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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.”

F1: Russian Grand Prix post-race interviews (VIDEO)

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The Russian Grand Prix is in the books, with Valtteri Bottas scoring his first career victory at Sochi.  Bottas had both a dynamic start and a dynamic defense for Mercedes against Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to win in his 81st career start, and fourth with Mercedes since changing over from Williams.

NBCSN F1 pit reporter Will Buxton caught up with a number of drivers either during or after the race. Those interviews are below.

More videos will come in the fourth and final weekend installment of Paddock Pass, the NBC Sports Group original digital series. Stay tuned for that in the next day or so on NBCSports.com.

Anyway, Russia post-race interviews are below:

WIN. Valtteri Bottas

2. Sebastian Vettel

4. Lewis Hamilton

5. Max Verstappen

9. Felipe Massa

DNF. Daniel Ricciardo

DNS. Fernando Alonso

Hinchcliffe endures tough night in Phoenix to finish 12th

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James Hinchcliffe, off to one of the best starts he’s ever had in the Verizon IndyCar Series (certainly his best since his two wins in four races to start 2013) endured possibly the most frustrating race of his 2017 season Saturday night at Phoenix.

Down on pace to the Chevrolet cars, particularly those from Team Penske, Hinchcliffe had resigned himself to aim for “best in class,” and he had enough speed to run solidly in the top ten. However, as he explained, poor fuel mileage saw him be the first driver to pit during green flag pit stops, which elongated his final stint and forced him to make a late stop for fuel, dropping him to 12th at the end.

“Man, we just weren’t getting the mileage the other guys were. It’s too bad because the ARROW Electronics car was actually pretty strong,” he told NBC Sports. “We survived that first turn thing; it was unfortunate to see Mikhail (Aleshin) caught up in that.

“And we had decent pace, we were kind of hanging with Scott (Dixon) there in the first stint and ended up just having to pit way before anyone else. And five or six laps a stint compounding, we just never got the yellow at the right time to equalize the field and put us on the same page as everyone else. And at the end, we had to come in for that splash and go.”

Of course, the night could have been much worse, as he barely avoided the first turn pileup that collected five cars after teammate Mikhail Aleshin spun in Turn 2. “It was close, man. I saw Mikhail start to spin and come down, and then Marco (Andretti) hit the brakes and locked up and went around. I was lucky to avoid it, to be honest,” he said of the incident.

Despite finishing 12th, Hinchcliffe held onto fifth place in the standings, 39 points behind new championship leader Simon Pagenaud.

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Newgarden finishes ninth after two wing changes in Phoenix

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The Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix had a promising beginning for Josef Newgarden, who rocketed up to second on the opening lap after starting fourth. However, a pair of front wing changes put paid to any chances of a win, and the Barber Motorsports Park winner was relegated to ninth at race’s end.

“It was a rough night, pretty much as rough as it can be for the No. 2 car,” he told NBCSN’s Robin Miller after the race. “The good news is I think we had speed, I think all the Penske cars did. Simon (Pagenaud) was awesome tonight so congrats to him for getting the win. It’s a victory for all of us at Team Penske, so I’m happy to see that. Will (Power) was good too, and obviously Helio (Castroneves) starting the race up front.”

It was unclear what caused the initial damage, which was on the left-front end plate and happened in the early laps. But, a lap 138 caution when Takuma Sato crashed allowed the team a chance to replace the wing.

From there, Newgarden charged back toward the front and was battling for a podium finish when contact with the lapped car of Ryan Hunter-Reay damaged the new wing, this time on the right-front end plate.

Newgarden described the incident and revealed that there was nothing he could do to avoid contact. “I was following Scott (Dixon), and I had Helio breathing down my neck. We were just trying to ride and catch a podium to recover for the day, essentially. Scott got on the inside of Ryan into (turn 3), they went two-by-two and so I followed Scott through. But as soon as Scott got clear, Ryan wanted to get back down immediately. And I just had a head of steam coming with Scott. I didn’t have any time to check up, I tried to check up and hit the brakes, but I’m in the middle of the corner, so I couldn’t really do much to miss him.”

Hunter-Reay described the view from his vantage point to NBCSN’s Marty Snider: “It’s just very frustrating. I couldn’t do anything with the car all night, because I love short ovals. Survived the start. Then we get a puncture or whatever. Dixon came up behind me, stuck his nose in, I was worried I might have turned across him. I went into the gray and two guys got by me. The car wouldn’t turn at all. Bent the right rear toe link. It was a really tough ride today. It was way too complicated.”

Newgarden pitted a second time for a new wing and ended up finishing ninth. He now sits third in the championship, 26 points behind teammate Simon Pagenaud for the lead.

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Hamilton struggles to fourth in Sochi after ‘very tough weekend’

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Lewis Hamilton endured one of his toughest Formula 1 races in recent memory in Russia on Sunday, finishing fourth at the Sochi Autodrom as Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas took his maiden grand prix win.

Hamilton qualified fourth on Saturday, almost half a second back from Bottas and the Ferrari pair of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen who locked out the front row of the grid.

Bottas was able to pass both Ferrari drivers on the first lap en route to victory, but Hamilton struggled to keep up with their pace, finishing some 36 seconds behind his teammate.

“It’s been a very, very tough weekend. I can’t remember having as difficult a weekend,” Hamilton told NBCSN after the race.

“Probably the last time I remember is Baku or something like that. Just ultimately not quick enough, not got the car where I was comfortable, and then in the race I was overheating so just had to settle for fourth.”

Bottas’ success came in just his fourth race for Mercedes, having replaced F1 world champion Nico Rosberg for 2017 following the German’s shock retirement.

Hamilton has spoken warmly of Bottas on a number of occasions, and was full of praise for the Finn after his success in Sochi.

“Big congratulations to him. He’s done such a great job,” Hamilton said.

“Fantastic teammate to work with. It’s an amazing feeling to win your first grand prix. It will mean a lot to him and his family.”

With title rival Sebastian Vettel finishing second, Hamilton is now 13 points adrift of the championship lead ahead of the fifth race of the year in Spain on May 14.