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New Indy Car Tests Twisties; Deemed ‘More Fun’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 2 2017

Juan Pablo Montoya and Oriol Servia tested the 2018 Indy cars at Mid-Ohio on Tuesday. Both said less downforce should make for more fun. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

INDYCAR’s new-for-2018 universal aero kit promises to raise the degree of difficulty and magnify mistakes when Verizon IndyCar Series drivers compete on the “twisties” and “mean streets.”

The new aero kit _ developed by chassis-supplier Dallara for use by all competitors beginning next season _ was run in road course/street course/short oval configuration for the first time Tuesday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The universal kit will replace those supplied by series engine OEMs Chevrolet and Honda since the 2015 season.

Veteran open-wheel drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Oriol Servia were behind the wheels of their respective Chevrolet- and Honda-powered machines on the 2.258-mile/13-turn permanent road-course  in Lexington, Ohio. JPM and Servia debuted the new-look car during a superspeedway configuration test July 25 on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“It feels pretty good; it’s very different than the current aero kit,” said Montoya, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 1999 Championship Auto Racing Teams champion. “The (new) car is a little more forgiving, but the level of downforce is a lot lighter so you slide around a lot more. That, I think, is good.”

Montoya’s test car was prepared by Team Penske. Montoya has driven for Roger Penske’s juggernaut during all three seasons of OEM aero-kit competition, including last May’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the 2.439-mile/14-turn layout at IMS and the 101st edition of the Indy 500 on the iconic oval.

“I think you’re going to be able to see the (driver’s) hands moving a lot more on the steering wheel and I think you’re going to see the cars get out of shape a lot easier,” Montoya said. “The chances of mistakes are higher, so I think it’s going to bring better racing.”

Servia, a veteran of 202 Indy car starts since 2000, echoed JPM’s review. With the downforce level of the 2018 car approximately one-third less than the current iteration, driver input will become a greater part of the equation for car control. Fans will notice an increased effort required inside the cockpit.

“It’s harder to see the driver work when you have a lot of downforce (on the current car),” said Servia, the 2005 Champ Car World Series runnerup who made three Verizon IndyCar Series starts this season with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “When you have a little less (downforce) and the cars move around, at least the fans can see that we’re doing something. Good or bad, we are doing something. I think it’s going to be more fun for the fans and for us.”

The test day agenda consisted of short individual runs by each driver to check that all working parts were in order and to confirm proper cooling of internal areas. Then it was on to full-stint runs.

The day was capped by the first run of the two cars together, with Montoya leading Servia for five laps and then the two swapping positions. With more downforce generated from underneath the new car than from wings and additional aero pieces on top, less turbulence is created for trailing cars, which theoretically should lead to more passing opportunities.

Each driver turned more than 100 laps and both were pleased with their ability to run behind the other. “It was great, honestly,” said Servia, whose Honda-powered car was prepped by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. “I’m not just saying it because it’s what we wanted. It really was a lot better than this year’s car.

“Even at Detroit (the 2.35-mile/14-turn Raceway at Belle Isle Park) where the speeds are a lot less, which was my last race I did (in June), you couldn’t get close to anyone even in the slow corners because there was so much downforce,” Servia said. “Here, of course, there was downforce but it stays very balanced. This year’s car, the rear gets loose. And the new car, you lose a little bit of front, but not much. I was surprised. I think it’s honestly very positive. Apparently, science works.”

Tuesday’s test was conducted two days after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden claimed the Verizon IndyCar Series championship point-lead via a dominant victory in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

Newgarden led 73 of 90 laps en route to taking the checkered flag 5.1556-seconds ahead of teammate Will Power. The win gave the native of Tennessee back-to-back victories following his triumph July 16 in the Honda Indy Toronto street race.

Newgarden also moved atop the season standings for the first time in his six-year series career. He is the first American-born driver to lead the championship since Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport won the title in 2014. Newgarden, who is in his first season with Penske’s organization, holds a seven-point lead over teammate Helio Castroneves after 13 of 17 races.

Tuesday’s test was the second of four scheduled and run by INDYCAR. Upcoming tests are slated for Iowa Speedway’s 0.894-mile oval in Newton (Aug. 10) and the 3.74-mile/17-turn Sebring International Raceway in Florida (Sept. 26).

“We went through our test list and checked-off the boxes we wanted to,” said Bill Pappas, INDYCAR vice president of competition/race engineering. “Both drivers felt the car was different but comfortable. We went through tires for Firestone and got the reads on those, and Firestone is happy with that.

“We ran the cars together at the end, which I think was the most important thing, and both drivers commented that the car was very stable behind the car in front of them. We’re very pleased with the results.”

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season continues with the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway on Aug. 20 (2 p.m. EDT, NBC Sports Network and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). It will be the 14th of 17 races in a season that has the top four drivers in the championship _ Newgarden (453 points), Castroneves (446), four-time series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing (445) and reigning series champ Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske (436)  _separated by just 17 points.   

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Nico Jamin of Andretti Autosport completed the Mazda Road to Indy “hat trick” by winning Sunday’s Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race, making him victorious at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in all three MRTI levels. The 21-year-old Frenchman won three Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda races at the track in 2015 and collected a pair of Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires last year.

Jamin won by 0.5026-seconds over Santi Urrutia, the Belardi Auto Racing driver who won the first race of the weekend doubleheader on Saturday. Despite finishing 12th Sunday, Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) retained a 42-point lead in the championship over Urrutia and Colton Herta (Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing) with two Indy Lights races remaining.

In the third Pro Mazda race of the Mid-Ohio weekend, Anthony Martin made a statement by racing to victory 13.9957-seconds over championship rival Victor Franzoni. Martin (Cape Motorsports), the 2016 USF2000 champion, moved four points ahead of Franzoni (Juncos Racing) in the standings with three races to go.

The Pro Mazda results remain unofficial, however. The cars of Martin, Franzoni and TJ Fischer were impounded for further evaluation this week in Indianapolis _ an extension of the current inspection process.  

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 2 2017
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