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Rossi To Drive Down South – Way Down South

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 26 2019
Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi will drive in next month’s Baja 1000 race in Mexico. (File photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

INDYCAR star Alexander Rossi has entered the 52nd annual SCORE Baja 1000 for a second consecutive year, co-driving the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck next month as part of the Honda Off-Road Racing Team.

A rookie in the legendary event in 2018, Rossi quickly adapted to the unique demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team posted a second-place Class 7 finish. That effort marked the fourth consecutive first- or second-place Baja 1000 result for the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck.

“I’m more than excited to get back in this Honda Ridgeline off-road truck for the Baja 1000,” Rossi said in a statement. “It’s safe to say I decided last year, within five minutes of testing the Ridgeline for the first time, that I was going to do this again.”

The oldest, most prestigious and longest continuously held desert off-road race, this year’s SCORE Baja 1000 on Nov. 19-24 will be a loop race of 799.1 miles, starting and ending in Ensenada in Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. The race is the finale of the SCORE World Desert Championship.

The start/finish line compound again will be adjacent to the historic Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center in Ensenada.  The car, truck and UTV classes will start at 10:30 a.m. (PST) on Friday, Nov. 22, with the first finishers expected to complete the race in approximately 13 hours.

Alexander Rossi [right] will return with owner/driver Jeff Proctor [left] to drive the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck for his second Baja 1000 with the Honda Off-Road Racing Team next month. (Photo courtesy of Honda)

Rossi is a seven-time NTT IndyCar Series race-winner with Andretti Autosport, including the historic 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2016.  For his second Baja 1000, Rossi again will share driving duties with team owner/driver Proctor and Baja veteran Pat Dailey. Each driver will cover approximately one-third of the nearly 800-mile loop course, which will start and end in Ensenada, Mexico.

Rossi is the sixth Indy 500 champion to compete in the Baja 1000, joining Parnelli Jones, a two-time race- winner (1971-72); fellow-Honda IndyCar Series driver and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay; Rick Mears, Danny Sullivan and Buddy Rice. INDYCAR season champions who have raced in the Baja 1000 include Mears, Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy.

“The Honda off-road guys and my co-driver/navigator Evan Weller make it so easy for me to just jump right in and go to work,” Rossi said. “I can’t wait to share the seat with Jeff and Pat once again, and hopefully, bring home a win.” 

Proctor won his class in the Baja 1000 in 2015 and 2016 with the Ridgeline, finished second in class in 2017 and 2018 and won the companion SCORE Baja 500 race n 2016, 2018 and again earlier this year.  The Ridgeline competes in Class 7, for unlimited six-cylinder production-appearing trucks and SUVs. 

“We are stoked to have Alexander back racing with us in Mexico for his sophomore attempt at this iconic off-road race,” Proctor said.  “This year’s 52nd annual Baja 1000 course covers ALL of the toughest terrain and areas in Baja Norte…as always, it will be tough.  Alex is one of the brightest motorsports minds I’ve worked with, and he is a great asset to our team.” 

Powered by a twin-turbocharged V6 produced by Honda Performance Development, the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck features a body designed by Honda R&D Americas’ Los Angeles Design Studio, with inspiration taken from the current Honda Ridgeline.  Key design cues drawn from the 2019 Honda Ridgeline can be seen in the front fascia, hood, roof, bed and side profile.

Making approximately 550 horsepower, HPD’s 3.5-liter HR35TT engine uses the same block, cylinder heads and crankshaft as the production V6 engine that powers the all-new Ridgeline.  Added powertrain elements include an HPD-designed intake plenum and custom Engine Control Unit programming. 

The Honda Off-Road Racing Team has had a solid 2019 season, including class wins for the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck at the Parker 425, the Mint 400 and Baja 500 _where the team successfully debuted the second-generation “TSCO” chassis _ and a second-place Class 7 finish at the Vegas-to-Reno event.

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Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden logged his first laps with INDYCAR’s cockpit-protecting Aeroscreen recently around Richmond Raceway’s 0.75-mile oval, declaring the experience “pretty normal.”

INDYCAR held another test for its Aeroscreen cockpit protector – this time at Richmond Raceway.

