The reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden took his first laps of the offseason on Tuesday when he climbed aboard the Team Penske test car at the Richmond Raceway. That was big news in two ways in fact.
See, this was the first time Newgarden has been behind the wheel of an Indy Car with the new Aeroscreen on it. The previous two tests had his teammates Will Power (Indianapolis) and Simon Pagenaud (Barber) to go along with Scott Dixon (Indianapolis) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (Barber) in the tests.
Now, it was Newgarden’s turn with the device in front of him. How would it affect his vision?
Newgarden’s initial thoughts were similar to everyone else’s though. He did say that the car felt a tad different than the ones did without the Aeroscreen, but after a handful of laps, he got used to it.
“It was my first time with the (Aeroscreen),” Newgarden said via a conference call during the test on Tuesday afternoon. “Just getting a feel for that. It honestly was pretty seamless. Honestly didn’t feel that different. Perception-wise it was a little different when I got in. It took maybe 30, 40 laps, after that you’re used to it. It feels kind of normal at this point.
“It doesn’t feel that different, to be honest with you. When I first went out, in my perception of how much grip the car had and how much control I had in the car, was slightly different. But I think that was because it felt foreign. You’re not used to having a screen over your head.
“But after 20, 30 laps when you got used to it, the car feels very similar as far as the way I drive the car. The way the car feels compared to a place like Iowa or Gateway, it feels very similar.
“From a tuning standpoint, did not take much to get the car back into the correct window as far as the balance. I think the balance is still very good, even with the screen on. From that standpoint, I don’t think the cars are going to change dramatically going into next year.”
Newgarden, said exactly what Dixon said in the middle of the test a couple of weeks ago in Indy that the sound is muted inside of the cockpit now.
“Honestly, I don’t think that will change much, I really don’t,” said the two time series champion in terms of the sound and concentration levels now. “It’s changed the noise level slightly inside the cockpit. For me, it wasn’t super dramatic. It’s a slight reduction in wind noise. You’re not getting the wind directly over your head as dramatically as you would before. All that external noise has just been dimmed.
“You can hear the radio a touch better, things like that. But the engine noise is still quite prominent. It’s bolted directly behind us, so you still hear quite a bit of what’s going on in the car and the engine. I don’t think concentration-wise you’ll be any different.”
What made this test unique too is this was the first time an Indy Car was turning laps on the .75-mile oval in a decade. Newgarden as well as Dixon were the Guinea pigs of this operation.
They were testing the Aeroscreen to give feedback as well as giving Firestone feedback on their initial assessment of the track as well.
“Honestly, they’re quite similar,” Newgarden said on how Richmond compares to Iowa and Gateway, the other two short ovals on the schedule. “It feels like a smooth Iowa is what it feels like. It’s a touch shorter, so you kind of notice the intensity is a little bit higher. Your concentration on getting in and out of the corner in between straights is a little shortened, so it feels more intense.
“Globally it feels very, very similar to Iowa. It’s just a lot smoother. Iowa is very, very bumpy, has those characteristics to make you think about the setup. I think here from a compliance standpoint, you can run the car a lot more like a smooth short oval, but still has that styling, what feels like race-ability like Iowa. I’m hoping a second lane comes in. If it does, I could see it racing very similar to that place.”
If Richmond is a lot like Iowa come next June, then Newgarden should be happy. He led all but 18 laps in 2016 at Iowa in a dominating victory that year. This past July, he led 245 of 300 laps in another rout. The Tennessee native seems to be at his best on short ovals and the addition of Richmond should make him comfortable.