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Esteban Gutierrez to make IndyCar debut with Coyne in Detroit

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Mexican driver, and another ex-Formula 1 driver in Esteban Gutierrez, will make his Verizon IndyCar Series debut this weekend as the next in the line of drivers aboard Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda, at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix dual races.

Gutierrez will race at Detroit for Coyne as the first Mexican driver to race the series since Michel Jourdain Jr. at the Indianapolis 500 in 2012. Gutierrez told NBC Sports’ Luke Smith at the Monaco ePrix “IndyCar is more attractive” for jumping into at some point.

The series hasn’t had a Mexican driver run full-time since 2008, when Mario Dominguez raced with Pacific Coast Motorsports. In CART and Champ Car’s peak, six Mexicans – Jourdain, Dominguez, Adrian Fernandez, Rodolfo Lavin, Roberto Gonzalez and Luis Diaz – raced at Mexico City in 2003.

“I’m very grateful to join Dale Coyne Racing, a highly competitive team,” said Gutierrez. “When Dale Coyne called me, I had no doubt that this would be a great opportunity for me to get experience in the Verizon IndyCar Series. My target is to learn as quickly as possible. IndyCar is a very challenging series for drivers, but I feel ready to take this chance.

“I’m excited about my debut races at the Detroit Grand Prix and I cannot wait to start working with the team, engineers and Honda, as well as driving a Dallara car again. I have very good memories of my successful GP3 and GP2 Series seasons with the Dallara cars and I worked very well with them at Haas F1 Team. I will do my best for Dale Coyne Racing, Honda and all the Mexican fans.”

Gutierrez steps into the car which had been driven by Sebastien Bourdais through qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, before Bourdais was injured with multiple pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip. The Frenchman, though, is well on his way to recovery and rather quickly judging by his social media posts, and even visited IMS on Sunday morning to check back in with the Coyne crew and the media.

While James Davison filled in at Indianapolis and acquitted himself well to drive from 33rd on the grid up to the lead for two laps, he was part of a five-car accident in the race’s final 20 laps that left him in an unrepresentative 20th place at the checkered flag.

Gutierrez will be an interesting case study to watch as an ex-F1 driver making his IndyCar debut. He won’t have had a test day and will be jumping in at the deep end of the 22-car field, and will be matched up against rookie Ed Jones, who it could be argued would have been a worthy rookie of the year at the Indianapolis 500.

But at 25, he’s incredibly experienced both in open-wheel and on street courses. He did three full seasons in Formula 1 with Sauber and Haas, and won the GP3 Series title in his first attempt in 2010 – a year that featured future IndyCar drivers Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden, Mikhail Aleshin, James Jakes and Stefano Coletti and other notables such as Robert Wickens, Daniel Morad, Rio Haryanto, Jean-Eric Vergne, Renger van der Zande, Antonio Felix da Costa and Michael Christensen. He also has finished third in GP2 and has been competing in Formula E this season, having started at Mexico City with the Techeetah team, where incidentally he’s now Vergne’s teammate.

All three remaining Formula E doubleheader weekends run on IndyCar weekends. FE is in Berlin next weekend while IndyCar is at Texas. In July, FE’s North American swing hits New York City (July 15-16) and Montreal (July 29-30) while IndyCar runs at Toronto and Mid-Ohio, respectively.

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.”