Scott Dixon: Rules offer ‘big range’ of possibilities with superspeedway aero kits

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FORT WORTH – Five days. That’s all that remains for Verizon IndyCar Series teams to figure out the new superspeedway aero kit, which emphasizes downforce over horsepower, before they face racing conditions in a little race called the Indianapolis 500.

Leading the 33-car field to the green Sunday will be polesitter Scott Dixon, who was second fastest in Monday’s practice sessions with a speed of 226.542 mph.

“We’ve had a really smooth month,” said the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver during a media event at Texas Motor Speedway. “The cars are different, the style of racing is different. The race this weekend is going to be on the edge-of-your-seat stuff. The draft is fairly big, it’s going to be impossible to pull away from the field.”

Dixon’s fastest speed in May was 233.001 mph in the seventh session, which is the second best behind Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves at 233.474 mph.

“It’s kind of the rules package that we run, we sort of work within that window,” Dixon said. “So as far as big picture, what combination would be better for each person, it’s kind of hard to tell. We’ve been through different versions of IndyCar racing throughout the years and I think the racing in ‘the show’ right now the best in the world.”

The fastest qualifying Honda for the Indy 500 was Justin Wilson in the No. 25 Honda for Andretti Autosport, who will start sixth.

Wilson says the only drawback of the last two weeks of preparation has been a lack of testing the aero package in warm weather conditions.

“Now it’s a case of getting a fast race car,” Wilson said. “We’ve got 500 miles to do and want to make sure we’re good in traffic, be good on our own. That’s the hard part now.”

Wilson’s best overall speed is 230.348 mph, which is 20th fastest.

“The aero configuration has changed a couple of times,” Wilson said. “We trimmed right out for qualifying, we’ve put the downforce back in yesterday for more race running. We had done that earlier in the week, we put a lot of downforce on to get ready for running in traffic.

“Right now, it feels fine. Personally, you always want for horsepower. You want to be able to drive the cars through the corners and have fun with that. At the end of the day, if my car is one percent better than everyone elses, then I’m going to be happy.”

After Sunday, it will be two weeks before IndyCar returns to oval racing at Texas Motor Speedway, this time with a slightly different aero kit from the one used at IMS.

Dixon was part of a very early test of the aero kit at TMS and said the series has gone through many iterations of the kit since then.

“I expect the racing to always be good here,” Dixon said. “These last few years, (the racing field) has probably been a little strung out compared to some of the early years when we would pack race here, which for the drivers, we prefer what we’ve had the last couple of years. Driving the car is much more difficult and it’s very exciting for us.”

Dixon believes rules dictated by IndyCar gives teams a “big range” of possibilities to work with on the aero kit.

“I think the racing style could change a little bit,” said Dixon, who won the 2008 Bombardier LearJet 550 at the track. “You could have someone very quick at the start of the stint, but have a massive falloff and not be very good over the 30, 40, 50 laps that they need to go on one set of tires.”

Wilson, who won the 2012 race but doesn’t have a deal in place to compete in the June 6th race, agrees.

“You’ll see some people pile on the downforce and run a couple of mph hour slower most of the night,” Wilson said. “But they’ll keep their average speed up because they’re not wearing out the tires. You’ll have some people sprint off in the distance for a couple of laps and slide around and wear them out.”

But before that comes the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit and the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” at Indianapolis, where the last opportunity for teams to prepare for the race on-track is Carb Day on Friday.

“We’re still trying to make those last couple of tweaks that will hopefully be the race-winning tweak,” Wilson said.

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).