Newgarden, Rossi caution rush to create halo for INDYCAR

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Two of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ most talented, marketable and young American drivers – Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi – have cautioned INDYCAR to not rush into creating a halo device as part of the series’ new-for-2018 universal aero kit.

INDYCAR made two key announcements Thursday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, as it released initial drawings of the universal kit and confirmed a three-year extension with Dallara for the base chassis. Both elements are part of INDYCAR’s overall “five-year plan” through 2021.

A halo, or windscreen option may well be part of the new kit. A halo was tried during a number of Formula 1 free practice sessions up-and-down that grid, but such a device has not been part of an IndyCar as yet.

Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo models a “halo” in practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2016 in Spa, Belgium. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

“We are looking at a wind screen or a halo type application. Will that be on the car in ’18, I’m not sure, but we’re full speed ahead designing and developing as soon as possible,” INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations Jay Frye said today during a roundtable session in Detroit.

“But again, even that, because of our schedule being so diverse, maybe there’s two different applications. It would be difficult to run a halo at an oval, but what’s to say you couldn’t run a halo at road courses. Yeah, we’re looking at all different scenarios.”

Newgarden and Rossi, who were present at Detroit today as part of INDYCAR’s announcements and to help promote the series, both said it’s imperative that a thorough process be executed before any such device comes to INDYCAR.

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 10:  Josef Newgarden, driver of the #21 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet, prepares to drive during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Newgarden at Texas. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

“It’s obviously a sensitive topic, and I think you have a split — I don’t know if you’d want to call it split, understanding I’m not all drivers,” Newgarden said. “That could be my take on it, and this is a driver’s take, this is coming from me personally, Josef Newgarden.

“I love the heritage and the history of open-wheel racing. I respect it. It’s why I’m in an open-wheel car. I don’t mind jumping in an Indy car the way it is right now. That’s the way I fell in love with it as a kid. I’ve got no problem jumping in a race car as it currently sits and driving in it. I think anyone will pretty much tell you that for the most part. There’s always going to be inherent risks to racing. You’re never going to get away from that.

“I think the biggest thing INDYCAR is trying to do is put in their due diligence for what they’re trying to find. You can’t just make a knee-jerk reaction to something like this. You never know what type of knock-on effects you could have of just throwing something on a car and not being responsible about it.”

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 10:  Alexander Rossi, driver of the #98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda, sits in his car during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Rossi at Texas. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

“I mean, I agree with Josef. It’s very important that there is no rush decision,” Rossi, this year’s Indianapolis 500 champion, added. “There’s much smarter people than racing drivers doing the research on that, and I think the FIA in combination with INDYCAR is obviously really trying to figure it out. I mean, I stand with Josef in the sense that I have no issue getting in the cars and they are now, and the last thing I’d want to do is do something that could make the situation a whole lot worse.”

Both drivers have escaped harrowing moments of their own on superspeedways the last couple years.

Newgarden escaped an accident during practice for the 2015 Indianapolis 500 when his car got airborne and landed upside down through Turns 1 and 2. Even worse was his crash this year at Texas Motor Speedway when he was an unfortunate bystander when his friend Conor Daly got loose exiting Turn 4, which pitched Newgarden hard into the outside retaining wall.

Rossi had a scary moment last year, where his car catapulted over Helio Castroneves’ when he was launched out of the pits at Pocono Raceway, narrowly missing Castroneves’ head in the cockpit area. Castroneves’ teammate in NASCAR, Brad Keselowski, implored IndyCar to develop a halo upon seeing that accident.

Castroneves said afterwards in quotes distributed by INDYCAR, “Inside the car, I was actually more protected than what it looked like. Sometime people don’t realize the Verizon IndyCar series are so much about safety and today is the proof of that. Very glad that nobody got hurt.”

Newgarden offered the forward thinking view for how motivated he is to get into a car, regardless of what’s around the cockpit area.

“When I look at just going into 2017 I feel very comfortable to get back in the car. Always have,” he said. “I’ve got no problem with what we’re doing. I’m exciting to go racing in 2017 in an Indy car.

“But going into the future, I get to talk with JR Hildebrand every now and then, and he’s a really smart guy and fun to talk to, and I think he put it best that we’re going to be able to find a solution at some point that keeps within the spirit of open wheel racing and open cockpit cars and advance the safety of that.

“So what’s that going to look like? I think we’re working on it right now, and that’s exactly what Jay said. I think that’s coming down the pike, and I’m comfortable with that. I think we’re going to find something. We’re working on it. Formula 1 is doing the same thing.

“You don’t see them throwing something on the car right away, and that’s exactly what’s happening on the INDYCAR side, too?”

Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
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Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”