Lead photo by Jeffrey Sauger for Chevrolet; other images courtesy IndyCar

IndyCar unveils new aero kit after nearly two years of development

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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.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.