2020: More Looking Ahead

Fernando Alonso - Indianapolis Motor Speedway. © [Jamie Sheldrick/ Spacesuit Media]

One of the stories to watch, will Fernando Alonso return to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? © [Jamie Sheldrick/ Spacesuit Media]

by Paul Gohde

Team news and pre-season practice are filling the racing headlines as we continue looking forward to the upcoming season that’s already filled with good news for some and disappointing headlines for others.

  • AJ Foyt’s Indy Car team has underperformed in recent years by every measure. Charlie Kimball will head the team again this season by running all 17 scheduled races in the team’s #4 entry. With veteran Tony Kanaan looking to finish his 23-season Indy car career on a high note, the five oval races for which he has secured sponsorship must be a slight disappointment for him and his fans. Kanaan will be joined in the iconic #14 cockpit by free-agent Sebastien Bourdais (four races) and Indy Lights veteran Dalton Kellett, eight races and a ride in the Indy 500 in a third Foyt entry. The Canadian has languished in the Lights series, finishing 7th, 12th, 10th and 7th in the previous four seasons that featured small fields: only 12 cars in recent years. Will this two-car, four- driver approach work well in Foyt’s second entry given race set-up problems that have plagued the team? Satisfying four drivers with different car set-up preferences will be something to watch for as the season progresses.
  • The Indy Racing League (IRL) ran three events at the Richmond, VA oval from 2007-09 with mixed results. Richmond is back on the Indy Car schedule in 2020 as the series returns to an oval that replaces the Pocono tri oval. Richmond is in NASCAR country and had relatively small crowds when the open wheelers ran there. With Roger Penske’s purchase of IndyCar as well as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, many wish that the former track promoter (think Michigan International and currently the Detroit GP) would take a second look and rejuvenating the shuttered Milwaukee Mile or find a date for a double-header event with NASCAR Cup at Chicagoland or Homestead, to bring more ovals aboard. If the series wants to keep its oval track heritage, somewhere beside Richmond may be a better answer, or will the series have an all road/street course schedule other than the Indy 500 sooner than later? Keep watch.
  • Fernando Alonso can’t seem to win as he searches for a repeat of his strong run for McLaren/Honda/Andretti Autosport at Indianapolis in 2017. After failing to qualify there in 2019, the two-time F1 champion desperately wants to chase a win at Indy. The deal to return to 16th and Georgetown was almost a done deal with AA Honda until the Japanese firm nixed the deal last week. With competitive open seats in the Indy field almost gone, it is hoped that the Spaniard, who severed ties with McLaren recently, can connect once again with McLaren Chevrolet which is associated with Arrow SP for a one-off IMS run and perhaps a few later season events. Time may be running out for this season and beyond, as Alonso hints at a 2021 F1 return.
  • Indy Car testing at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) commences for two days (four sessions) on Tuesday/Wednesday, February 11,12. Of many items that the teams and Indy Car will be watching closely, one stands out, and that is the addition for 2020 of a protective halo (roll hoop) over the cockpit with a windscreen covered with layers of tear-offs. Next week’s COTA test will be the first large scale test with multiple cars on the track. With the curve of the aeroscreen around the halo, things like distortion, light reflection, aero effect, dirt/rubber/oil buildup and rain on the screen are of prime interest.

With that in mind Indy Car approached Racing Optics, a company with twenty-plus years of experience covering larger and somewhat flatter NASCAR windshields.

“So, naturally they came to us and asked if we could help them with solutions for the aeroscreen that at the time was being developed,” explained RO president Bart Wilson at the recent PRI show. “One significant issue that we quickly addressed was they have a thin wicker that runs down the front of that two-part screen. That meant that we had to provide two separate parts (right and left) with a seam down the middle likely requiring its removal by a crew member during pit stops.” As with tear-offs on a driver’s helmet, a small tab can be pulled to remove the protective film. But with two sections on the Indy Car screen, a driver is unable to reach out of the cockpit on a pit stop to pull each section off. “It is likely that IC will add an extra person over the wall during a stop to remove the two sections,” added Wilson, the son of 1950-60’s Indy 500 driver Dempsey Wilson. “Aero effect while running during the multi-car test will be another thing to watch for as drafting with that small wicker on the screen will have some kind of effect.”

Visual distortion with four or more layers of the poly-carbon material will also be measured closely, especially where longer races like the Indianapolis 500 require more pit stops than a shorter road/street event.”

Much will be learned in many areas during next week’s testing, and with the series’ opener at St. Petersburg just a few weeks away, driver feedback will be important as it is quickly applied to their cars. Time is of the essence.



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