IndyCar formalizes young driver test outline for Sonoma later this month

1 Comment

INDYCAR has now formalized and finalized the test for Indy Lights drivers at Sonoma Raceway later this month, on August 13.

It was rumored over the weekend and announced, partially, during both the live Mid-Ohio IndyCar race broadcast  and on RACER.com on Sunday.

It will mark the first time in an IndyCar for several drivers – Sean Rayhall, Ed Jones, Jack Harvey, Nelson Piquet Jr. and Spencer Pigot.

Meanwhile Ryan Phinny and Matthew Brabham will each have their second official outings for KVSH Racing and Andretti Autosport, respectively.

Here’s the full release from INDYCAR:

Seven Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires drivers, including the top three in the championship standings, will share a test day in Verizon IndyCar Series cars with Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Aug. 13 on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn Sonoma Raceway road course in Sonoma, Calif.

Verizon IndyCar Series teams and drivers testing, with Indy Lights drivers testing in parentheses, are:

• Andretti Autosport – Marco Andretti (Matthew Brabham)
• Chip Ganassi Racing Teams – Scott Dixon (Sean Rayhall)
• KVSH Racing – Sebastien Bourdais (Ryan Phinny)
• Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing – Graham Rahal (Ed Jones)
• Schmidt Peterson Motorsports – Ryan Briscoe (Jack Harvey)
• Team Penske – Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Power (Spencer Pigot, Nelson Piquet Jr.)

According to Rule 6.2.3 of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook, teams are allocated two additional team test days in the testing year window for the purpose of testing a current Indy Lights driver. On-track time may be split with a team driver (one Indy Lights driver and one team driver), but a team driver may not use more than 50 percent of the available track time.

Brabham drove an Andretti Autosport Indy car July 1 at an Iowa Speedway test alongside Andretti, and other Indy Lights drivers periodically test in a Verizon IndyCar Series car. But this is the first large-scale in-season test day.

“This is exactly what we’ve wanted to have happen with the program,” said Dan Andersen, owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions, which operates Indy Lights under INDYCAR sanctioning. “We appreciate INDYCAR enabling this with its testing regulations and to encourage it. To see these drivers getting this opportunity is rewarding for them and exciting for us. It’s what the program is all about; we want to see them make it to the Verizon IndyCar Series.”

Indy Lights is the third and final step on the Mazda Road to Indy driver and team development ladder. The Indy Lights champion is awarded a $750,000 scholarship toward the Verizon IndyCar Series with three guaranteed races, including the Indianapolis 500, in 2016.

Harvey, who drives for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, takes a six-point lead over Pigot (Juncos Racing) and an 18-point lead over Jones (Carlin) into the championship-deciding doubleheader race weekend Sept. 11-13 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif.

“The test could be valuable for next year,” said Harvey, the Englishman in his second season with SPM. “I could show (a Verizon IndyCar Series team) that they could trust me with their car, I can be fast and provide the proper feedback.”

Added Pigot, 21, of Orlando, Fla., who won the 2014 Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires championship: “It’s something that I’ve been working toward for quite a few years and climbing the Mazda Road to Indy has prepared me for it. I’m excited to get behind the wheel. Winning the Indy Lights championship is the No. 1 goal through the middle of September, and obviously the goal is to move up to IndyCar next year. This (test) could help my chances for next year.”

Sam Schmidt, who co-owns the team that operates a four-car Indy Lights program and a two-car Verizon IndyCar Series program, said the goals of the test day are to make the No. 5 Indy car driven by Briscoe competitive for the Aug. 30 GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma to keep it in the top 10 of entrant points and give Harvey “a taste” of driving the Honda-powered machine.

“We’re hoping he (Harvey) can win the championship, which would lead to the scholarship and moving up next year in some capacity,” said Schmidt, who has seven Indy Lights championships as a team owner. “It’s always good to start that process as early as possible.

“It’s one of the incentives that INDYCAR built into the program and hopefully it will expand with other IndyCar teams.”

The list of Verizon IndyCar Series drivers testing at the venue that will host the championship-deciding race includes six of the 10 drivers mathematically eligible for the title. The 85-lap, high-stakes race carries double points, with 100 awarded to the winner, 80 for second, 70 for third, etc., along with the regular four bonus points over three categories (Verizon P1 Award winner, leading a lap, leading the most laps).

Montoya holds a nine-point advantage over Rahal entering the penultimate race of the season Aug. 23 at Pocono Raceway. Dixon, who won last August at Sonoma Raceway, is 34 points out of first place.

“INDYCAR is doing a good job to promote the ladder series, and the rules that allow IndyCar drivers a test day with an Indy Lights driver is an example,” Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team manager Ricardo Nault said. “We’ll be splitting the day with Ed Jones, not only per the rules, but to give him the opportunity to help us develop the car and give him some time driving.

“Being second in the championship, we want to put our best foot forward and give it our best chance. We’d be behind if we didn’t go there. We have to maximize every opportunity.”

An additional car at the test will be driven by Mikhail Aleshin, who will use the day as a refresher in the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. It will be Aleshin’s first time behind the wheel of an Indy car since he sustained a concussion, chest injuries, fractured ribs and a broken shoulder in an August 2014 practice crash at Auto Club Speedway. SPM has named Aleshin as a third team entry for Sonoma along with Briscoe and James Jakes.

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

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo
Leave a comment

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.”