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New IndyCar Aero Kits Take To Track In Open Test In Arizona

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 10 2018

Graham Rahal logged the fastest lap in Friday’s IndyCar Series open test in Arizona. Teams used the new aero kit at the test. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

INDYCAR’s new-for-2018 universal Verizon IndyCar Series chassis and aero kit was unveiled en masse during Friday’s first session of the annual preseason Open Test at ISM Raceway, where 23 entries hot-lapped around the  1.022-mile oval in Avondale, Ariz.

More than 2,600 laps were completed at the facility formerly known as Phoenix International Raceway, which will play host to Round 2 of the series in April. Friday’s activity was the first series-wide track action since the 2017 season-ender on the road-course at Sonoma Raceway in Northern California last Sept. 17.

“It was nice to get behind the wheel of a car on an oval after everybody has been talking about it (the new car) for so long,” said Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champ, 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner and driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda. “Got to get in there, get a feel for it myself. I liked it. It was good fun. Definitely (the car feels) lighter, a lot lighter than when we were here last year.”

The lighter feeling Hunter-Reay referenced is from the universal aero kit every series competitor will be using for the first time this year. The new design produces significantly less downforce than the previous competitive aero kits provided by manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda. Most of the downforce is now generated from underneath the car, which can make it feel less stable, or lighter, through turns. That theoretically puts driver skill front-and-center in developing a fast car that handles well.

“It’s different,” said Josef Newgarden, the reigning series champion and driver of the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. “I think there’s definitely adjustments that need to be made from last year, obviously. It’s useful to have this time and to be able to work through everything because I think we’re all going to need it.”

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing set the pace during each of the day’s three-hour sessions. Defending Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato, who rejoined RLL this offseason after driving for team-owner Michael Andretti in 2017, led the afternoon practice with a lap of 19.6726-seconds/187.022 mph in the No. 30 Honda. Teammate Graham Rahal was fastest in the evening practice and quickest overall in the No. 15 Honda at 19.4574-seconds/189.090 mph.

“We’re good and Takuma is right behind us,” Rahal said. “And frankly, that lap wasn’t anywhere near what the potential was. We were on a (19.30-second lap), but I caught traffic. The car has pace. Both cars have pace, and so that’s awesome. We haven’t had a lot of luck here the last few years. We’re used to coming here and getting our butts kicked. To be able to come here and be competitive with this aero kit is awesome.”

Sato followed up being fastest in the afternoon by running second to his teammate under the lights with a lap of 189.065 mph. “I was happy to get back behind the wheel,” said Sato, who drove for RLL in 2012. “This is our first oval test with the team. It wasn’t flawless because we had some electrical issues again, but the engineers deal with it very well. Once we got going, I think we were very comfortable.”

Lone incident of the day came with less than 30 minutes remaining in the evening practice, when rookie Matheus “Matt” Leist spun the No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet exiting Turn 2 but did not make wall contact.

“I was already doing race stints; we had already done our qualifying (simulation) stint,” said Leist, who was fastest in a Thursday test among five rookies and two drivers who had no previous ISM Raceway experience in an Indy car. “Tony Kanaan (Leist’s teammate) was coming out of the pits and I was behind him and he stopped too much. I was carrying a lot of speed and I lost the rear and it just spun. Fortunately, I didn’t make contact.”

Leist, at 19 the youngest full-time driver in the series this season, previously had only driven around ISM on a simulator. His quick time of 19.97-seconds/184.236 mph was nearly a tenth quicker than fellow-Brazilian rookie Pietro Fittipaldi’s time of 20.06-seconds/183.347mph. The grandson of Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi, Pietro is testing at ISM for the first time for Dale Coyne Racing.

Other rookies testing, in order of speed, were Robert Wickens, the Canadian teamed with James Hinchcliffe at Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports; Spencer Pigot, who despite his 22 IndyCar Series starts for Ed Carpenter Racing, primarily on road-courses, never had driven on a short oval; Andretti Autosport rookie Zach Veach, who made his IndyCar Series debut in the 2017 Indianapolis 500 for Foyt Racing; 2017 Indy Lights champion Kyle Kaiser driving for first-year team Juncos Racing and Gabby Chavez, completing a refresher test with Harding Racing, another new team that ran a few races last year.

“I’ve never driven an Indy car on the ovals so this is the first time and I’m getting to know the track as well since I hadn’t raced here in Indy Lights,” said Leist, a three-time winner in Indy Lights last season. “A lot of new things but in the same way, the car doesn’t change that much from the Indy Lights (car), so the technique you need to drive it is pretty much the same for me.”

Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion who won last year’s Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway, was third at night and overall at 188.430 mph in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet. Newgarden clocked-in fourth overall at 188.182 mph.

Day 2 of the Open Test will follow the same schedule as Friday, with practices set for 3-6 and 8-11 p.m. (EST) Saturday. Both sessions will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. ISM Raceway is opening the track free to fans for Prix View Day, with a driver autograph session held between the practices.

The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season consists of 17 races and opens with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 11 (12:30 p.m. EDT, ABC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). The Phoenix Grand Prix is booked for April 7 at ISM Raceway (9 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).

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Sanctioning body INDYCAR has landed a lead engineer from a championship-winning manufacturer as its new managing director of engine development. Darren Sansum has joined INDYCAR after a successful stint at Toyota Racing Development, which has won the past two manufacturer championships in NASCAR’s Cup Series.

