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Early test leaves Indy 500 drivers confident cars are safer

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Ed Carpenter and James Hinchcliffe left Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Wednesday more confident about the cars they will race in May.

A new rear-wing flap should prevent cars from going airborne, as Carpenter experienced 11 months ago. And new suspension parts should prevent drivers from getting gouged, which happened to Hinchcliffe last year before the Indianapolis 500 and left him with a life-threatening injury.

As everyone tries to figure out what impact the new aerodynamic package might make, Carpenter and Hinchcliffe believe the racing will be safer.

“Just the way the car rides is different,” Hinchcliffe said after driving around the track for the first time since his frightening crash last May. “The beam-wing flap almost guarantees that you’ll never have those 180-degree liftoffs like we did with the three Chevy cars. And there’s a bunch of things they did with the suspension to prevent what happened to me from happening to anyone else.”

Hinchcliffe was fortunate that a quick-acting medical team saved his life after a broken part pierced his upper leg. He said there was no trepidation of getting back on a track with speeds easily topping 200 mph, even in testing.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “If you do, you can’t be out there.”

The ramifications from a series of scary wrecks last season – including one that killed British driver Justin Wilson – forced IndyCar officials to take a long, hard look at how to make the dangerous sport of open-wheel racing safer.

Mark Miles, the CEO of IndyCar’s parent company, met multiple times with drivers during the offseason to seek their input. The series also is looking at ways to protect drivers’ heads from flying debris, which is how Wilson died last August.

The series added new parts to its cars and scheduled an April test at Indianapolis – something that didn’t happen last year when the new oval aero kits debuted on the series’ fastest track. That’s why everyone was surprised when the cars started flipping last May.

So far, the results look promising.

“I think IndyCar always does a good job. I thought they handled it as well as they could last year, too,” said Carpenter, a two-time Indy 500 pole-winner. “I think all of the things they’ve done are good.”

What’s unclear is how much drivers have actually learned over the past two days.

On Tuesday, Carpenter, Hinchcliffe and a handful of other Chevrolet drivers were part of a closed test on a chilly, sunny day.

Fifteen drivers were on the track for Wednesday’s open test, but the weather did not cooperate. With temperatures hovering in the low 60s and gusty winds, drivers took an early lunch break as rain approached and the early afternoon session was wiped out by trucks driving around the historic 2.5-mile oval to dry the dampened track. They did make it back out after about a two-hour delay.

Americans Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay posted the two fastest laps of the day. Andretti went 223.427 mph, Hunter-Reay posted a 222.047 and France’s Simon Pagenaud was third at 221.293.

Honda held its manufacturer’s test at Fontana and will not run oval cars here until Indianapolis 500 practice begins May 16. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis road race will be held May 14, and the 100th running of the 500 is set for May 29.

“Any time you’re on the track, you learn something,” Carpenter said. “It can be this windy when we’re out here in May. Obviously, it’s a lot cooler than what we usually get in May. But it’s still important for learning, especially right now when all the teams have a lot of new parts on the car.”

While casual fans might not detect much difference in the look of these cars, one thing is clear – the drivers can feel the difference.

“The beam flaps are really cool and that’s a big deal when you’re going backward,” Carpenter said. “So I feel good about it.”

IndyCar’s season finale at St. Pete approved to have 20,000 fans

IndyCar St. Pete fans
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The NTT IndyCar Series’ season finale will be permitted up to 20,000 fans, making the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg possibly the circuit’s most well-attended race of 2020. The race originally was scheduled as the season opener before being moved to Oct. 25 because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

IndyCar has enjoyed limited crowds at Road America, Iowa Speedway, Gateway, Mid-Ohio and this weekend’s doubleheader races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, which could have up to 10,000 fans in attendance. That had been the largest maximum grandstand crowd for an IndyCar race this season.

At a St. Petersburg city council meeting Thursday, Mayor Rick Kriseman approved plans by race organizers Green Savoree Racing Promotions to hold the Oct. 23-25 weekend for the IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Pete with 20,000 fans who would follow health and safety protocols that include mandatory temperature checks and masks.

 “My thanks to Green Savoree Racing Promotions and IndyCar for their flexibility and resilience during this challenging time,” Kriseman said in a release. “I know that everyone is excited to get back on the track in St. Pete. I can’t wait for Oct. 23rd. I know everyone will embrace this race the St. Pete way, adhering to the COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Let’s have some great racing in the Sunshine City.”

Paddock and the pit lane will remain closed to spectators, and social distancing of at least 6 feet will be observed on site.

“Our entire team greatly appreciates the patience and understanding of our ticket holders as we worked through this process with Mayor Kriseman, City Council and local health officials,” Kim Green, co-owner, chairman and CEO of Green Savoree Promotions. “It’s important for everyone who attends to read and follow all the COVID-19 protocols to contribute to a fun, safe and successful event for us all.”

“The ongoing guidance and support of Mayor Kriseman, City Council, and the City of St. Petersburg’s event team have been phenomenal,” said Kevin Savoree, co-owner, president and COO of Green Savoree Promotions. “We also would not be in this position to move this spring tradition to fall without Firestone’s unwavering commitment and dedication. It’s going to be a terrific weekend again in downtown St. Pete in three weeks featuring world-class racing from INDYCAR.”