different when Derrick Walker, then INDYCAR’s new President of Competition and Operations, declared at the 2013 Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans that the “infamous aero kits” would eventually make their competition debut in 2015. Mark Miles was still in his first year as head of INDYCAR’s parent company, Hulman & Co., Jay Frye was still a year-plus out from being hired by the sanctioning body, and the new Dallara chassis was only in its second year of competition.

During that press conference, Walker also outlined a long-term, 10-year plan for what he saw as INDYCAR’s car evolution and vision through 2021. For the venerable Englishman who ran his own team for nearly two decades after moving from Penske Racing, Walker’s tenure with the series ended at the conclusion of the 2015 IndyCar season.

But the plan executed by the new personnel in terms of IndyCar’s car evolution has largely stuck to the script since, and with today’s pair of announcements at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, it’s solidified a path that veers only slightly from that originally targeted timeline.

In 2017, the manufacturer designed aero kits from Chevrolet and Honda will have their final runs, with those kits frozen this year. New for this year is new brake partner, Performance Friction Corporation, or PFC Brake.

The new-for-2018 universal aero kit will be selected from a pot of 11 or 12 potential suppliers, and likely revealed in the flesh in February. This kit will be utilized for three years in tandem with the current base Dallara IR-12 (Dallara DW12) chassis, with that extended through 2020.

A windscreen or halo-type element could be part of the kit, but the kit may have a couple different solutions.

More efficient downforce is sought from the floor of the car, rather than the top of the car, per driver feedback to INDYCAR. Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi were present today as part of a roundtable meeting, and were among those who noted that’s a direction they’d like to go.

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Frye at Texas last year. Photo: IndyCar

Frye, who succeeded Walker as INDYCAR’s President of Competition and Operations, expanded on the car evolution trajectory in a roundtable meeting with reporters at Detroit today. Selected quotes of note are below:

ON THE PLAN ITSELF 

“I went to the University of Missouri, so this five-year plan is actually really four years, but it could be five. If you look at it in 2017, we’ve announced we’re going to freeze the kits. ’18, ’19 and ’20, so the next three years after that, we’ll have a universal aero kit, and in the year 2021 it gives us an opportunity to do maybe something drastically different, maybe continue the current universal program, but just provides some options.

“The ’18 car, what we’re working on now, which we will unveil completely in the next couple weeks, we looked at the cars over the last 20 years, and what different parts and pieces off of different cars that we liked and we knew that other people liked, and especially that our fans were asking for. So that’s really where the car started, and it’s kind of a reverse engineering exercise. Usually you work on a performance piece first, where this car we worked on the esthetics of it first, hoping that we can create a performance package around it. And besides the performance piece, it also will have a lot of safety initiatives that are very cool, I think.

“An actual drawing of the car will probably be mid-February, and then it’ll be early to middle of the summer before we get on any kind of track testing. And then once that happens, the process will accelerate very quickly. So again, once we were very — the model wind tunnel test was done, I believe, 10 days ago, two weeks ago, so once we got those numbers we were very encouraged by the plan and how it could work. If those numbers would have come back not what we thought, then we would have had to maybe regroup a little bit, but right now we don’t have to.”

Renderings courtesy of IndyCar
Renderings courtesy of IndyCar

ON THE SHAPE OF THE NEW KIT

“(There’s) a lower engine cover, doing some different things in the back, again, a different shape for the side pods. Again, I think you’re seeing, something is going to go on the screen at some point, we’ll show you kind of some preliminary hand drawings that we had of the car. Again, if you look at the one in the middle, it kind of shows, again, a lower engine cover. You’ll notice there’s something that’s not in the rear wheels.”

ON TESTING NEW PARTS THUS FAR

“We tested at Mid-Ohio; we tested at Phoenix. So we’re taking the current car and coming up with some of the ideas we have, we basically took parts off to see what they would do. One of the things on this new car, there’s a lot of parts and pieces that are not on it, so we took most of the downforce of this current configuration, most of the downforce comes from the top. The new car, most all the downforce will be generated from the bottom of the car, so I think these guys will like that.

“When we did the tests, one of the things the drivers mentioned and commented was how we have a great racing product right now, we don’t want to affect that negatively in any way, but this new car, the universal car, we should be able to pull it better. We don’t run into that air that they currently do. So that’s some things that we’re looking at. Performance-wise it should be better because we don’t want to go backwards, and the safety elements to it, there’s some stuff on the side impact that should be much better.”

ON A POTENTIAL HALO/WIND SCREEN

“We are looking at a wind screen or a halo type application. Will that be on the car in ’18, I’m not sure, but we’re full speed ahead designing and developing as soon as possible.

“But again, even that, because of our schedule being so diverse, maybe there’s two different applications. It would be difficult to run a halo at an oval, but what’s to say you couldn’t run a halo at road courses. Yeah, we’re looking at all different scenarios.”

ON SAFETY ENHANCEMENTS THE LAST COUPLE YEARS

“One of the things on safety, too, if you look at last year, this was the dome skids, the tethering, the rear wheel guards to the rear flaps, you know, two years ago we had the issues with the cars getting airborne. Last year at Indy, every car that spun, I don’t know if you noticed, smoke completely engulfed the cockpit. Well, the year before the cars would get light and there would be no smoke when they spun.

“Well, when we saw smoke when the first car spun and the car was completely engulfed with tire smoke, that was perfect. That’s exactly what the — that safety element was supposed to do, keep the car on the ground. It flat spotted the tires. You shouldn’t do a 360 spin or whatever and just be able to drive off. It needs to keep the car on the ground. There’s been other safety things that we’ve done that we will incorporate into the ’18 car that we have in ’17 that we developed in ’16.”

