IndyCar unveils new aero kit after nearly two years of development

Lead photo by Jeffrey Sauger for Chevrolet; other images courtesy IndyCar
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Two words likely best describe the new 2018 INDYCAR aero kit: sleek and sexy.

The new kit, which will greatly enhance aerodynamics and give drivers more control and stability of their cars – not to mention give them the ability to draw closer to opponents and not be hindered as much as in the past by turbulence – was formally introduced Tuesday morning at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

“Kudos to IndyCar for taking a big, big step,” legendary driver and former IndyCar champ Mario Andretti said during a panel discussion that followed the unveiling and which included several notables, including Jay Frye, IndyCar President of Operations and Competition, as well as legendary team owner Roger Penske.

“Since the inception of ground effects and sophistication of aerodynamics, aerodynamics are a blessing and a curse,” Andretti continued. “The blessing is the downforce to let drivers to go faster, but the curse is you’re creating turbulence and paying the price.

“I think a big step is made now to achieve what drivers have been complaining about, that they can’t get close to the guy in front of them.

“This thing is beautiful as it is, it’s going back to the pure, open-wheel single-seater should be. Having more ground effect downforce is a huge step forward.

“It’s more of a level playing field. … I can’t wait for the first race.”

Andretti, who turns 78 on February 28, even joked about wanting to get back in a race car himself.

“I certainly don’t lack enthusiasm,” Andretti laughed, adding, “I hear a lot of positives. The only negative is I don’t have a ride yet.”

To which Penske replied that he would have a car for Andretti tomorrow.

But on a more serious nature, Penske also spoke about the significance of the new aero kit, which will also be a significant cost savings over past cars.

“I think the evolution of the aero kit has been terrific because we can take our existing chassis and put these kits on the car,” Penske said. “It gives us the ability to go to the next step and the drivability of the cars.

“All of the drivers that have tested it are giving us great reviews. I think it’s going to be a home run.”

In turn, that should further increase at-track attendance, Penske said.

“Attendance is up and the demographics we see at these races are great,” he said. “We see more people knocking on the door than we have in the past. Today, the market is strong for us.”

The new aero kit has been nearly two years in the development and making. Developed by Italian manufacturer Dallara Automobili, which also has produced the IR-12 chassis since 2012, the new kit fits perfectly atop both Chevrolet and Honda chassis.

As Penske said, driver response has been overwhelmingly positive to the new kit. Those that have already tested it are almost universal in their praise, while those who have yet to test are looking forward to getting on-track to do so.

The new aero kits produce less downforce than had been generated by previous aero kits, but with one significant boost: much of the downforce created by the new aero kits will come from underneath the car, not only making the car stick to the ground more, but also dramatically reducing turbulence coming off the car, which had in the last several seasons prevented drivers from closing even further on the rear bumpers of cars in front of them.

Also, braking distances into turns will increase, which INDYCAR officials believe will create additional opportunities for drivers to overtake their competition.

And as an aside, the new aero kits will include additional locations to insert on-car cameras to further enhance the experience for race fans watching on NBCSN and ABC.

2017 IndyCar champ Josef Newgarden introduced the new car to media and guests that attended the unveiling. Testing by some teams has already begun, with a two-day open test for all IndyCar teams to take place in Phoenix on Feb. 9-10.

The 17-race 2018 season begins in its traditional St. Petersburg, Florida venue on March 11. One new venue on the schedule is the Grand Prix of Portland (Oregon), which will be held September 2, the penultimate race of the season.

The new aero kit is part of an initiative being called “The Future Starts Now” and that seems to be indeed the direction the sport is going, as well.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Combined speeds