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Bourdais highly impressed after final aeroscreen test at Sebring

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In addition to being one of the most accomplished race drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series with four-straight Champ Car Series championships and 37 career IndyCar wins, Sebastien Bourdais has also driven a variety of Sports Cars.

That is why his input in the final aeroscreen test for INDYCAR this past Tuesday at Sebring International Raceway was important. Bourdais is one of the most outspoken drivers in racing and often gives a straight answer, whether it’s what others want to hear or not.

After spending all day on the track in the No. 18 Honda that was partially enclosed by the aeroscreen, Bourdais was highly impressed with the shape and design of the safety device.

“In a good configuration without rain or anything, it’s going to be a ‘no brainer’ to run it,” Bourdais told NBC Sports.com after the test. “It’s fairly easy and seamless.

“It’s pretty well done and there are no major issues with it. I’ve driven plenty of GT’s and Prototypes in Sports Car racing that had way worse visibility because of extreme distortion or tear-offs that were applied with a lot of bubbles. Visibility was actually quite a pleasant surprise. It’s better than almost every other screen I have driven with. With the curvature and everything, that’s quite an accomplishment because it has a lot of curvature in it.”

It was Bourdais’ first time in any aeroscreen test, including the previous windscreen tests from 2018.

Tuesday’s test was conducted under high heat and very humid conditions. That was a perfect opportunity for INDYCAR to study and analyze the cooling and airflow ducts for the driver in the cockpit.

“It felt fine,” Bourdais said. “There are different cooling configurations. Some that make it pretty hard to bear the heat and some that make it manageable. Visibility is fine, there is no significant distortion that impairs the vision.

“The tools are there and they have a pretty good idea what to do with cooling. They might have a different configuration for superspeedways because the airflow is so strong, but you may need more airflow into the cockpit for street course and road courses. I think they have a pretty good idea what to do.”

There is a bit of a different technique getting in and out of the Indy car because the aeroscreen is higher than the previous open cockpit.

“It’s a two-stage thing where you get your hands and arms over the headrest on the way out, then over the Halo structure,” Bourdais said. “You don’t get out at once; you get out in two steps. But it won’t take long to get used to it.”

Bourdais has been in racing for three decades and has had friends and fellow competitors injured, even a few have lost their lives. That is the aeroscreen is necessary to help protect the competitors.

“INDYCAR has been pretty instrumental in pursuing the aeroscreen concept and they wanted something more than the halo,” Bourdais said. “They were concerned the halo could still deflect debris that can hit a driver in the helmet. They wanted to do more than just the halo. It has taken quite a bit of time, but they have succeeded.

“This is quite an investment.”

As for getting back in the race car, Bourdais was glad to “dust off the cobwebs.”

“It’s always good to stay sharp and be in the car and drive,” Bourdais said. “That’s why we’re race car drivers. We don’t do very good sitting at home. It’s always good to be behind the wheel.

“I’m very happy we got to try the aeroscreen and it’s a success. The car is a bit heavier but not dramatic, either.”

Bourdais shared the driving duties on Tuesday with his teammate from 2019, Santino Ferrucci. Team owner Dale Coyne is confident he will re-sign Ferrucci for 2020 and has also expressed interest in considering a third car for popular Canadian driver James Hinchcliffe when he lost his ride at Arrow McLaren Racing SP.

“I would love that,” Bourdais said. “James is a good friend and I really feel for him. You can’t help but put yourself in his shoes. I’ve been fired in Formula One and been thrown to the fire and the dogs in the media before it ever became official. That’s very disrespectful and difficult to deal with.

“I feel for him and would very much welcome him. Anybody would welcome James as a teammate because he is such a cool guy and has a lot of experience. Money is a key factor in racing and if Dale can do that, I would welcome that, for sure.”

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