Defending Dakar champ Roma, Al-Attiyah lead march of the Minis

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Mini’s sweep of the Dakar Rally last season wasn’t a smooth one.

Late team orders issued to freeze drivers Nani Roma (pictured, right), Stephane Peterhansel, and Nasser Al-Attiyah (pictured, left) in their 1-2-3 position sparked controversy.

Roma himself called the decision “disrespectful” to 11-time Dakar champ Peterhansel, and Dakar race director Etienne Lavigne appeared to flat-out condemn it – declaring that “fighting without risk is triumph without glory.”

But the orders ultimately won out in the end, and Roma, Peterhansel, and Al-Attiyah finished the rally in that 1-2-3 order. For the 2015 Dakar, one-third of that podium is gone for Mini as Peterhansel has joined up with Peugeot in its return to the event after a 25-year absence.

However, Roma, a two-time champion of the Dakar, and Al-Attiyah, the 2011 victor, still remain. And they’re still threats to go to the top once again.

“The field for this edition has evolved a lot,” said Roma, who will drive the No. 300 Mini All4 Racing. “It is no doubt very competitive. I think that the Toyotas have improved and Giniel [De Villiers] will be very dangerous. It is very good that a brand with the notoriety of Peugeot has returned. It will be a very good battle. But I think that the real rival on the Dakar, above else, is oneself. You have to be calm when making choices, one after the other.”

As for Al-Attiyah, who’s also proven himself out of the car as a 2012 Olympic bronze medalist in skeet shooting, he’s hoping to go two spots better this time around.

“The 2014 Dakar remains, of course, a disappointment, but what can you do after receiving a one-hour penalty [in Stage 5],” he said. “Today, I am in a better position and the objective is to win. I am also thrilled to be with Mathieu Baumel, my new co-driver. We get on fabulously and he is top notch. Now, we have to win.”

Also being counted on to do well for Mini is Argentina’s Orlando Terranova, who should have a sizable local following behind him. He’ll be one of Roma’s teammates on the Monster Energy Rally Raid team (the other being Krzysztof Holowczyc of Poland), and he’s coming off back-to-back fifth-place efforts in the Dakar.

Terranova is aiming for the podium following Mini’s work on making its cars lighter and more reliable. He’ll also have a new co-driver on board with him as well in Ronnie Graue.

“The engineers and staff at Mini have worked a lot on the weight, the suspension and aerodynamics, by favoring the overall reliability of the car,” Terranova said. “There are not any major technical evolutions but certain details have been improved.

“I changed co-drivers because I was looking for someone who speaks Spanish. The tests with Ronnie were very conclusive. The objective will be to do better than last year. To finish on the podium will be a fantastic result.”

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.”