IndyCar: ‘New era’ of Roger Penske, aeroscreen showcased at Media Day

Bruce Martin Photo

AUSTIN, Texas – IndyCar’s annual preseason Media Day is like the first day of school for the racing series. It’s a chance to see old faces in familiar places as well as a few new faces who hope to make the grade.

It’s a day filled with hope and optimism that 2020 will be the year speed and performance will take a driver and team to Victory Lane.

Monday’s IndyCar Media Day at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Austin had all of those characteristics.

But this year’s event was different. It was the beginning of a new era on several fronts.

IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway now are owned by Roger Penske, the most successful team owner in auto racing history. Though Penske was not part of Monday’s activities, his influence over the future and the positive reception to his leadership were certainly a main topic of conversation.

“We all have very high hopes,” Alexander Rossi said. “The Hulman-George family did a great job, but it was time for a fresh set of eyes as a group. Look at what Roger Penske has done in his career, whether it is motorsports or not, and everything is exceptional. To have the capabilities and the passion to make it work is very cool.”

Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden has special insight into Penske. In addition to owning the series, the man also owns Team Penske, which features Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Newgarden as the drivers.

“Roger is a man who is better than all of us,” Newgarden said. “I can’t think of anyone who can keep up with him. We are very happy that the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are in the best hands of anybody in the world. He has the passion, the knowledge, the capability and the business structure to make sure that place survives for the next 100 years.”

It also was a chance for drivers and teams to give their thoughts on IndyCar’s aeroscreen. The cockpit safety enhancement will give the cars the look of a fighter jet. Several drivers and at least one team owner hope the new look of the cars will resonate with younger fans.

“I want people of our age to know how cool IndyCar racing really is,” said 23-year-old team co-owner George Michael Steinbrenner IV.

Most of the drivers have accepted the safety enhancement, but there have been a few who remain skeptical. Graham Rahal had a message for those who question the aeroscreen.

“I’m comfortable,” Rahal said. “I haven’t even driven it and I’m comfortable. I said this earlier, all these other guys can complain and make it difficult, but we are here to support IndyCar president Jay Frye and the series. We are here to lift up the series.

“We’ve all driven sports cars, and it’s not any different than that. We are going to face the same challenges. We’ve faced the rain in the sports car. We’re going to face those challenges, and we are going to make the most of it.

“It’s a fighter jet on wheels. My other dream aside from being an IndyCar driver was being a fighter pilot.

“Now, I get to mix both.

“That’s part of the evolution of life. We need to be better protected, and when we go to the ovals in particular, it’s going to be nice to be further protected.”

Cars hit the track Tuesday at nearby Circuit of the Americas (COTA) to begin two days of preseason testing.

Rain and cold temperatures are in the forecast for both days, and that has already led to some anxiety among drivers. Because COTA is a road course and IndyCar has rain tires, teams still could hit the track.

“The weather is not ideal, and that could throw a real curveball at us,” Rahal said. “If they mandate that we run or if they don’t, do the test days get shifted? If that happens, it will be a total nightmare over the next three weeks before St. Pete.”

That could throw teams testing into a mad scramble to prepare in time for the March 15 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Running in the rain could give INDYCAR some valuable feedback on the aeroscreen.

Tuesday will be the first time all cars on the track will have the open-canopy screen that will shield the driver from flying debris. Each aeroscreen will be fitted with tear offs, similar to those used on the visor of a race helmet. Because the tear offs are applied in layers, they quickly can be removed during pit stops to give the driver fresh visibility.

“Visibility in traffic will be important,” veteran oval driver and team owner Ed Carpenter said. “All of the testing has been done with one or two cars, and they have not run together for that much or that long. Some of the other oval races, if you are not running in traffic, you won’t know. That is something I need to get comfortable with.

“There is still a lot to learn with the cooling side of it. Visually, it’s no problem. The safety gains of protecting us from debris is great, but I do need to get comfortable with the visibility.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.