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Hot, humid conditions at Sebring perfect for final Aeroscreen test

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A hot and humid day in Sebring, Florida provided the perfect opportunity for INDYCAR to test the cooling systems that will be necessary with the advent of an Aeroscreen partially enclosing the cockpit.

With temperatures in the high 80s and the percent of humidity higher than that, it was a chance for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan and Arrow McLaren Racing SP to get a chance to test the Aeroscreen.

Four-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais and Santino Ferrucci both shared the No. 18 Honda for Coyne’s team and rookie Pato O’Ward of Mexico tested a Chevrolet for Arrow McLaren Racing SP.

It was the fourth and final test session of the year regarding the Aeroscreen, which will be used on all cars in the NTT IndyCar Series next season.

The unseasonably hot and humid conditions will be the same that NTT IndyCar Series teams will face through the summer stretch and the track was predictably bumpy in replicating a street course.

“We checked boxes with drivers who had not previously experienced the Aeroscreen,” said Bill Pappas, INDYCAR’s vice president of competition and engineering.

The steamy Florida weather allowed for trying various driver cooling options and further validate the anti-fogging mechanism. Bourdais, who wears glasses, had no visibility issues in his first experience with the Aeroscreen. O’Ward, in his first on-track experience with Arrow McLaren SP, similarly adapted quickly to his new cockpit surroundings. Ferrucci had no issues while driving Bourdais’ car.

In consultation with drivers, INDYCAR will offer standard cooling options at each venue in order to keep the playing field level.

“These will be areas with specific parts,” Pappas said. “Teams won’t be free to develop their own ductwork.”

Bourdais said the utilization of a helmet duct likely will be the best option for particularly hot days.

“It’s figuring out what’s the best (cooling) option,” he said. “But it’s nothing we can’t work through.

“In races, we drive through clouds of debris, particularly on speedways and superspeedways, so I think this is a massive step (in protection). It’s a much safer place for us IndyCar drivers – I think everyone is pleased with it.”

The drivers said it took very little time to get acclimated to it.

“You can barely tell the screen is there because it’s pretty clear,” O’Ward said. “Obviously, it’s a bit more enclosed, but you see everything you usually see. The eyes kind of look around the halo, so you don’t really notice it. Once you’re pushing, you don’t really see the Aeroscreen.”

Pappas said INDYCAR and its suppliers are on schedule to deliver Aeroscreens to all full-season teams next month as preparation builds for Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The Aeroscreen was announced in May and developed by Red Bull Advanced Technologies in conjunction with INDYCAR.

Arrow McLaren SP and Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan became the fourth and fifth teams to work with the Aeroscreen. Chip Ganassi Racing, Team Penske and Andretti Autosport participated in tests last month that were held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Barber Motorsports Park and Richmond Raceway. Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing and Will Power of Team Penske took part in the test at IMS; Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport and Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske tested at Barber; and Josef Newgarden of Team Penske and Dixon handled Richmond.

These tests were designed to replicate the various conditions competitors will face during the 17-race season. IMS is the largest (2.5 miles) and fastest oval on the schedule while the .75-mile Richmond layout is the shortest of the five oval tracks. Barber Motorsports Park is a permanent road course like INDYCAR will use on seven occasions next year, and there will be five street-course races where Sebring-like bumps must be navigated.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Indy Lights: Kyle Kirkwood joins Andretti Autosport

Road to Indy
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One of the Road to Indy’s most talented young drivers will climb another step up the development system ladder this season.

Kyle Kirkwood, the 2019 Indy Pro 2000 champion, has signed a contract to race for Andretti Autosport in the 2020 Indy Lights season. Kirkwood will drive the No. 28 car for the reigning championship team.

A native of Jupiter, Florida, 21-year-old Kirkwood has been incredibly successful in junior formulas over the last few years. He won the F4 US Championship 2017 and won both the F3 Americas and USF2000 titles in 2018.

Driving for RP Motorsport Racing, Kirkwood won 9 of 16 races in his maiden Indy Pro 2000 season last year, allowing him to win his fourth championship in three years and earn the Road to Indy scholarship.

“We are very excited about the addition of Kyle to our Indy Lights program,” Andretti Autosport CEO and Chairman Michael Andretti said. “We’ve followed Kyle’s career from when he started in 2018 with the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship and have been impressed with his success in every race that led to his Indy Pro 2000 Championship last year. As a championship-caliber team, Kyle displays the desire and talent that we look for in our drivers and are excited to see him hit the track for the 2020 Indy Lights season.”

Kirkwood previously drove for Andretti in a two-day test session at Sebring International Raceway in December. He will make his official debut for the team in the season-opening doubleheader at St. Petersburg on March 14-15.

“I am ecstatic that I can now say I am competing in Indy Lights with Andretti Autosport this season,” Kirkwood said. “They have established a winning program in Indy Lights and we plan on carrying that reputation throughout 2020.

“We are a fantastic match for each other and our Sebring test in December proved that.”

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter