Will third time be charm for Indy’s aero kits? At least now, there’s a plan

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The IZOD IndyCar Series is officially at a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” point with the much-ballyhooed, not yet implemented “aero kits.”

Derrick Walker, the longtime open-wheel racing team owner who is now the INDYCAR sanctioning body’s new president of competition and operations, described them accurately in Sunday’s press conference in Detroit as “the infamous aero kits.” If all parties agree, they’ll happen in 2015.

The technical merits and accolades of what the “aero kits” can be can come later. But in brief, “aero kits” were meant to be parts built by manufacturers to place on the existing Dallara DW12 chassis to provide both technical innovation and differentiation among the current cars. Twice, the collection of IndyCar team owners voted down the kits for implementation, and their introduction has been delayed.

New leadership at INDYCAR, both in the form of Walker and his boss, Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, have stressed the importance of bringing some level of innovation back to IndyCar racing, and the aero kits are again the talking point.

What Walker, Miles and series vp of technology Will Phillips have done here is outlined a cost-effective, sensible, timeline that wouldn’t be astronomical in the short term and send even more teams packing.

Keep in mind, we’ve already lost Panther DRR the rest of this year, while the team that won the Indianapolis 500, KV Racing Technology, is still searching for primary sponsorship of Tony Kanaan’s car for a handful of races, per reports.

Within the confines of what INDYCAR is now, compared to your “pick your glory era” heyday of the 1970s, ‘80s or ‘90s, this is the only step for innovation with the commercial aspect being what it is and the TV ratings being what they are. The budgets are not there, now, to make true “innovation” occur the same as it did in other decades.

IndyCar has a contract with Dallara, so it’s not like a new chassis provider can come in off the streets and sell new chassis. Eventually, perhaps, the Indianapolis “cottage industry” can sprout back up to make some of the parts for these aero advances.

Besides the pockets of a handful of team owners, it’s not like the commercial sponsorships – the millions of dollars you see in a Formula One budget, for instance – are there to support the technological advances in modern IndyCars that there were when chassis providers could build a new car each year.

So, at this point, it’s laudable that INDYCAR has a plan to put the aero kits into action, and the necessary buffer/liaison between the sanctioning body and the team owners in Walker to see that their concerns and questions are answered and a sense of innovation – if small – can be attained.

We’ll have to see whether the aero kits actually see the light of day or whether this was just another “much ado about nothing” press conference.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).