IndyCars Test Texas To See If Aero Is On Target

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 10 2016
It's the month of May but much of the IndyCar Series buzz has been about aero packages. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

It’s the month of May but much of the IndyCar Series buzz has been about aero packages. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – INDYCAR’s annual aerodynamic conundrum was addressed during a recent day-long private test at Texas Motor Speedway, where domed skid plates and rear wing beam flips were scrutinized by a near-starting field of 15 drivers representing five Verizon IndyCar Series teams.

bugindycarThe verdict? Per usual, depends on if you were hot-lapping with a Chevrolet or Honda engine/aero kit.

“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. I think it’s something our competitors like to talk and complain about,” said Ed Carpenter, owner/driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Chevrolet.

“I hate that this has become a topic of conversation,” said Graham Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. “As I told INDYCAR, I don’t even know why we’re doing this. We didn’t need to turn the attention to something like this. We should be talking about how great the Indy 500 is, and instead we’re talking about domed skids. Nobody knows what the heck that is, other than us.”

The series’ impending two-race Month of May stint at Indianapolis Motor Speedway _ topped by the historic 100th edition of the Indianapolis 500 _ drew plenty of inquiries from a handful of Metroplex media. But so did the sanctioning body’s revised rules for the oval-track events at Indy and TMS.

Announced as 2016 safety enhancements last November, domed skid plates and rear wing beam flips were first tested this year at the 2.5-mile Speedway last month in the run-up to “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 29. The same devices also will be on all cars when the series visits TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval for the Firestone 600 night race on Saturday, June 11.

Domed skids and beam wing-flips were added to the rulebook for this season after the Chevrolets

Ed Carpenter says testing at Texas was not a big deal.

Ed Carpenter says testing at Texas was not a big deal.

driven by three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves of Team Penske and Carpenter and ECR teammate Josef Newgarden became airborne at IMS after spinning backwards during practice last year.

Domed skids, a safety feature running the full underbelly of the Dallara DW12 chassis, are designed to create additional downforce and reduce the chances of a car becoming airborne in the event of a high-speed slide or spin. While the Chevrolet and Honda camps are in agreement over the safety aspect, Honda teams are concerned Honda Performance Development’s superspeedway aero kit doesn’t work as well with the domed skid as the Chevrolet kit.

Well, whatever it does, that’s what we’ve got,” said Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, winner of the last two races and the championship point-leader. “You could say that the car doesn’t handle the same way. For sure it doesn’t. What are you going to do about it? You can’t change the situation. INDYCAR has proven that it’s a safety device. It’s better for our safety. We just have to find ways around it to make the car behave the best it can behave.”

Pagenaud, who has two wins and a pair of runnerup results in four starts, will take a 48-point lead over Scott Dixon into Saturday’s third annual Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the 2.439-mile/14-turn IMS road-course. Will Power is defending pole-sitter and champion of an event that will be televised by ABC beginning at 3:30 p.m. (ET).

A huge variable when the teams return here in June for “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race” will be an ambient temperature typically around 90 degrees. The test was run in the mid-70-degree range.

The car feels very different to last year, for sure,” Pagenaud said during a teleconference one day after hot-lapping TMS in his No. 22 PPG Automotive Refinish Chevrolet. “It slides a bit more. But we have other aerodynamic pieces we can put on to help that. Then you have to work on the mechanical

Driver Graham Rahal was wondering what he was doing in Texas last week.

Driver Graham Rahal was wondering what he was doing in Texas recently.

package, springs, to make you feel like you want it. (The test) for me was more about learning what was doing what so we could build our toolbox and use what we need when we have a situation during the race weekend.

I came out of the test with a lot of answered questions and a direction we need to take for the race weekend. It’s certainly going to be different than last year. I thought racing at the end there when we ran in a pack was actually quite good, so it actually might make for good racing.”

Rahal, Honda’s No. 1 driver again this season, said the domed skid made his car “pretty loose” at TMS. “It was really loose at testing at Indy,” said Rahal, son of team-owner and 1986 Indy 500 champion Bobby Rahal. “Guys who tell you it doesn’t make a difference, they’re lying. There’s some politics going on. I think the Chevy guys don’t want it, but we need it. It definitely affects my car a lot. We’re going to keep working hard, put our heads down and try to make the best of it.”

