With aero kits homologated and Rolex 24 this weekend, IndyCar could be poised for flurry of news

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You might remember back on November 25 (OK, you may not, but that works as a convenient setup to link back to this post), that with a couple GP2 veterans announcing they’d be testing in December, I examined just how many free agents there were vying for the roughly seven or eight remaining Verizon IndyCar Series seats for the 2015 season.

In short, there’s an overload. And there will be way more drivers left without a seat when the music stops.

However, there has been zero official movement on new full-time seats since late October, when Jack Hawksworth was confirmed in a second car for A.J. Foyt Enterprises, and for any seat overall early November, when Jay Howard was confirmed in a second Indianapolis 500 entry for Bryan Herta Autosport.

With James Hinchcliffe confirmed at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports back in early October, we have to go back to September to find the last driver without “JH” initials confirmed in IndyCar – and that was Simon Pagenaud to Team Penske.

Technically, yes, the first three drivers at Chip Ganassi Racing (Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball) were all confirmed over a series of days in December. But those were more formalities than surprises, and none of them involved team movement.

The month of February is now setting up to cram nearly an entire offseason worth of news – or close – in the span of three-four weeks.

Here’s what still needs to come down the pipeline for IndyCar before the March 8 season opener in Brasilia, Brazil:

AERO KITS, AERO KITS, AERO KITS

You probably wouldn’t have realized this otherwise because it was NFL Championship Sunday, but Sunday marked the homologation date deadline for Chevrolet and Honda. INDYCAR is yet to confirm an official launch date for the kits, but figure news on when that launch date is could be imminent within the next week or two.

INDYCAR’s Will Phillips posted about aero kits on Twitter on Sunday.

INDYCAR DRIVERS/TEAM OWNERS IN OTHER DISCIPLINES

Sarah Fisher made her competitive racing return this past week at the Chili Bowl. And now, a boatload of drivers from the 2014 IndyCar season will be in action at the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

More than a third of the starters from the 2014 Indianapolis 500 are on the grid, and a handful more were pounding the pavement during the week seeing if they could get anything done. It didn’t seem to happen.

THE REST OF THE GRID

Back in November, the available seats still outstanding were: Chip Ganassi Racing #4, Andretti Autosport #4, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports #2, CFH Racing’s road/street course #2, Dale Coyne Racing’s #1 and 2, and Bryan Herta Autosport’s #1.

Two months later, exactly all of those seats are still yet to be filled. There is literally no point to writing another silly season update beyond the one I penned in November because almost nothing has changed.

With IndyCar’s media day set for Feb. 17 in Indianapolis, the next month figures to be prime signing time to ensure each driver/team gets at least one or two days of testing in before the season opener.

So, basically, if you cover IndyCar, get a template ready that reads “Driver signs with team for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season,” and go from there depending on each driver’s respective resumes over the years.

TRACK, AND CAR, PREP

As noted in the last week, Brazil’s track construction in Brasilia is finally underway. Between finishing that up, then bolting on the aero kits, testing them at Barber and heading to St. Petersburg, IndyCar will have its own version of “March Madness” awaiting it.

The long and short of the above: after an offseason with little to no news, really, over the extended gap since last August’s season finale, IndyCar is finally set for a flurry of it that should occur – that really has to occur – between now and the March 8 season opener.

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.”