New Look IndyCar Takin’ It To The Streets

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 9 2018

The highly anticipated debut of the new generation of Indy cars is scheduled for the weekend at the St. Petersburg, Fla. street race. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

John Sturbin | Senior Writer

All speculation surrounding INDYCAR’s new-for-2018 universal aerodynamic bodywork chassis will become academic at 11:20 a.m. (EST) Friday _ scheduled start time for first practice of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ 2018 season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla.

The series’ six-month offseason was marked by the rollout/development of the Dallara IR-12 chassis that will be used by all teams with either Chevrolet or Honda twin-turbocharged V-6 power during the 17-race campaign. The new aero kit is the culmination of more than two years of conversations, strategy, design and testing by sanctioning body INDYCAR and its partners.

“It’s been a long offseason with a lot of testing,” said James Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5  Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. “We’re essentially starting from scratch, which isn’t a bad thing, but it does mean there will be some bumps in the road along the way to getting this right.

“Everybody always looks forward to St. Pete, it’s such a great place to start the season. This offseason _ even though it’s been busy with all the testing for Honda _ it really makes you miss racing that much more. At the end of the day, we’re not test drivers, we’re race drivers, and getting to that first race weekend is always special.

“There’s been a lot of change, not only with the 2018 aero kit but internally at SPM personnel-wise. So we’re really anxious to get ourselves into a race weekend situation to see how we all perform and start picking out how we can improve and build this team up to be regular contenders. I’m excited for (teammate) Robbie Wickens’ first race, (race engineer) Leena Gade’s first race, first race of the 2018 kit _there’s a lot of stuff to look forward to.”

Still, no driver is more eager to crank out meaningful laps than reigning series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske.

“I still have to pinch myself when I think about going to St. Pete as the Verizon IndyCar Series champion,” said Newgarden, who posted four of Chevrolet’s 10 victories and one of its 11 poles during the 17 races of 2017. “Any driver that gets an opportunity, like the one I got with Team Penske, will tell you they expect to win right away. I certainly did as well, but I think we were all surprised at how quickly we gelled together and made it happen.

“But that’s last year. The drive for the 2018 championship starts at St. Pete, and it’s a track where I’ve never won before. That’s our only thought this weekend _ going to Victory Lane.”

Newgarden will carry the No. 1 on the sides of the Team Penske Chevrolet during the 110-lap/198-mile race around a 1.8-mile/14-turn temporary street course through downtown St. Pete, including a runway of Albert Whitted Airport.

“To carry the No. 1, that adds a little bit more pressure,” said Newgarden, 27. “But the thing that I tell people is when you drive for Roger Penske, there’s always pressure. So whether you won a championship or not, I think that level of _ not expectation but responsibility to do your job and represent the group well and trying to get the most out of yourself _ I think that’s going to be there the same as it was last year.”

Competition aimed at preventing Newgarden from becoming the first Team Penske repeat Indy car champion since Gil de Ferran in 2001 will come from teammates Simon Pagenaud, the 2016 title-holder, and 2014 champ Will Power, among many others. “I left No. 1 as a rental,” said Pagenaud, driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Chevy and a close runner-up in the final 2017 point standings.

Team Penske has won pole position for seven of the past eight races in St. Pete, with Power setting the track record in 2016 at 1-minute,00.0658-seconds/107.882 mph in his No. 12  Team Penske Chevrolet.

But Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing upset the series’ “big teams” with a win one year ago.

“I live in St. Petersburg and am very proud to be a resident,” said Bourdais, driver of the No. 18 Team Sealmaster Honda. “Downtown is booming and our neighborhood is a great environment to raise a family. St. Pete is my home race and it’s an honor to represent the city during race weekend.

“My first Indy car race was here in 2003 and I took the pole, but until last year I really didn’t have a lot of success. It took 15 years, and now I’m the defending champion and that feels good. I don’t feel any additional pressure to do well, but it’s nice to be able to sleep in my own bed and have friends and family at the track.

“I’m looking forward to the start of the 2018 season. I want to thank Dale Coyne, Jimmy Vasser and (James) Sulli (Sullivan) for the opportunity to move forward with the program that Dale started a year ago with the support of Honda. This is a small team, but we have proven we can take poles and win races. However, I think we are now putting together what hopefully is a consistent program that can compete at the highest level and contend for a championship.” 

Four-time series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing will attempt to add to his record-setting resume in 2018. Dixon’s four season championships tie him with Indy car greats Mario Andretti, Bourdais and Dario Franchitti, trailing only the seven titles collected by A.J. Foyt Jr. Dixon is fourth on the all-time Indy car victory list with 41 but never has won on the Streets of St. Pete. He does, however, have three runnerup finishes at the circuit.

Dixon has made 224 consecutive starts heading into the weekend, second-longest streak in Indy car racing. Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti has made 200 consecutive starts, the fourth-longest streak.

