Dixon set to initiate testing of new aeroscreen

The NTT IndyCar Series is preparing to conduct its first tests of the new aeroscreen cockpit protection device.

Using a design created by Red Bull Advanced Technologies, the prototype unit, featuring a Formula 1-style halo wrapped in a screen made from ballistic material, could turn its first laps in September at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Dixon, the five-time and defending series champion, was nominated to conduct the first outing with the RBAT aeroscreen to complete a testing journey that began with the Chip Ganassi Racing driver during pre-season running at Phoenix in 2018.

On the one-mile Phoenix oval, the New Zealander sampled the original aeroscreen, made from PPG’s Opticor material, which lacked the rigid halo and spine incorporated into the new RBAT model. Dixon has also conducted additional testing with the new unit in a simulator.

Having amassed the most on-track and virtual aeroscreen mileage among all the drivers in the series, IndyCar is likely to use Dixon’s feedback from the No. 9 Honda during the IMS test to either sign off on the RBAT design, or continue working on improvements.

Provided Dixon gives the aeroscreen his approval, the next test on the schedule would follow in October at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. The challenging road course would see both Chevy and Honda teams installing and using the aeroscreen, and if that test is successful, a follow-up, and possibly final test run would take place at Sebring International Raceway.

As the most popular testing facility among IndyCar teams, the central Florida road course — which usually offers plenty of sun and glare — would give the series an opportunity to put the aeroscreen through challenging lighting conditions.

It’s unclear when and where IndyCar will attempt to test the aeroscreen in the rain to test its visibility at the opposite spectrum of what Sebring would offer. Given the frequent showers that can accompany sunny Florida testing, the series could encounter both scenarios at Sebring.

Assuming the RBAT aeroscreen moves through all three tests without interruption, initial deliveries of the final model are targeted for December.

 

MILLER: Was this really a surprise?

It wasn’t a surprise that McLaren struggled this month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Most of us figured the proud Formula 1 team would find starting an IndyCar team from scratch to be a big challenge.

But nobody thought Fernando Alonso could miss the show. Well… that’s not entirely true. That thought began creeping into our minds late in the week as we watched this train wreck unfold.

From the Open Test when the car died and it took an hour to figure out why, to taking more than a day to prepare the backup car, to missing 10 minutes of valuable practice on Sunday morning to the sparkler show off the gearbox when they couldn’t dial in the ride height, McLaren looked as out of synch as it did out of place.

“I think they were kind of arrogant about what it takes to run here,” said a veteran mechanic. “But I don’t think they are anymore.”

It’s not that Zak Brown’s team lacked mechanical skills. Or technical experience, since they had former Indy-winning engineer Andy Brown. They built one car in England with their people and the other was assembled in Florida with some longtime Indy mechanics. But it appears they were woefully short of structure and direction.

The Dallara DW12 is a different animal to a  homemade F1 chassis, especially on an oval. There is a finite art to preparing a car to cut through the air at 230 mph with identical chassis.

“Spec racing is hard. It’s all about details, not design,” said veteran Sebastien Bourdais, who qualified seventh for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan. “It’s all about the car and the people working on the car. They didn’t didn’t have current people, so I really wasn’t surprised. It wasn’t Fernando’s fault; he ran wide-open. That’s all you can ask here.”

Asked if he felt sorry for Alonso, the always-candid Bourdais replied: “No, I think he’s relieved. He didn’t want to start in the last row in a car that had no chance to win.”

In joining Team Penske (1995), Bobby Rahal (1993) and Rodger Ward (1965), Alonso’s name has been added to a list of stars who missed out in qualifying at Indianapolis after previous success.

And while it was the kind of drama that makes Indy qualifying so special – watching Kyle Kaiser and the little Juncos team KO Alonso and Mighty McLaren on the final run of the Last Row Shootout – not having the orange Go Smile machine in this year’s race isn’t good.

Brown, McLaren’s CEO, who obviously has an affection for Indy and certainly seems to be serious about trying to run IndyCar full-time, said that the team’s performance here this month could help determine if they pull the trigger. So you don’t know what this setback could mean for the future.

“We’ve certainly learned a lot of lessons here that will carry forward, and that possibility (full-time) is still in consideration,” said Gil de Ferran, the 2003 Indy winner who is McLaren’s sporting director. “But no decision has been made.”

Having McLaren join the lineup would be good for IndyCar, and having Alonso in the Indy 500 again would be good for television ratings and interest because he’s one of the few racers that can move the needle.

He said at the end of a long day that it was too early to make any decision about whether or not he’ll return in 2020, but you have to wonder if it would be with McLaren if he does. He no doubt had flashbacks to his futile final days with the team in F1, so it might behoove IndyCar to explore getting him in a competitive ride as an enticement.

Bourdais made a great point in that Alonso wasn’t destroyed by not qualifying because he had zero chance of being competitive, let alone winning. And after his dazzling debut in 2018 when he led laps and ran up front, he’s not interested in driving around and finishing 15th; he did that the last few years in F1.

The 37-year-old Spaniard isn’t just a credit to motorsports, he’s a rare breed of personality and professionalism who understands how to play the game. He came to the media center after qualifying was over Sunday and answered questions for 20 minutes. I imagine a root canal might have been the preferred option, but he was classy and forthright and gracious. No excuses, no whining, no pity -– just an honest post mortem.

He missed making the show by an eyelash, and those 10 minutes Sunday morning could have given him five more laps of focus on gearing and handling after getting new dampers from Andretti Autosport.

But, like everything else these past few days, McLaren missed the boat and it’s going to sail without them on May 26. I just hope Fred comes back with a fighting chance next May.

The Day At Indy, May 18, with Pigot, Clauson, Newgarden and Herta

It’s another packed episode of The Day At Indy podcast, as a wild day of qualifying for the Indy 500, led by our opening guest — Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot — saw McLaren Racing and Fernando Alonso miss out on securing a spot in the field, while Tim Clauson’s Clauson-Marshall Racing USAC dirt racing program earned the 30th and final position available on Saturday.

Clauson is joined by Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden who, like Pigot, earned the right to vie for pole position on Sunday after capturing a spot in the Fast 9.

We close with Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta, who posted the fifth-fastest speed and will also take a shot at pole, and who shares several insights on his amazing performance today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.