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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.”

Ricky Brabec wins 2017 Sonora Rally (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Ricky Brabec wins Sonora Rally. Photo: Sonora Rally
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Honda rider Ricky Brabec, who won a stage at this year’s Dakar Rally, has captured the victory in last week’s Sonora Rally, held March 21-24 in Sonora, Mexico.

He led all four of the special stages in a start-to-finish romp for victory.

Despite Joan Barreda and Steve Hengeveld’s injuries that ruled them out of the rally, Brabec still had to focus on the job at hand.

“You are really racing against yourself out here, against the terrain,” he said in a release.  “I’m much more familiar now with open up a course than I was back in January at Dakar when I had to do it for the first time.”

Fellow Honda riders Mark Samuels and Andrew Short completed the podium. Samuels won the Sonora Rally’s Dakar Challenge, which presents a free opportunity for a rider to enter the 2018 Dakar Rally.

“The hard work of getting to Dakar is still ahead of me, but I will do everything in my power to make America proud,” Samuels said.

Polaris ATR rider Dave Sykes won the UTV class, with Eric Pucelik and Mike Shirley winning the Cars class.

On background, the Sonora Rally is the only event of its kind in North America. The rally raid format requires street legal vehicles to transit along untimed “liaison” sections and timed “special stages” over multiple days, with the lowest combined time winning the event. Now in its third year, the Sonora Rally realizes the vision of founders Scott Whitney and Darren Skilton to bring a world class rally raid event to these shores (2016 recap).

Brabec’s winning ride is captured in the below video, via Race-Dezert.

Meanwhile, because photos do this event more justice than words do, those are below (All Photos: Sonora Rally)

Webber: Alonso may not see out the season with McLaren

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Mark Webber never had the easiest time in Formula 1, particularly his latter years as the number two driver at Red Bull Racing to Sebastian Vettel.

That being said, he was never on the verge of leaving it directly until he announced his plans to move to Porsche’s LMP1 Team, where he raced for three years from 2014 to 2016 before retiring at the end of last season.

But the Australian pondered whether Fernando Alonso might not be able to see out the season with McLaren Honda, if the team and manufacturer’s woes continue.

“Alonso may not stay with the team,” Webber told Belgian outlet Sporza. “Maybe Stoffel (Vandoorne) soon will have a new teammate.”

“I could see it happen that Alonso does not drive out the season. He is very frustrated. Fernando doesn’t start for a sixth or seventh place; he wants to fight for the podium.”

Webber added that for Vandoorne’s sake, starting in a team with lower expectations might not be the worst thing for him. It may allow the Belgian rookie to learn without extra pressure, since the onus is focused on the team.

For Alonso though, time is of the essence for what’s left of his career in F1. This is his last season under contract with McLaren Honda and he made no secret of his frustration for how well he drove at Melbourne, yet the car wasn’t up for it.

“Well the race was good, one of my best races driving like that,” Alonso told NBCSN post-race. “The car’s uncompetitive and to be close for a point was a nice surprise. It was good fuel saving as well. I was surprised to keep it in the points. A suspension (issue) stopped us from getting this point.

“I feel very well prepared, driving at the best of my career, and I’m fighting for one point. That’s disappointing and frustrating. But so long as I’m driving at my best, it’s a problem for the team… not me.”

Rosberg, Button soak up their first weekends out of F1 (PHOTOS)

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Since 2008, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have won seven World Championships. The two drivers that won titles in that period not named Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – Nico Rosberg (2016) and Jenson Button (2009) – were both enjoying their first weekends not on a Formula 1 grid as full-time drivers for the first time in more than a decade this weekend as the 2017 season commenced at Melbourne’s Albert Park.

Rosberg made a visit to preseason testing in Barcelona a few weeks ago for his first appearance as spectator since winning the World Championship. But he watched from home this weekend with his family and posted a few thoughts during both qualifying and the race:

We’re now quite familiar with Rosberg’s home TV set and coffee table. This is the first time Rosberg has been out of an F1 race since 2005, the year he won the first GP2 championship.

Button meanwhile paid a visit to California for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana… once he got off his couch. He checked in with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson at Fontana.

Do you guys know if there's anything good to watch on tele this weekend? @storm_and_rogue_pomskies

A post shared by Jenson Button (@jensonbutton_22) on

Given McLaren Honda’s struggles, Button is probably smart to have got out when he did. He’d been on the grid since 2000, save for a couple races out in 2005 when BAR-Honda was barred from competing after being disqualified from the San Marino Grand Prix.

Meanwhile for Rosberg, he watched as Mercedes was unable to win the season opener for the first time since 2013.

DJR Team Penske wins three of four Supercars races at Melbourne

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DJR Team Penske has won its first Virgin Australia Supercars Championship races over the weekend during the Australian Grand Prix, with Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard taking the first three wins in the four-race, non-championship race weekend.

While Penske’s teams have long succeeded in North America and have had some international success, notably a Formula 1 win at the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix with John Watson, success has thus far eluded them since arriving in Supercars two years ago as majority shareholders of Dick Johnson Racing.

McLaughlin had the honor of beating Coulthard to the first win in race one of the weekend, before Coulthard doubled up with wins in races two and three. The first two races were one-two finishes, though, and McLaughlin said he’d received a text from Roger Penske in the wake of the victory.

“I got a text from Roger straight away and they’re all pretty happy,” McLaughlin told Supercars.com.

“They’re thanking me but I should be thanking them for giving me the opportunity.”

The first race was marred by this incident between Nick Percat and Lee Holdsworth, Percat having lost his brakes entering Turn 1 and crashing into Holdsworth, who was an innocent bystander.

But once the race resumed, McLaughlin held off Coulthard for the victory.

Coulthard led from start-to-finish in race two after his second straight pole position. He did the same in race three, albeit not in a Penske 1-2 as Jamie Whincup came second for Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodore. McLaughlin was third.

A left-front puncture stopped Coulthard making it three in a row in the fourth race, and with steering damage, McLaughlin was resigned to 17th. Chaz Mostert took the win his Supercheap Ford, ending his own winless spell that dated to August of 2015.

Also of note from the weekend, ex-IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro in her Team Harvey Norman Nissan Altima finished 13th in race one, her best finish yet in her first full season in the series.

The Supercars series is back in action at Symmons Plains Raceway on April 7-9.  Coulthard sits second in the series championship, 51 points back of Whincup’s teammate, Shane van Gisbergen.