Long Beach starts Mike Conway’s continental hopping Indy/sports car world tour

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Although his St. Petersburg race was foiled by a miscommunication, look for Mike Conway and Ed Carpenter Racing to rebound this weekend in the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Conway enters the weekend in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet as one of seven past Long Beach winners, and additionally one of five drivers who scored their first career win on the historic streets in one of the 39 prior editions of the race.

His 2011 win for Andretti Autosport was something of a surprise, but it marked his territory as a future star to watch in IndyCar and also put his name in the record books for North America’s most prestigious street race.

“I had heard about the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach as I was growing up in England but I didn’t know the magnitude of the event,” Conway said in the team’s pre-race release. “I was on the top of the podium after my win and I looked down at the names in victory lane who had won there. And I said, ‘Bloody hell, there was a great list of drivers who have won at Long Beach.'”

A year ago, he was drafted into Long Beach as a last-minute third car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, then promptly was quick in Friday practice and stuck the car in the Firestone Fast Six for qualifying on Saturday. That performance turned heads considering he had opted to end a full-time IndyCar career to focus solely on road and street courses, and quit ovals.

For Conway, this weekend starts a crazy stretch of action across continents as he balances his IndyCar commitments with ECR along with his duties in an LMP2 class ORECA 03 Nissan for Millennium Racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship over each of the next five weeks. Conway will share the No. 23 Millennium car with ex-F1 shoes Stefan Johansson and Shinji Nakano.

Conway races at Long Beach this weekend, then heads to his home country to race the FIA WEC curtain-raiser in Silverstone on April 20. April 27 is back to the ECR IndyCar at Barber Motorsports Park, in what will be his first natural terrain road course race in an IndyCar since Sonoma 2012 (all his 2013 and the first two 2014 races were on street courses). Then it’s back to the WEC for Spa on May 4, and then the five-week stretch concludes May 10 with the ECR IndyCar in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

In those five races, expect Conway to get at least one win, perhaps an additional podium finish or two and a heck of a lot of frequent flier miles. A Long Beach repeat of his 2011 triumph would not be a bad place to start.

Latest INDYCAR Aeroscreen test continues to provide feedback; data to series

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo
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RICHMOND, Virginia – After completing its third Aeroscreen test since October 2, INDYCAR continues to collect valuable data and feedback from the drivers and engineers involved in testing.

The latest test of the Aeroscreen came Tuesday, October 15 at Richmond Raceway, a .750-mile short oval. Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon has been involved in testing dating all the way back to 2017 at Phoenix with the original “Windscreen.” Tuesday’s test was the first-time two-time NTT IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden was able to test the device that partially encloses the cockpit proving greatly enhanced driver safety.

It was also the first time the current “Aeroscreen” designed and created by Red Bull Advanced Technologies, Pankl and Dallara has been tested at a short oval – a track that measures under 1.5-miles in length.

The previous tests were at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 2 and the Barber Motorsports Park road course on October 7.

“It wasn’t a problem getting in the car today and relearning a new viewpoint,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com at the conclusion of Tuesday’s test. “It felt like a new viewpoint. It’s still an Indy car. It still feels like an Indy car. The car does a lot of the things it did before. It required some slight tuning differences to accommodate a different center of gravity and different total weight.

“Overall, it still felt like the same Indy car I drove three weeks ago. You get used to that new viewpoint within 30 or 40 laps. It was alien at first but halfway through the day it feels like home again.”

Newgarden’s Team Penske test team along with INDYCAR officials worked on changes to getting air into the cockpit and directing the air to the right place where the driver can utilize it.

“We’ve come up with some solutions that we like,” Newgarden said. “INDYCAR and the teams will continue to fine-tune this. That is why we are doing these tests. The main goal was to figure this out and fine-tune this stuff. We have come up with a lot of good solutions to all of the little things we have talked about that we have needed so when Sebastien Bourdais goes to Sebring (on November 5), it will just be another version.

“We are already close. Because they are such small details, it feels like normal racing stuff and we will come up with solutions for that.”

Some drivers who have participated in the Aeroscreen test has said, they almost feel naked without having the halo-like structure with a clear windshield protecting them on the race car.

“Once we got through a whole IndyCar season, if you took it off, it would feel really strange,” Newgarden said. “People adapt so quickly to a change, what the car looks like. Once you give us a couple of races and a full year, it will feel like home and something we are very used to as drivers.

“It is already starting to get that way. People are feeling more comfortable with it. The field of view is almost identical to the way it was before. Your peripheral vision is identical, the way you look out the front of the cars is identical, the way you see the tires is identical.”

Individual driver preference will allow for shading of the sun and that can be accomplished with the visor strips on the helmet and the tear-offs on Aeroscreen.

Drivers will also have a bit of a quieter atmosphere inside the cockpit. The partial enclosure makes it easier to hear his radio communication and the sounds of the engine in the driver’s car. It partially blocks out the sounds of the engines in the other cars and the rush of wind traveling at high speeds that used to buffet in and around the helmet.

“It has changed the noise level slightly inside the cockpit,” Newgarden said. “For me, it wasn’t super dramatic. It’s a slight reduction in wind noise. You’re not getting the wind directly over your head as dramatically as you would before. All that external noise has just been dimmed.

“You can hear the radio a touch better, things like that. But the engine noise is still quite prominent. It’s bolted directly behind us, so you still hear quite a bit of what’s going on in the car and the engine.”

Dixon was in the car at Indianapolis on October 2 and returned on Tuesday. The Barber test on October 7 included this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud, in a Team Penske Chevrolet and Ryan Hunter-Reay in an Andretti Autosport Honda.

“The only differences are the openings on the front wing that creates some more airflow around the legs and body and a different inlet in the screen that was in place today,” Dixon told NBC Sports.com. “There were helmet cooling options since the Barber test because on the road course, some of the drivers were getting a little hotter.

“This project has been very in-depth. It hit the ground running very smoothly. There are some alternate options they are trying to create, especially on the street courses where we will experience hot condition. On street conditions, your depth perception changes because of how close you are to the walls, but we should get used to that.”

Two weeks ago, Team Penske driver Will Power said it takes a different style to get out of the race car because of the added height of the Aeroscreen.

That hasn’t been a problem for Dixon.

“That’s easy, man,” he said. “Just go through the hole in the top.”