Today was Media Day for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season, which officially begins on March 13th at St Petersburg. There has been a lot of testing already, and even more coming up in the next few weeks. Some of the Honda aero kit design tweaks were recently unveiled, and plenty of headlines were made today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There are still 40 days until the first race of the season, but there was much to digest from today’s activities at a mild but rainy IMS.
Honda Officially Returns
The biggest headline from today was the confirmation of Honda returning as an engine supplier for at least the 2016 and 2017 seasons. The two year deal also has an additional three-year option for Honda after that. As Curt Cavin explains, they have until December 1st to decide on the years of 2018-2020. Mark Miles said that Chevrolet is contractually committed as an engine provider through this upcoming season, and that they hope to construct a similar renewal when the time comes.
While Honda was able to make modifications to better serve their cars this year, the one that wasn’t really part of that is the most important one – the Indianapolis 500. Graham Rahal elaborated on the battle between Honda and Chevrolet. “You’d be an idiot to sit here and believe that they haven’t been developing, too, and taken their car significant steps forward,” he told USA TODAY Sports. “I think the Honda engine was always good. The aero kit was where we lacked last year.”
Fellow Honda driver Marco Andretti voiced his concern over the improvements that weren’t allowed for Honda on the large ovals. “I’m a little worried about (the 500), the politics there,” Andretti said. “I have to voice my opinion on that. I hope the field isn’t divided. But on the short oval, I’m happy so far, yeah. At Phoenix, I’ve been quickest of anyone who’s run there.” Marco told Motorsport.com that he is happy with the new aero package though.
Ganassi Lightning Bolt
The other big news item from today was the unveiling of Scott Dixon’s livery for this season. The defending series champion will have the famous yellow lightning bolt on his No. 9 Chevrolet throughout the year. The livery has seen plenty of success over the years. Jimmy Vasser won the championship with it in 1996, Alex Zanardi did it in 1997 and 1998, and Juan Montoya made it four straight by winning the title in 1999, which was followed by an Indy 500 victory in 2000. This will be the first time the lightning bolt will be on track since the season finale at Fontana in 2001.
“Heading into such an historic season with the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, the Lightning Bolt paint scheme taps into some of the most memorable times in Target’s longstanding partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing,” said Steve Lauletta, President, Chip Ganassi Racing Teams.
New IndyCar Safety Measures
Mark Miles had plenty of noteworthy items during his session today. One of them surrounded the topic of driver safety. In 2016, there will be flaps, tethers, and dome skids that will hopefully prevent the type of scary airborne incidents that we saw last May when Helio Castroneves, Ed Carpenter, and Josef Newgarden took flight. Miles said that the flaps are meant to kick into effect at 15 – 20 mph if the car is going backwards. The flaps were tested in a wind tunnel at Texas A&M, where statistics showed an increased downforce of 500 pounds.
Miles also announced that IndyCar is tethering the rear beam wing and the rear wheel guards at every race. The nose and front wing main plates of the car will be tethered on the large tracks, like Indianapolis and Pocono. There will be dome skids added to the bottom of the cars, with the idea being increased stability. These pieces will soon be tested at Phoenix and Indianapolis. Miles also announced that the overtake boost has been increased by 20 horsepower. They have also altered the fuel probe sensor to prevent the car from engaging before the fuel hose has been disengaged.
As for the new race in Boston, Miles said that there are five different owners of pieces of the circuit, which is a big part of the challenge. That being said, he remains upbeat that it will all work out nicely.
Doug Boles on IMS
IMS President Doug Boles took center stage and spoke about Project 100, some of the work being done now, and what things will look like in the near future. With all of the new improvements on the front straightaway, Boles said that an additional 1,000 or more seats will be added there. He said that the roof is 17 feet taller, and the new overhang covers all of the seating. Thanks to seven new elevators, the Paddock Penthouse will now feature seating for those in wheelchairs, which was never able to be done before.
Gate 1 is also being expanded, as part of a new entry to the facility. This will accommodate more people, making entrance to the Speedway on busy days much less congested. Boles said that about $50 million of the $92 million invested in IMS is under construction right now.
In the afternoon, Boles got together with Helio Castroneves and presented him with a special gift – part of the old fence that he once climbed. The presentation was planned to be much better, down on the yard of bricks, but the rain prevented “Spiderman” from making another fence climb. Still, it’s a very special piece of memorabilia that certainly means a lot to Castroneves.
Stefan Wilson is getting closer to his dream of an Indy 500 ride this May. The American Solar Energy Society announced today that it will sponsor Wilson, the younger brother of the late Justin Wilson, in this year’s race. The entry would be the first to feature a solar-powered pit crew, through the #ThinkSolar campaign. Wilson has only competed in one Verizon IndyCar Series event (Baltimore in 2013), but finished third in the 2011 Indy Lights Championship.
The Grand Prix of Boston has two new sponsors lined up for the inaugural race in September. Colorado beer maker MillerCoors and Randolph alcohol distributor Burke Distributing Corporation will be advertising and promoting the race throughout the year, leading up to the event. There are already more than 30 sponsors for the street race, including major companies like Firestone, Exonn Mobil, and LogMeIn, which is a Boston technology company. Coors Light will be the official beer for the race this season.
As of this morning, the newest driver in the Chip Ganassi stable, Max Chilton, had not yet met all of his veteran teammates. He had dinner with Charlie Kimball last night, but still hadn’t come face to face with Scott Dixon or Tony Kanaan. He did meet with former Ganassi legend Dario Franchitti, whom he credits all of his oval racing knowledge. He noted that Franchitti was on his “speed dial” all of last year, and that he played a major role in him winning the Indy Lights race at Iowa last season.
Dixon told Motorsport.com: “Max has got a lot of knowledge from many different cars, and once you get to this level, any driver brings a lot of substantial information. Your style, your pattern of what you do is pretty well molded, so no matter who it is, he’s going to bring experience. That means everyone can learn from each other.”
The seat Chilton has now used to belong to Sage Karam. Now, the young American driver has only one IndyCar race lined up so far for this season – an Indy 500 deal with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, whom he drove for in 2014. Outside of that, he will race a partial sports car season with F Performance Racing, in the IMSA series. Despite the grim outlook, Karam said his goal is to return to open wheel racing. “This is what I love. It’s just hard right now. There’s not a lot of seats open. It’s pretty expensive. Honestly, I’m just waiting for some seats to open up, but if I’m going to wait I have to be doing something. Driving anything is better than nothing, but I’m in a great opportunity.”