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INDYCAR Is Bully On New Safety Screen

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 2 2019
Testing continues on the IndyCar Series’ Autoscreen.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

First on-track test of INDYCAR’s Aeroscreen driver safety innovation is scheduled for Wednesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a project the sanctioning body views as a global game-changer.

Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing and 2014 series champ Will Power of Team Penske are scheduled to tour IMS’ 2.5-mile oval from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (EDT). A media session featuring INDYCAR President Jay Frye and Andy Damerum, Red Bull Racing Business Development Engineer, is set for 3 p.m.

INDYCAR announced in May the sanctioning body had formed a partnership with Red Bull Advanced Technologies to design an Aeroscreen for enhanced driver cockpit protection to be implemented for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season. The Aeroscreen is being developed to reduce the risk of driver injury from debris or other objects striking the cockpit area. The driver safety innovation surrounding the cockpit consists of a ballistic Aeroscreen anchored by titanium framework.

“We’ve been working on this Aeroscreen since 2016, so I guess you’d call this an overnight sensation,” Frye said during a State of the Sport address at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. “But the real game-changer for us this past year was when we partnered with Red Bull Advanced Technologies.

“There’s been no stone unturned on this program, this project, from driver cooling, driver expectation, clarity, glare, impact. It’s amazing what they’ve been able to do in a very short period of time. We believe this is an industry-changing total safety solution for driver cockpit protection. We’re very excited to get it on the track because we always say the data doesn’t drive, drivers drive, so the next step in the process is to get it on track and see where we’re at.”

The RBAT design is a polycarbonate laminated screen including an anti-reflective coating on the interior of the screen, anti-fogging device through an integral heating element and possibly tear-offs, all produced by integrated third-party companies. Another feature for drivers will be a cockpit cooling option designed by Dallara in conjunction with RBAT.

The titanium framework mounts in three areas around the cockpit _ the chassis center line, two rear side mounts and roll hoop integration _ to provide enhanced load-bearing capabilities.

“We’ve got to where we think all the data shows it’s going to be great,” Frye said. “The clarity, the visuals, we went through a lot of the process already, but it’s never been on the track. The track is the final send-off.”

Wednesday’s test will be the first of three on-track sessions in three weeks for the Aeroscreen. Additional tests are scheduled for Barber Motorsports Park’s 2.3-mile/17-turn natural-terrain road-course in Birmingham, Ala., on Monday, Oct. 7, and on Richmond Raceway’s three-quarter-mile oval on Tuesday, Oct. 15.

“It’s a very aggressive schedule, but the ball is in motion for a 2020 implementation,” Frye said. “Again, we think this is going to be something that’s going to really set the standard on driver safety. We really appreciate what all Red Bull has done and PPG. There’s been a lot of people involved and we’re excited about the future of that.”

The Aeroscreen is the second phase of INDYCAR’s objective to further enhance driver safety in its open-cockpit cars. INDYCAR debuted the Advanced Frontal Protection (AFP) device for the INDYCAR Grand Prix run May 10-11 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.439-mile/14-turn road-course and used throughout the season. The AFP is designed to deflect debris away from the cockpit area and the driver.

“The Aeroscreen is equally as important,” Frye said. “I think that’s kind of…there was a couple magazines in Europe that we would usually get about a paragraph in. Last month there was 15 pages in this magazine about this Aeroscreen. We can’t wait to get it on the track. I think it’s going to be a game- changer for motorsports in general, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Frye said he believes the Aeroscreen will offer even more protection to drivers than the halo currently mandated by the FIA for its Formula One World Championship.

“Red Bull Advanced Technologies, their entire staff, Red Bull’s F1 team, Pankl (Racing Systems of Austria)_ if there’s anything to do with metal, they’re the best in the world _ they’re involved,” Frye said. “PPG, the aerospace industry, is involved. Again, this is probably even the coolest project we’ve ever been involved in. We have access to all these people that are all focused on getting this right and getting it right in a big way.

“You think about, too, from a Red Bull perspective, it’s got to look cool, it’s got to work. So all these things are part of the plan. There’s been some things that have happened as a byproduct that we didn’t expect when we first started the project, which has made it even better, so when you think of the upper frame, the people call it a halo. It’s really not a halo, it’s a frame that the screen sits in. But the frame has as much strength…is stronger than a halo. Again, that’s a great thing. It wasn’t part of the original plan, but it turned out like that. Again, we’re just excited to get on the track.”

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Felix Rosenqvist was honored as INDYCAR’s 2019 Rookie of the Year during last week’s Victory Lap Celebration in Indianapolis _ the fourth driver from Chip Ganassi Racing to earn the distinction. The others are Eddie Cheever Jr. in 1990, Alex Zanardi in 1996 and Juan Pablo Montoya in 1999.

Felix Rosenqvist is the IndyCar Series’ top rookie.

Rosenqvist, a 27-year-old native of Malmo, Sweden, prevailed over a strong rookie class. Californian Colton Herta, 19, won two races and three poles for Harding Steinbrenner Racing, the latter the most for a series rookie since Danica Patrick in 2005.

Meanwhile, Santino Ferrucci of Dale Coyne Racing had completed all but 13 of the season’s laps _ second only to Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud _ until he made rear contact with Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing midway through the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Ferrucci, a 21-year-old native of Woodbury, Conn., called locking up the brakes “the only mistake I made all year.” Ferrucci finished a season-best fourth on three occasions and also was named Indy 500 Rookie of the Year for his seventh-place finish in the 103rd edition of the event.

