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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 

Alexander Rossi hopes to dodge oncoming traffic in second Baja 1000

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One of the great viral videos of last year’s offseason was the sight of Alexander Rossi’s Honda Ridgeline off-road vehicle and its near head-on collision with a passenger SUV coming in the wrong direction of last year’s Baja 1000.

The video of the incident overshadowed an outstanding debut for Rossi in the SCORE OFF Road Desert race.

Rossi (pictured above on the right along with fellow driver Jeff Proctor) told NBCSports.com that driving down the same roads still used by passenger traffic is one of the unique challenges of the Baja 1000.

“The most demanding form of racing is IndyCar racing,” Rossi told NBC Sports.com. “But the big thing for me in the Baja 1000 is mentally being able to understand the terrain that is coming at you at 120 miles an hour in the dust and pedestrians and other cars, people and cattle that come along with this race.”

Rossi is becoming a modern-day Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. He wants to race anything on wheels and win.

Since the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season concluded with the Sept. 22 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Rossi competed in the Bathurst 1000 in Australia on Oct. 13. Earlier this year, Rossi drove for Acura Team Penske in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

This weekend, the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 and a perennial contender for the NTT IndyCar Series championship will compete in the Baja 1000 for the second straight year.

Rossi will be driving for the Honda Ridgeline Racing team and is the sixth Indy 500 winner to compete in the Baja 1000.

Other Indy 500 winners who have raced in the SCORE Baja 1000 include Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis winner and a two-time Baja 1000 race winner (1971 72); fellow Honda IndyCar Series driver and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, the Indy winner in 2014; Rick Mears, who won the Indianapolis 500 four times, 1985 Indy 500 champion Danny Sullivan and 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice.

NTT IndyCar season champions who have raced in the Baja 1000 include Mears, Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy.

Rossi has a better understanding of what to expect in this year’s Baja 1000 after last year’s rookie experience.

How valuable was last years’ experience?

“It’s hugely valuable,” Rossi said. “The course changes each year. There will be some elements that are the same, but it’s a new route from start to finish this year. That is why we go down a week early. We do pre-running in a similar type of vehicle and take course notes and analyze each individual section of the course, find the danger areas and what you need to do come race day.

“Ultimately, the biggest thing is having the knowledge of how to prepare for the race and what to expect once you roll off the starting line. That is something I will have going for me this year that I didn’t have last year.”

As an off-road rookie, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“I don’t know that I can pinpoint any highlights other than just the whole experience,” Rossi said of last years’ experience. “The whole week and a half I had down there in 2018 was phenomenal. The team made me feel part of the family from Day One. I just love driving a desert truck through Baja California. It’s an experience unlike any other.

“The entire event was a highlight more than one specific moment.”

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Driving an off-road Honda Ridgeline through the desert of Baja California in Mexico is vastly different than Rossi’s regular ride in the No. 27 NAPA Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series. But Rossi believes there are many similarities, also.

“It’s very different, for obvious reasons, but ultimately, a race car is a race car,” Rossi said. “It has four wheels, and you are trying to get it from Point A to Point B quicker than other people. The general underlying techniques of getting a car through the corner efficiently is all the same; it’s just a different style.

“Everyone here is very talented at what they do and very good so in order to win this race, you have to be at the top of your game.”

The Baja 1000, like most forms of off-road racing, is more against the clock than a wheel-to-wheel competition such as IndyCar. Rossi believes it is a different form of endurance racing, similar to IMSA in many ways.

“You have to compare it like an endurance race,” Rossi said. “It’s a race where the first part of it, you are trying to get through and not take chances and stay in touch with the people you are trying to stay in touch with.

“When you get down to the final 20 to 30 percent, that is when you try to either close the lead of extend the lead of whatever position you are in. That is similar to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It comes down to the last three or four hours, and we take a mentality closer to that.

“The only difference is if you get it wrong at Daytona, you spin in the grass. Here, it can be more dramatic than that.”

As an off-road rookie in 2018, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“The Honda off-road guys and my co-driver/navigator Evan Weller make it so easy for me to just jump right in and go to work,” Rossi said. “I can’t wait to share the seat with Jeff [Proctor] and Pat [Dailey] once again, and hopefully, bring home a win.”

The Honda Off-Road Racing Team has had an outstanding 2019 season, including class wins for the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck at the Parker 425, the Mint 400 and the Baja 500; where the team successfully debuted the second-generation “TSCO” chassis; and a second-place Class 7 finish at the Vegas-to-Reno event.

Proctor won his class in the Baja 1000 in both 2015 and 2016 with the Ridgeline, finished second in class in 2017 and 2018; and won the companion SCORE Baja 500 race both in 2016, 2018 and again earlier this year. The Ridgeline competes in Class 7, for unlimited six-cylinder production-appearing trucks and SUVs.

“We are stoked to have Alexander back racing with us in Mexico for his sophomore attempt at this iconic off-road race,” Proctor said. “This year’s 52nd annual Baja 1000 course covers ALL of the toughest terrain and areas in Baja Norte….as always, it will be tough.

“Alex is one of the brightest motorsports minds I’ve worked with, and he is a great asset to our team.”

The Baja 1000 begins Friday and runs through the weekend along the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500