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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?”

IndyCar: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Recap

Photo: IndyCar
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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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