Rookies finished sixth (Rosenqvist), seventh (Herta) and 13th (Ferrucci) in the final point standings led by Josef Newgarden of Team Penske. Marcus Ericsson of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports finished 17th after missing the Sept. 1 race at Portland International Raceway due to a Formula One commitment. A 29-year-old native of Kumla, Sweden, Ericsson’s season featured a runnerup result in Race 2 of the doubleheader weekend on The Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit on June 2.

Rosenqvist said finishing sixth behind four series champions and Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport was the highlight of his season. “I’m actually more happy about that than the rookie title,” he said. “Being sixth, that’s probably best of the rest.”

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The Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires program handed out more than $2.2-million in scholarships and awards at its Championship Celebration in Monterey, Calif.

Oliver Askew was the top honoree after capturing the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship for Andretti Autosport. The 22-year-old from Jupiter, Fla., will receive $1.1-million towards a minimum of three 2020 NTT IndyCar Series races, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. The Indy Lights title completed Askew’s meteoric rise from karting to an IndyCar Series opportunity in just four years.

Kyle Kirkwood, a childhood friend of Askew’s and a longtime karting rival, received $596,700 in scholarships and awards for winning the Indy Pro 2000 championship for RP Motorsport USA. Kirkwood, also from Jupiter, Fla., became the first driver since Matt Brabham in 2012 and ’13 to capture the USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 titles in consecutive seasons.

Braden Eves rallied in the final race of the USF2000 season to erase a 12-point deficit to Hunter McElrea with a title-clinching victory, his sixth of the season. Eves, of New Albany, Ohio, gave Cape Motorsports its ninth consecutive series championship and 13th overall. Eves received $305,600 to be applied to an Indy Pro 2000 ride in 2020.

The Road to Indy program also celebrated two-time/reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske, who won the Indy Lights championship in 2011. All four champions are one-time winners of the Team USA Scholarship. They also are all Americans, the first time that’s happened since 2002 _ Sam Hornish Jr. in the Indy Racing League, A.J. Foyt IV in Infiniti Pro Series, Guy Cosmo in Star Mazda and Bryan Sellers in USF2000.

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NBC Sports’ first year as exclusive media partner of INDYCAR resulted in a nine percent viewership increase for the 2019 season vs. 2018, according to data from the Nielsen Company and digital data from Adobe Analytics.

The 16 races in 2019 averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 1.105-million viewers across NBC, NBC Sports Network, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app, up nine percent vs. 2018 (1.011-million on ABC, NBCSN, digital). Eight races were broadcast on NBC this season vs. five network-broadcast exposures last year on ABC. NBCSN televised eight races this year as compared to 11 last year.

The season featured the first Indianapolis 500 televised on NBC. Simon Pagenaud’s victory for Team Penske in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” averaged a TAD of 5.475-million viewers, up 11 percent vs. the 2018 race (TV-only 4.913-million, ABC). Excluding the Indy 500, the seven remaining races on NBC averaged a TAD of 929,000 viewers, up three percent vs. ABC’s four non-Indy 500 races last year (906,000).

Other highlights include:

_ The season-opening street race in St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 10 on NBCSN averaged a TAD of 499,000 viewers, making it the most-watched INDYCAR season-opener in the network’s history. The TAD of 499,000 viewers was up 93 percent vs. NBCSN’s first race last season in Phoenix (primetime; 258,000).

_ June’s Road America race in Elkhart Lake, Wis., on June 23 on NBC posted a TAD of 1.108-million viewers to stand as NBC Sports’ most-watched INDYCAR race to-date, excluding the Indy 500.

_ NBCSN’s most-watched race of the season was at Pocono Raceway on Aug. 18, averaging a TAD of 553,000 viewers. It was the most-watched INDYCAR race on cable since last season’s finale from Sonoma, Calif., on NBCSN (638,000), and proved to be the final INDYCAR event on the 2.5-mile oval.

_ The season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., averaged a TAD of 736,000 viewers on Sept. 22, up 15 percent vs. the 2018 series-finale at Sonoma, which aired on NBCSN (638,000). The race averaged a household rating of 0.50 and a TV-only audience of 732,000 viewers.

_ Across NBC Sports streaming platforms, the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season delivered a total of 12.9- million live minutes and an Average Minute Audience (AMA) of 6,300 viewers.

Here are the Top 10 markets for the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season across NBC Sports _ 1, Indianapolis, 3.78 rating; 2, Milwaukee, 1.62; 3, Dayton, Ohio, 1.59; 4. West Palm Beach, Fla., 1.57; 5, Fort Myers, Fla., 1.55; 6, Sacramento, 1.40; 7, Richmond-Petersburg, Va., 1.36; 8, Columbus, Ohio, 1.32; 9, Cincinnati, 1.31; 10, Tulsa, Okla., 1.30.

*Note: NBC Sports is excluding weather-impacted races _ Iowa in 2019 and Barber Motorsports Park in 2018 _ from all season averages.

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Final 2019 NTT IndyCar Series point standings _1, Joseph Newgarden, Team Penske, 641; 2, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 616; 3,Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 608; 4, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 578; 5, Will Power, Team Penske, 550; 6, Felix Rosenqvist, Chip Ganassi Racing, 425; 7, Colton Herta, Harding Steinbrenner Racing, 420; 8, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport, 420; 9,Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 415; 10, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 389.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 2 2019
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