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Newgarden, Rossi caution rush to create halo for INDYCAR

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Two of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ most talented, marketable and young American drivers – Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi – have cautioned INDYCAR to not rush into creating a halo device as part of the series’ new-for-2018 universal aero kit.

INDYCAR made two key announcements Thursday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, as it released initial drawings of the universal kit and confirmed a three-year extension with Dallara for the base chassis. Both elements are part of INDYCAR’s overall “five-year plan” through 2021.

A halo, or windscreen option may well be part of the new kit. A halo was tried during a number of Formula 1 free practice sessions up-and-down that grid, but such a device has not been part of an IndyCar as yet.

Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo models a “halo” in practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2016 in Spa, Belgium. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

“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,” INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations Jay Frye said today during a roundtable session in Detroit.

“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.”

Newgarden and Rossi, who were present at Detroit today as part of INDYCAR’s announcements and to help promote the series, both said it’s imperative that a thorough process be executed before any such device comes to INDYCAR.

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 10:  Josef Newgarden, driver of the #21 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet, prepares to drive during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Newgarden at Texas. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

“It’s obviously a sensitive topic, and I think you have a split — I don’t know if you’d want to call it split, understanding I’m not all drivers,” Newgarden said. “That could be my take on it, and this is a driver’s take, this is coming from me personally, Josef Newgarden.

“I love the heritage and the history of open-wheel racing. I respect it. It’s why I’m in an open-wheel car. I don’t mind jumping in an Indy car the way it is right now. That’s the way I fell in love with it as a kid. I’ve got no problem jumping in a race car as it currently sits and driving in it. I think anyone will pretty much tell you that for the most part. There’s always going to be inherent risks to racing. You’re never going to get away from that.

“I think the biggest thing INDYCAR is trying to do is put in their due diligence for what they’re trying to find. You can’t just make a knee-jerk reaction to something like this. You never know what type of knock-on effects you could have of just throwing something on a car and not being responsible about it.”

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 10:  Alexander Rossi, driver of the #98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda, sits in his car during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Rossi at Texas. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

“I mean, I agree with Josef. It’s very important that there is no rush decision,” Rossi, this year’s Indianapolis 500 champion, added. “There’s much smarter people than racing drivers doing the research on that, and I think the FIA in combination with INDYCAR is obviously really trying to figure it out. I mean, I stand with Josef in the sense that I have no issue getting in the cars and they are now, and the last thing I’d want to do is do something that could make the situation a whole lot worse.”

Both drivers have escaped harrowing moments of their own on superspeedways the last couple years.

Newgarden escaped an accident during practice for the 2015 Indianapolis 500 when his car got airborne and landed upside down through Turns 1 and 2. Even worse was his crash this year at Texas Motor Speedway when he was an unfortunate bystander when his friend Conor Daly got loose exiting Turn 4, which pitched Newgarden hard into the outside retaining wall.

Rossi had a scary moment last year, where his car catapulted over Helio Castroneves’ when he was launched out of the pits at Pocono Raceway, narrowly missing Castroneves’ head in the cockpit area. Castroneves’ teammate in NASCAR, Brad Keselowski, implored IndyCar to develop a halo upon seeing that accident.

Castroneves said afterwards in quotes distributed by INDYCAR, “Inside the car, I was actually more protected than what it looked like. Sometime people don’t realize the Verizon IndyCar series are so much about safety and today is the proof of that. Very glad that nobody got hurt.”

Newgarden offered the forward thinking view for how motivated he is to get into a car, regardless of what’s around the cockpit area.

“When I look at just going into 2017 I feel very comfortable to get back in the car. Always have,” he said. “I’ve got no problem with what we’re doing. I’m exciting to go racing in 2017 in an Indy car.

“But going into the future, I get to talk with JR Hildebrand every now and then, and he’s a really smart guy and fun to talk to, and I think he put it best that we’re going to be able to find a solution at some point that keeps within the spirit of open wheel racing and open cockpit cars and advance the safety of that.

“So what’s that going to look like? I think we’re working on it right now, and that’s exactly what Jay said. I think that’s coming down the pike, and I’m comfortable with that. I think we’re going to find something. We’re working on it. Formula 1 is doing the same thing.

“You don’t see them throwing something on the car right away, and that’s exactly what’s happening on the INDYCAR side, too?”

MRTI: Juncos signs Carlos Cunha for Pro Mazda campaign

Photo: Juncos Racing
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Juncos Racing continued to bolster its entries in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires by signing Carlos Cunha to pilot a third Juncos Pro Mazda entry for 2018. Cunha, who finished third in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season on the back of seven podium finishes, joins Rinus VeeKay and Robert Megennis in Juncos’ Pro Mazda lineup for 2018.

Cunha previously tested with the team at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in October and joined Juncos for the Chris Griffis Memorial test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in November, testing cars for both the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires teams.

“It’s great to become a part of Juncos Racing,” said the 18-year-old Cunha. “I am really excited to start the 2018 season with Juncos Racing. This fall we did some testing together and from there I was able to see how focused everyone on the team is and I even felt like I became a part of their family in no time. I am confident we will get great results together next year and I look forward to learning and growing more with the team. It will be a huge pleasure and also a great responsibility to carry the number one on my car, thanks to (2017 Pro Mazda champion Victor Franzoni) and I hope to deliver it back to the team at the end of the year!”

Team owner Ricardo Juncos added, “We are excited to add Carlos to our Pro Mazda lineup. From the moment we started testing with him in early October, we knew he would be a great fit for our team. Carlos has been very quick in testing and even had an impressive showing in the Indy Lights car at the Chris Griffis test back in October. He had a great run this past season in the Pro Mazda series and we are confident he will carry that momentum into the 2018 season.”

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