Drivers think more aero changes are needed to improve speedway racing

Photo: IndyCar
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In the wake of this year’s Indianapolis 500, IndyCar officials revealed that changes to the front wing of the UAK-18 would be made available for the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.

The decision came as a result of an Indy 500 that did not produce the same slip-streaming shootout we’ve seen since the DW-12 chassis was introduced in 2012, and drivers, teams, and officials were looking for a way to improve the show as they continue to get their hands around the the 2018 aero kit.

Pocono would serve as a testing ground of sorts, and the nature of the 2.5-mile “tricky triangle” made it ideal to see if the subtle aero changes would work. Pocono, like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is relatively flat, particularly in Turns 2 and 3, which means it doesn’t have multiple grooves to use in the corners. This puts a premium on having a package that allows cars to follow each other closely through the corners.

Sebastien Bourdais highlighted this point about Pocono after Saturday qualifying. “It’s typically a one-groove race track and following is very difficult, so getting a run is going to be hard,” he explained.

Although the front wing changes were small, there was optimism that they would allow cars to follow each other more closely. Tony Kanaan addressed this after his qualifying run, and while he acknowledged that things were still going to be plenty challenging, he thought the changes were going to be a help.

“I think it was a good tool to add, but we’re still going to have our hands full anyway. It’s just made our life a little bit better,” Kanaan expressed.

However, things ultimately did not pan out as well as everyone hoped. Following and passing cars remained difficult – several drivers indicated that even passing lapped cars was a challenge. Further, while Will Power was able to keep a dominant Alexander Rossi in his sights, Power knew he would have trouble getting by on the track, and resigned himself to saving fuel and going longer on a stint, with the hope that he would jump ahead during a cycle of pit stops.

“Pretty much as soon as we caught traffic, I was just in fuel save heavily for most of the race to get a lap on (Rossi). That was our best shot to jump him,” Power revealed.

Third-place finisher Scott Dixon detailed that, while battling Marco Andretti for third earlier in the race, he simply could not get a run on him, despite Andretti running lean on his fuel mixture.

“We got stuck behind Marco for I think it was three stints. It was just miserable,” Dixon lamented. “No fault of his. They were just trying to hit a fuel number. But I just couldn’t do anything. I had no pressure from behind. It was the most bizarre thing where you’re running four, five miles an hour slower than probably the pace of the race should be, and nobody was doing anything.”

Dixon also asserted that, as a result of the persistent issue of cars unable to follow each other on super speedways, more changes might be needed.

“It was really tough to pass. You could get cars that were really bad, but cars that were sort of midway and halfway pace, you just really struggled. Marco was lifting big-time to get fuel mileage and just couldn’t get a run on him. If we just didn’t have the washout we did today, it would have been a lot easier to pass. It is what it is. Next year we need to come out with a revised aero kit,” said Dixon.

Power also highlighted possible changes to the tire compound to improve things.

“I think the tire will help. It just depends how far you want to go,” he explained. “You need to make it so close where you take the driver out. Obviously (on Sunday) there was a lot of driver in it. It probably needs to go a bit more towards being wide open in (Turn 2), getting runs. Just need more grip. That’s probably downforce and tire, yeah.”

However, they remained positive about the overall outlook of the aero kit, and are confident that IndyCar and its technical team will make the right changes for next year and beyond.

“It’s the best group they’ve ever had at IndyCar as far as the technical side,” Power added. “Bill (Pappas), Tino Belli: these guys are very thorough. They’ve worked as engineers on teams. They are always making the right moves. They’ve made a car that looks awesome, and it does race well on short ovals, road courses.”

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Malcolm Stewart sidelined by knee surgery for ‘extended duration’

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The knee injury that kept Malcolm Stewart from mounting up for Anaheim 2 will require surgery and he will be sidelined for “an extended duration” of the Monster Energy Supercross season, according to the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna team.

“I just wanted to give you guys an update,” Stewart said on Instagram. “It’s not the news you guys want to hear, but I took a spill last week and hurt my knee pretty bad to the point that we’re going to have to get surgery done.

“I’m definitely bummed out about it; I felt we were riding pretty good and were just now starting to get the ball rolling, but it is what it is.”

Stewart’s season started with high expectations until accidents in the first two rounds left him 15th in the standings.

He ended 2022 on a high note, finishing a career high third in the Supercross standings. He then missed the start of the Pro Motocross season with another knee injury.

The 2023 season appeared to live up to his expectations. Despite back-to-back accidents, Stewart contended for podiums at both Anaheim 1 and San Diego. He won his heat at San Diego.

“It was very tough to receive the news that Malcolm will need to undergo knee surgery,” Nathan Ramsey, Team Manager for the Husqvarna team said in a press release. “He has worked so hard to be in a position to win races this year and I truly believe he was ready.

“The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing program will support him in every way that we can through his recovery and we can’t wait to get him back on track and back at the races.”

Stewart joins 250 rider Jalek Swoll on the sidelines after he broke an arm in a practice session. Swoll will be relieved by Talon Hawkins beginning this week at Houston, Texas.

A replacement rider has not been announced for Stewart, which means the focus shifts to his 450 teammate Christian Craig, who currently sits 12th in the standings with three top-15s in the opening rounds.