IndyCar: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Recap

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After two days, with both featuring a lot of rain, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is finally in the books for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

With Mother Nature intervening with rain and fury over both days, it’s understandable if there’s a sense of relief that the weekend at Barber Motorsports Park is behind us.

Still, as is usually the case, Barber produced plenty of thrills, and a few spills, across the weekend of racing.

A recap of big stories to emerge from the weekend is below.

Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head…

Mother Nature was ever present on Sunday and Monday, dropping a lot of rain on Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

Rain races can be very fun and entertaining…if they’re able to run. Sadly, that just wasn’t the case on Sunday.

The undulating and picturesque Barber Motorsports Park is one of the most striking road courses in the country, and often produces some of the best racing anywhere. But, the nature of the track and its dramatic elevation changes can make it susceptible to standing water in heavy rains.

And that’s the exact scenario that played out on Sunday, with heavy and persistent rain hitting the track late in the morning, and hanging around the entire day.

While INDYCAR officials and Barber track crews worked tirelessly on Sunday to disperse the standing water, the rainfall was simply too heavy for them to make any impact.

While very unfortunate, postponing the finish of the race to Monday was the right decision, as several drivers explained.

“It’s tough because we have so many people that come out here to watch us,” said eventual race winner Josef Newgarden following the Sunday postponement. “We want to put on a good race. We want to put on a show. So calling the race, running around behind the pace car not running, it’s tough, it’s tough to do that. But I think it was the right thing in the end. When we started the race, the conditions were OK. You could run at that level of rain. Then, it intensified right before that first caution. I think when the caution came out, it got to a point where it was just too much.”

Graham Rahal echoed Newgarden’s sentiments, also emphasizing poor visibility as a big factor in making the conditions too treacherous.

“It was a tough beginning, but when we kind of got going it was OK and kind of fun to challenge for a while, but visibility was a major issue (on Sunday), no doubt. I’m glad that the series postponed it. I would have like to get it in (on Sunday), but that’s life,” he explained.

Rest assured, Firestone makes a strong rain tire, and IndyCar teams, drivers, and track crews are more than equipped to handle a rain shower from Mother Nature. But, Sunday’s weather was simply too extreme.

Newgarden Shines in the Rain and the Sun

Josef Newgarden in Victory Lane at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

About the only thing as powerful as Mother Nature during the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.

Last year’s IndyCar champion was quickest at the end of Friday’s practices, scored the pole on Saturday, and led all but nine laps across Sunday and Monday.

And his leads were always decisive. He quickly gapped the field when racing started on Sunday, holding down a gap of as much seven seconds over teammate Will Power in the early laps. And on Monday, he gapped the field by as much as 27 seconds during the second half of the race.

Only outside circumstances could have prevented Newgarden from getting to Victory Lane…and that nearly happened. A late rain shower in the final minutes created split strategies across the field, with Newgarden among those opting for rain tires, while Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay and Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais gambled by staying out on slicks.

Hunter-Reay, however, jumped into the pits soon after for rain tires, a move that helped him eventually finish second, while Coyne and Bourdais gambled that the track would not get wet enough to force them to pit.

Alas, with only a few minutes remaining and the rain getting heavier, conditions became too slick and Bourdais was forced to pit, handing the lead back to Newgarden and dropping Bourdais to fifth.

“More hectic than you would want at the end,” Newgarden quipped when asked about conditions at the end of the race. “It seemed like it was pretty straightforward all day. We weren’t having yellows. It was dry. Then that rain made it very nerve-racking.

Newgarden added that pitting for rain tires, and doing so early, was their best option, even though it opened the door for others to jump ahead.

“I think for us we did the only thing we could,” he said of their strategy. “We went to rains as soon as it intensified. We had to. I think it was the right thing to do, just because we’re in the lead, we have the most to lose by not putting on rains early.”

The victory, Newgarden’s second of 2018, moves him back into the championship lead with 158 points, 13 ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.

Misc.

  • Ryan Hunter-Reay enjoyed a solid weekend following a troublesome day at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The Andretti Autosport driver ranked in the Top 10 through practice, qualified a strong fourth, and ran a very clean race to finish second, his best finish of 2018, and he now sits only three points out of third place in the championship – he is currently sixth, with 113 points.
  • While teammate Robert Wickens has made more headlines, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe is having one of the best early-season efforts of his IndyCar career. With finishes of fourth, sixth, ninth, and second to his name through four races, Hinch sits fifth in the standings on 118 points, and is keeping himself well within reach of the championship lead. A race win would do wonders for his championship standing, but the consistent start puts him in a good position heading into the month of May.
  • Conversely, four-time champion Scott Dixon has yet to finish on the podium in 2018 – his best finish is fourth at ISM Raceway. Still, at seventh in the standings with 107 points, Dixon is within striking distance despite the quiet start.
  • Elsewhere, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud have had comparatively disastrous starts to their seasons. Power has hit the wall in three of the first four races, while Pagenaud only has a best finish of ninth, coincidentally at Barber this weekend, through four races. Power sits tenth in the championship on 81 points, while Pagenaud languishes down in 15th on 66.
  • He made not have made many friends out there, but Zachary Claman De Melo gave viewers some thrills after the Monday restart, pushing his way through the field despite being two laps down. It also created one of the highlights of the race, with he and Spencer Pigot going for a slide through Turns 7 and 8 (video below). For his efforts, Claman De Melo recorded the fastest lap of the race on his way to finishing 19th.

The Verizon IndyCar Series now has two weeks before their next race, the INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 11-12. However, the series will be plenty busy, with testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway kicking off next week.

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