Sansum brings considerable experience to INDYCAR, having also worked for Ford Motor Company, Cosworth Technology and Ilmor Engineering. At INDYCAR, Sansum began overseeing engine development and competition between Honda and Chevrolet in the Verizon IndyCar Series on Feb. 6.

“Darren is someone we targeted early-on in the hiring process,” said Jay Frye, INDYCAR’s president of competition and operations. “There is a lot happening within INDYCAR’s engine program, both current and future projects. Darren’s background makes him a perfect fit to lead our engine program today and into the future.”

In TRD’s NASCAR program, Sansum’s focus was engine reliability and over the past four seasons the failure rate of Toyota’s V8 powerplants was significantly reduced. Prior to that with Ilmor and serving as Team Penske’s NASCAR engine technical director from 2009-12, the team had zero engine failures in all of 2012 for its two Cup entries, including the car of season champion Brad Keselowski. Sansum’s ties to INDYCAR began in 2002, when he joined Ilmor as a development engineer.

“What excites me about this role is that it’s an opportunity to use my 25 years of engine engineering,” said Sansum, 47. “It’s an opportunity to help develop the sport itself and it’s particularly pertinent that it’s with INDYCAR since that’s where it started for me and it’s the fastest category in North America.”

In addition to supervising INDYCAR’s current engine regulations, Sansum will play a central role in developing the next generation of engine regulations for the Verizon IndyCar Series. A key parameter in creating the next engine package will be making it attractive to new manufacturers.

“INDYCAR is going in a good direction, and I’d like to help further develop that and continue going in that direction,” Sansum said. “The competition’s very close between Honda and Chevrolet at the moment. I’d like to contribute to the evolution in this direction with the ultimate goal of adding manufacturers into the sport.”

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Four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon tested INDYCAR’s windscreen prototype on Thursday at ISM Raceway. The session was coordinated by Jeff Horton, INDYCAR director of safety and engineering.

The windscreen is made of a proprietary Opticor advanced transparency material by PPG, the same material the company uses in its production of fighter jet canopies. The material has shown to be stronger, lighter and more impact-resistant than polycarbonate previously used.

The prototype windscreen previously has been tested in a scale-model wind tunnel and racing simulator at Dallara, INDYCAR’s chassis producer. Harding Racing’s Gabby Chaves provided driver feedback after testing in the Dallara driving simulator last year. The on-track test at ISM Raceway was the next step in its evolution, although Frye said there is no timetable for implementation into series competition.

Additionally, Dixon will carry primary sponsorship from PNC Bank on his No. 9 Honda during the 2018 season. The deal represents an expansion of the PNC-Chip Ganassi Racing relationship that dates to 2013, when PNC Bank became an official sponsor of Ganassi’s organization.

Dixon’s No. 9 PNC Bank Honda will appear in eight markets within the PNC footprint, including the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 27.

“As a Pittsburgh native, PNC was a trusted brand I grew up with,” team-owner Ganassi said. “I opened up my first account as a teenager and that relationship later expanded to include my business financing. This announcement allows us to expand the fan experience at racetracks across the U.S. and take our two winning brands to a global viewing audience.”

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Friday’s combined Verizon IndyCar Series Open Test results around the 1.022-mile ISM Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., with rank, car number in parenthesis, driver, engine, session time/speed and total laps:

  1. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, Test Session 3, 00:19.4574-seconds/189.090 mph, 110
  2. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, Test Session 3, 00:19.4600/189.065, 163
  3. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, Test Session 3, 00:19.5256/188.430, 124
  4. (1)  Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, Test Session 3, 00:19.5513/188.182, 150
  5. (14) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, Test Session 3, 00:19.5904/187.806, 64
  6. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, Test Session 3, 00:19.5990/187.724, 122
  7. (98) Marco Andretti, Honda, Test Session 3, 00:19.6393/187.339, 102
  8. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, Test Session 3, 00:19.6807/186.945, 91
  9. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, Test Session 3, 00:19.7134/186.634, 121
  10. (4) Matheus Leist-(R), Chevrolet, Test Session 3, 00:19.7154/186.616, 159
  11. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, Test Session 3, 00:19.7432/186.353, 160
  12. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, Test Session 2, 00:19.8250/185.584, 103
  13. (21) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, Test Session 3, 00:19.9261/184.642, 252
  14. (6) Robert Wickens-(R), Honda, Test Session 3, 00:19.9364/184.547, 203
  15. (23) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, Test Session 3, 00:19.9495/184.426, 102
  16. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, Test Session 3, 00:20.0271/183.711, 100
  17. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, Test Session 3, 00:20.0465/183.533, 109
  18. (10) Ed Jones, Honda, Test Session 2, 00:20.0593/183.416, 95
  19. (59) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, Test Session 3, 00:20.0626/183.386, 129
  20. (19) Pietro Fittipaldi-(R), Honda, Test Session 1, 00:20.0669/183.347, 242
  21. (26) Zach Veach-(R), Honda, Test Session 3, 00:20.1814/182.306, 169
  22. (32) Kyle Kaiser-(R), Chevrolet,  Session 2, 00:20.2367/181.808, 254
  23. (88) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, Test Session 3, 00:20.3407/180.879, 122
  24. (26) Marco Andretti, Honda, Test Session 1, 00:20.5878/178.708, 18

Note: (R)-Rookie. All cars feature Dallara chassis and Firestone Firehawk Racing tires. Total Laps for three combined sessions: 3,264.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 10 2018
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