Universal aero kit could level playing field some for newcomers

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It’s a good time to be an incoming rookie in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The 2018 season will feature the debut of the universal aero kit, something that both Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe believe will be a huge benefit to newcomers stepping into North America’s top open-wheel series.

Dixon and Hinchcliffe are testing cars with the new kit at an Indianapolis Motor Speedway today for Honda, three days after they did the same at Texas Motor Speedway

Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, is entering his 18th season and has seen several changes to the race cars over the years. Although experience helps, it certainly plays to some benefit for new drivers coming in that all teams will be running the universal kit and have but a couple months for team testing starting in January before the season begins in March.

“I think if you join the series in a reset year, it definitely helps because you don’t have a lot of people that have a lot of knowledge,” said Dixon, the four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion. “But saying that, I think the Indy car, especially on the short oval and road course, the amounts of downforce that we had made it a lot easier to get close on time.

“Whereas this (universal kit), especially on the road course – we’ve done Sebring and Mid-Ohio already – it’s a lot more difficult to put a lap together. The braking zones are much bigger. It’s very difficult to get braking right. The window has become much smaller. It’s better for maybe a rookie coming in because it’s new to everyone, but it’s also a lot harder to hit the mark correctly. I think for the drivers it should be a very good challenge.”

Thus far, two drivers with little or no Verizon Indy Car experience have been confirmed for next year. Kyle Kaiser, the 2017 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion, will drive in four races for Juncos Racing. The other is Hinchcliffe’s childhood friend and newest member of the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports family, Robert Wickens.

Wickens, the former DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) driver, had minimal seat time with the previous aero kit, driving Hinchcliffe’s car in a ride swap early this year and filling in for Mikhail Aleshin for the Friday practice sessions at Road America in late June.

Still, Wickens is very green in terms of Indy car experience Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, believes the timing is ideal for his friend to join the series in 2018.

“I was saying to Robbie that his timing couldn’t have been better because, after driving the car at Sebring, the level of downforce is significantly reduced,” said Hinchcliffe. “It was a challenge the last couple of years, pushing yourself just as a human, mentally, to push a car to be able to go that fast through some of the corners with the downforce we were producing. That would have been a big change to what he (Wickens) had been driving and would have been a big adjustment.

“Now with the levels that we’re running, it’s much closer to what he’s been used to in DTM. I think any new driver is picking a great season to come into this series compared to the last two or three and, as a result, it should make the racing a bit more competitive throughout the field.”

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