Castroneves made it clear he is one Chevy guy who is in favor of the domed skids. “I’m not going to go into a Honda versus Chevrolet dispute, but my thing is that I was the one upside down last year,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 AAA Team Penske Chevy. “No question the domed skids, at least we have one test and this is another test. For sure, for safety that’s what we’re looking for. It doesn’t matter what car it is, we’re looking to make sure when you have the domed skids and the car is sideways you add at least 500 to 1,000 pounds more downforce. That means you are going to keep the car on the ground. That’s what we’re doing.”

Chevrolet-powered cars prevailed in last month’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway, the only oval-track run to-date. Castroneves qualified on-pole and Dixon, the four-time/reigning series champion from Target Chip Ganassi Racing, scored his 39th career victory.

Ten of the 15 drivers testing at TMS were Chevrolet-powered, including two-time/reigning Indy 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya of Team Penske. The Chevy drivers were trailed by a group of laptop-toting/white-shirted engineers working out of the photographer’s room in the infield media center.

Meanwhile, a media member’s suggestion that the domed skid testing was perhaps scheduled too close to two of the biggest oval track races of the season to be effective generally was dissed-and-dismissed. “The testing we’re doing is not late,” Castroneves said. “We’re going to have another five days of testing with the domed skids. The series is doing the right thing to test them before (the Indy 500).”

Power pointed out the aero kits change significantly from year-to-year, meaning downforce numbers must be recalibrated. “We’ve all got add-on bits,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. “All the hype about the domed skid was brought about by Honda because it would benefit them massively to have straights (underbody configuration) and not domed skids because they have a lot of downforce package.  They have what we run in qualifying.

“Of course, they’re going to politic very hard to say that it’s bad and this-and-that. But at the end of the day when cars are spinning and flying into the air like last year, if you’re not the one, that’s all good. Let me tell you it’s not a good situation. That’s what they’re for.”

Dixon, defending champion of the Firestone 600, noted the domed skid is not a completely new aero device. “We’ve had ‘em on cars previously and it’s pretty much the same design,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chevy. “And I think most of the cars obviously were tuned to running that anyway. All the rules were a year ago. So all the new aero packages that we have are built around them.

“I think with the rules that they’ve changed and the window you have to operate in you have to look at how much better it is for the safety side of things when it gets into yaw, and you can’t ignore that. That’s the big picture. Yes, it’s going to be more difficult to drive but you have a right foot (to lift off the throttle). You have a team to try to work out the differences. Whether it affects one manufacturer more than another is yet to be seen. In a whole, it just takes a bit of downforce away and mechanically it’s becomes a little more demanding.”

All reserved seating officially is sold-out for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. While general admission tickets still are available for the IMS infield, the massive grandstands around the 107-year-old oval, and all hospitality suites, will be completely filled on May 29.

“Every Indianapolis 500 is special, but the buzz surrounding the 100th running has been building for nearly a year, ever since the checkered flag fell on the 99th,” said IMS President J. Douglas Boles. “Our fans are the best and their incredible support of this year’s race will make it a truly historic day.” 

Beyond the grandstands, the new Hulman Terrace Club also is sold-out and every IMS suite is full. In fact, several large temporary suites will be erected due to increased demand. All VIP concert tickets are sold and it is expected that the Indy 500 Snake Pit presented by Coors Light will reach capacity for the first time. Fans are encouraged to visit IMS.com and check IMS social media feeds for updates on all ticketing related information.

Tickets remain on sale for Saturday’s Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, and can be purchased online at www.ims.com/tickets 24 hours per day, seven days a week. Tickets also can be ordered via phone at
Call 800-822-INDY or 317-492-6700 between 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday. Fans also can
visit the IMS Ticket Office at the IMS Administration Building east of the 16th Street roundabout and outside Turn 1 of the oval between 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 10 2016
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