INDYCAR News and Notes – Jan. 13, 2017

1. New Indy car aerodynamics will get to ‘bottom’ of downforce issue: Of course, a pretty face is important. Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations, is the first to admit that. But looks aren’t everything.

That’s why work began long ago on bodywork that will cover the Dallara IR-12 chassis in 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series competition. That body and universal aero kit will serve through 2020. To get it wrong is not an option.

During a media roundtable Thursday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which also included Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi, winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500, Frye offered the first glimpse, both in words and concept illustrations, of the 2018 car’s look. To say it was well-received is an understatement.

“I’m just delighted with the feedback,” Frye said.

And it isn’t just the presumed slightly retro look, it was mechanics of the design, which made Frye even happier. Rossi and Newgarden pointed out that the current car – with separate aero kit bodywork from Chevrolet and Honda, both of which are frozen for 2017 – tends to generate most of its downforce from the top of the car surface, largely with wings and spoilers.

“One of the things I really liked hearing from Jay is that what drivers have been screaming about for a long, long time – that we want more ‘bottom-side’ performance from the race car. We don’t want to just rely on the top,” said Newgarden, who finished fourth in the 2016 championship with Ed Carpenter Racing and joins Team Penske for 2017.

“I like how prominent the floor is,” said Rossi. “That bottom-side downforce will be a priority.”

Meaning what? Rossi, driver of the No. 98 Andretti-Herta Autosport Honda, explained.

“It’s when we’re trying to follow closely and you get to a point where the racing kind of seems stagnant because nobody is really getting closer (to the car directly ahead). It’s because the car behind us is so affected by the air, because it’s going over the top of it. It’s what we call ‘dirty air,’ meaning it’s moving, and it’s not a flat surface, which is what the car was designed (to encounter).

“When you’re relying on downforce coming from the bottom, you’re not as affected by turbulence or dirty air, because the state that air is in is irrelevant when it hits the floor.

“That part,” Rossi emphasized, “is massively encouraging.”

As expected, aside from aero and aesthetics, the new design addresses safety as well.

“We are looking at a wind screen or a halo-type application,” Frye said, referring to additional head protection considerations. “We’re full speed ahead designing and developing as soon as possible.”

2. Rossi enjoys Borg-Warner Trophy replica he gets to keep: Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi said receiving his miniature Borg-Warner Trophy Wednesday in Detroit was different than other race-related experiences he’s had since winning the 100th running in May 2016.

For one, he gets to keep the memento known as “the Baby Borg.”

“The most memorable experience was seeing my face on the actual trophy,” Rossi said at the annual Automotive News World Congress dinner at the Renaissance Center held in conjunction with the North American International Auto Show. “But you can’t take it home.”

Rossi first saw his likeness on the actual trophy Dec. 7 during an unveiling at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum in Indianapolis. Rossi knows where the big trophy resides – at IMS – but he does not yet have a place to showcase the smaller version he received. However, he got advice from Andretti-Herta Autosport team owners Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta.

Andretti keeps those he won with Dan Wheldon (2005), Dario Franchitti (2007) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014) in his office at team headquarters in Indianapolis. Herta has the one he won with Wheldon (2011) displayed at his home office in Valencia, Calif.

Andretti’s Verizon IndyCar Series team ranks second only to Team Penske in placing the most drivers in victory lane at the Indianapolis 500. Roger Penske’s organization has won the race a total of 16 times with 11 different drivers. Like Andretti, Lou Moore and Chip Ganassi also won the race with four different drivers.

“That makes me proud because it shows we’ve been doing a great job as a team,” Andretti said. “It’s not just been the driver (in the car).”

BorgWarner has given a replica Indianapolis 500 trophy to each race winner since Rick Mears after his 1988 victory.

3. INDYCAR drivers headed to North American International Auto Show: Several Verizon IndyCar Series drivers will make appearances at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the first major auto show of the year in North America. The drivers will be on hand to help promote the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans, the only doubleheader race weekend on the 2017 schedule, taking place June 2-4 on the Raceway at Belle Isle Park.

Helio Castroneves, a three-time Belle Isle winner including the first of what has become 29 career wins in 2000, will be a guest of honor at tonight’s NAIAS Charity Preview before the auto show opens to the public on Saturday. Entering his 20th season of Indy car competition, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner will participate in media interviews, meet with special guests and executives and take over the social media channels for Autoweek to showcase the various sights and sounds from the show.

Past Belle Isle winners Simon Pagenaud (2013 Race 2) and Carlos Munoz (2015 Race 1) will be featured during NAIAS Family Day on Jan. 20. Pagenaud, the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion from Team Penske, and Munoz, who joins AJ Foyt Racing in 2017 after four seasons with Andretti Autosport, will participate in a panel discussion open free to the public at the Cobo Center Atrium beginning at noon ET. Among those joining them on the panel will be Mark Miles, the CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Bud Denker, event chairman of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. Pagenaud and Munoz will also be available for autographs at 12:30 p.m.

4. Of note: Indianapolis Motor Speedway was presented the Eastern Motorsport Press Association’s 2016 Chris Economaki News Maker of the Year Award for the historic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil at EMPA’s annual convention Jan. 8. C.J. O’Donnell, chief marketing officer for Hulman Motorsports, was a keynote speaker at the event and accepted the award on behalf of IMS. … Kevin “Rocket” Blanch, technical director for the Verizon IndyCar Series, is among the latest to be interviewed for the popular “Dinner with Racers” podcast. Listen to the podcast athttp://www.dinnerwithracers.com/ep-41-kevin-rocket-blanch/ . Others with INDYCAR ties recently interviewed include team owner/driver Ed Carpenter and Mike Hull, managing director for Chip Ganassi Racing. Past guests include Simon Pagenaud, Sarah Fisher and Oriol Servia, with all of the podcasts available on the website. … Team Pelfrey has confirmed a pair of drivers for its Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires program, with TJ Fischer returning to its Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires team and Robert Megennis rejoining the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda outfit. Fischer, 23, drove in four Pro Mazda races last season for the team with one top-five finish. Megennis, 16, was the USF2000 rookie of the year in 2016 with a pair of podium finishes and five top-five showings.