Newgarden, the two-time/reigning IndyCar Series champion, was joined by five-time champ Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing for a session featuring tire testing for Firestone along with the third of four scheduled tests of the Aeroscreen this fall.  Richmond Raceway will return to the open-wheel schedule in June after a 10-year hiatus.

Hot- lapping around Richmond for the first time, Newgarden said the feel of his Chevrolet-powered Dallara was not overly different with the Aeroscreen. “It was my first time with the Aeroscreen. Just getting a feel for that,” Newgarden said. “It honestly was pretty seamless. Perception-wise it was a little different when I got in. It took maybe 30, 40 laps, after that you’re used to it. It feels kind of normal.

“The way the car feels compared to a place like Iowa or Gateway, it feels very similar. From a tuning standpoint, it did not take much to get the car back into the correct window as far as the balance. I think the balance is still very good, even with the screen on. From that standpoint, I don’t think the cars are going to change dramatically going into next year.”

Dixon previously took part in the initial Aeroscreen on-track test with Team Penske’s Will Power on Oct. 2 on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval. In addition to testing Firestone tires, Dixon said the Aeroscreen is working well on ovals and is nearly ready for the 2020 season.

“We pretty much stayed with the same configuration from Indianapolis,” Dixon said. “I know the noise box I think has a few more openings on it, which is helping the flow there. There was a device that we tried earlier in the day, but it wasn’t secured well enough, that we’ll revisit later.

“I think for the oval stuff, the car’s fine. I know there were some different additions they ran at Barber (Motorsports Park) with two drivers there. Those I think we’ll try maybe later as well with some helmet cooling options to prep everybody for the upcoming season.

“A little different look with the Aeroscreen. It seems like everything is going well with all the testing (INDYCAR has) done. For sure (at Richmond), the car’s fine.”

The Aeroscreen is scheduled to make its race debut March 13-15, 2020 at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on a 1.8-mile/14-turn street course in Florida. The device will be used in competition at all 17 races _ including the June 26-27 event at Richmond Raceway. It will mark the first series race at the Virginia facility since 2009.

INDYCAR President Jay Frye said sanctioning body officials have learned something new about the Aeroscreen during each test. “It’s about checking the boxes and once the teams get a hold of it they’ll make it even better,” Frye said.”They’ll take it to a whole other level.”

The Aeroscreen was developed by Red Bull Advanced Technologies to reduce the risk of driver injury from flying debris or other objects striking the cockpit area. Anchored by titanium framework, the Aeroscreen consists of a polycarbonate laminated screen that includes an anti-reflective coating on the interior of the screen, an anti-fogging device through an integral heating element and tear-offs, all of which will be produced by integrated third-party companies.

The titanium framework mounts in three areas around the cockpit: the chassis centerline, two rear side mounts and roll hoop integration to provide enhanced load-bearing capabilities. The load-bearing is expected to be 150 kilonewtons (kN), which equals the FIA load for the Halo design currently used in Formula One. A kilonewton is equal to approximately 225 pounds.

The visit to Richmond Raceway was the third consecutive week of on-track testing of the Aeroscreen, each session on a different layout. INDYCAR previously staged an Aeroscreen test at a superspeedway _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway _ and followed with the second test on Barber Motorsports Park’s 2.3-mile/17-turn permanent road-course in Birmingham, Ala., on Oct. 7.

The fourth scheduled test is set for Nov. 5 at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway, a track that simulates street circuits. Four-time INDYCAR champion Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan and James Hinchcliffe of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports will test at Sebring.

A focal point of the Richmond test was to make driving the car a more comfortable experience by redirecting airflow inside the cockpit through the use of interior inlets. “That was an improvement, especially around the legs and body,” Dixon said.

While the Aeroscreen adds about 60 pounds to the car, Newgarden said he noticed little difference between driving at Richmond and without the Aeroscreen at Iowa Speedway, a similar 0.875-mile oval.

“From a tuning standpoint, it didn’t take that much to get it back into the correct window as far as the balance; the balance is very good even with the screen on,” Newgarden said.”From that point, I don’t think the cars are going to change that much going into next year.”

Frye confirmed INDYCAR will stage an open test at Richmond Raceway in late March for all fulltime competitors.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 26 2019
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