Tony Kanaan, the 2004 series champion, will begin his tenure with A.J. Foyt Racing looking to start his 283rd consecutive race, which would extend his Indy car record that began in June 2001 at Portland. Kanaan will attempt to make his 344th Indy car start, which would tie former Penske star and fellow-Brazilian Helio Castroneves for third on the all-time list. Castroneves, a three-time Indianapolis 500 champion, has transitioned over to Roger Penske’s Acura Prototype program in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

“Back in October when we announced that I’d be racing for A.J. this year, I said that we had a lot of work ahead of us,” said Kanaan, driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet. “I’m glad to say that everyone from the team took the challenge and worked hard during the offseason to get us to the INDYCAR season-opener in competitive form. I’m excited about starting the season with the new 2018 Indy car in St. Petersburg and to help A.J. Foyt Racing get the results they deserve.”

Introduction of the universal chassis also amped-up the offseason workload for tire supplier Firestone Racing. “Tire development of the new aero kit was a big offseason project for our Race Product Engineering team, as we worked on developing more than 60 race tire specifications to meet the unique demands of the 2018 car,” said Cara Adams, chief engineer, Bridgestone Americas Motorsports. “For St. Pete, the primary tire compound is the same one used at all street courses last season, and the alternate tire compound is the same as 2017 St. Pete, Long Beach and Detroit tires.”

Firestone has brought more than 1,500 tires to St. Petersburg, where each entry will receive seven sets of primary tires, four sets of alternate (red) tires and five sets of rain tires.

Seven rookies are entered and four _ Rene Binder, Jordan King, Matheus “Matt” Leist and Wickens _ will make their first start at St. Petersburg. The other Rookie of the Year candidates are Zachary Claman De Melo, Zach Veach and Jack Harvey.

Since 2012, the Series has averaged 9.5 different race winners per season, including a record-tying 11 winners in 2014. There were 10 different winners in the 17 races of 2017 with an equally tight competition projected for the season via introduction of the 2018 car.

Drivers may engage their “push-to-pass” for a total of 150 seconds during the race, with a maximum duration of 15 seconds for any one activation. Push-to-pass is not available on the initial start or any restart unless it occurs in the final two laps or three minutes of a timed race. The feature increases the power of the engine by approximately 60 horsepower for 2018. 

Two rounds of practice Friday and one on Saturday will lead into three rounds of knockout qualifying at 2:20 p.m. ABC will telecast the race live at 12:30 p.m. (EDT) Sunday. Castroneves, a three-time winner on the Streets of St. Pete, will serve as grand marshal.

All practice sessions and Verizon P1 Award qualifying will be available on the INDYCAR YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/indycar) and RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

All IndyCar Series races are broadcast live on the INDYCAR Radio Network, Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app. Series qualifying is broadcast on Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app. Series practice sessions plus Indy Lights practice, qualifying and races are on IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Verizon IndyCar Series entry list for the 2018 season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla., listed by car number in parenthesis, driver, hometown/country, car entrant name and team:

1. (1) Josef Newgarden, Nashville, Tenn., Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, Team Penske

  1. (4) Matheus “Matt” Leist-(R), Novo Hamburgo, Brazil, ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet, A.J. Foyt Enterprises
  2. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Toronto, Canada, Arrow Electronics SPM Honda, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 4. (6) Robert Wickens-(R), Guelph, Canada, Lucas Oil SPM Honda, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
  3. (9) Scott Dixon, Auckland, New Zealand, PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Chip Ganassi Racing
  4. (10) Ed Jones, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Chip Ganassi Racing 7. (12) Will Power, Toowoomba, Australia, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Team Penske
  5. (14) Tony Kanaan Salvador, Brazil, ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet, A.J. Foyt Enterprises
  6. (15) Graham Rahal, New Albany, Ohio, United Rentals Honda, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
  7. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Le Mans, France, Team Sealmaster Honda, Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan
  8. (19) Zachary Claman De Melo-(R), Montreal, Canada, The Paysafe Car Honda, Dale Coyne Racing
  9. (20) Jordan King-(R), Warwick, England, Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, Ed Carpenter Racing
  10. (21) Spencer Pigot, Orlando, Fla., Autogeek Chevrolet, Ed Carpenter Racing
  11. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Montmorillon, France, Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, Team Penske
  12. (23) Charlie Kimball, Camarillo, Calif., Tresiba Chevrolet, Carlin
  13. (26) Zach Veach-(R), Stockdale, Ohio, Group One Thousand One Honda, Andretti Autosport
  14. (27) Alexander Rossi, Nevada City, Calif., NAPA Auto Parts Honda, Andretti Autosport
  15. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., DHL Honda, Andretti Autosport
  16. (30) Takuma Sato, Tokyo, Japan, Panasonic Honda, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
  17. (32) Rene Binder-(R), Fügen, Austria, Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet, Juncos Racing
  18. (59) Max Chilton, Reigate, England, Gallagher Chevrolet, Carlin
  19. (60) Jack Harvey-(R), Lincoln, England, AutoNation/SiriusXM MSR with/SPM Honda, Michael Shank Racing with Schmidt Peterson
  20. (88) Gabby Chaves, Bogota, Colombia, Harding Group Chevrolet, Harding Racing
  21. (98) Marco Andretti, Nazareth, Pa., Ruoff Home Mortgage/Curb Honda, Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian

Note _ All cars use the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series Dallara IR-12 universal aero chassis with Chevrolet or Honda twin-turbocharged V-6 engines and Firestone Firehawk tires.

(R) _ Denotes Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 9 2018
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