"Seamless" test, but Newgarden voices 2023 IndyCar weight concern

After testing a variety of potential new Firestone road course tires for 2023, Josef Newgarden says he’s spoken to IndyCar leaders about the increasing weight of the cars.

Team Penske-Chevrolet’s two-time champion and Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda’s newest IndyCar title winner Alex Palou tested a range of tires at Mid-Ohio today, before having their cars converted into simulated 2023 specification. This followed on from Helio Castroneves and Pato O’Ward carrying out a similar test around Indianapolis Motor Speedway last Friday.

The increase from 2.2-liter to 2.4-liter engines and the additional hybrid units will add approximately 120lbs to the current weight of the cars, and shift the weight distribution 1–1.5 percent rearward. So after validating tires from the new Firestone facility and then trying out proposed new compounds from IndyCar’s legendary tire partner, Newgarden and Palou lapped the 2.258-mile 13-turn course with their cars in 2023 trim, and with the baseline power raised to just under 1.7-bar boost. That’s the equivalent of the 90-100hp increase that Chevrolet and Honda expect to see from the 2.4 engines with the push-to-pass boost from the hybrid unit.

“The bulk of our day was testing changes that Firestone wanted to run through,” Newgarden told Motorsport.com. “They were looking at the tires manufactured from their new facility, but also looking at tires they may want to develop for the new-spec cars in 2023.

“We got through the whole list, and that was really productive. I think there were some real interesting findings from the various tires they brought, and I believe that’s given Firestone some good ideas of the direction they want to go in for the future. The changes between compounds were easy to detect because for that part of the test we ran the cars in their current spec.

“Then toward the end of the day, we ran the cars with the higher weight and higher boost. And really the increase in both were not as dramatic as I thought they might be… but still, I’m of the opinion that the cars are already too heavy, and the weight increase is getting excessive. I’ve voiced my concerns to IndyCar about that already.

“So on the one hand, the changes – adding weight, adding power – were fairly seamless; no substantial hurdles, all fairly drama-free from a test day point of view. And the extra power was nice! I mean, I think we can go even more in that direction – you can never have too much power.

“But as a general principle for us to follow in an ideal world, we want the horsepower to come up while keeping the weight down. Thankfully, I feel IndyCar is in the same camp fundamentally – they don’t want to be adding weight.

“The thing that jumped out to me today was the physicality of the car. I think we’re starting to push over the edge of what some of the drivers can do physically, in some conditions, and we need to be cognizant of that. It’s something I’ve spoken to IndyCar about.”

Acknowledging that a power steering system would add further weight to an already heavy-and-getting-heavier-car, Newgarden said, “Yeah, so the best solution would be to keep the weight down. After two years with the aeroscreen, we know we’re all able to drive the cars at the current weight level with our current heat management solutions [vents to the cockpit, piped air to the helmets], although we’ve been on the upper end of the limit at some tracks.

“But if we’re going to have so substantial a weight gain – you know, this 2023 weight increase is twice as much as we dealt with when we got the aeroscreen for 2020 – then we’re probably going to need to at least re-open the discussion about power-assisted steering vs. no assistance.”

Newgarden was careful to ensure his comments on the matter were not interpreted as wanting to make an IndyCar “easier” to drive.

“Yeah, I say all this cautiously because I always like the car to be as difficult as possible,” he said. “When the aeroscreen was added and a lot of people were talking about increased cockpit heat, I was always in the camp of saying, ‘Hey, the strong survive.’ But looking at the big picture, the heightened physicality caused by the 2023 increase in weight may put some drivers over the top. And so I think it’s just something that the series as a whole should acknowledge, and it’s something worth investigating.”

With regard to the increased momentum caused by extra power and extra weight, Newgarden said that Thursday’s test had made noticeable but only small difference to braking points around Mid-Ohio, but that the car’s responses had been dulled.

“There was a small increase in brake depth,” he said, “maybe 20-30 feet on the big brake zones around the track – less than I anticipated. And it didn’t require a change in the braking system. The durability of the brakes across a long run was actually fine, very solid. So that’s what I mean by this move to higher speeds and weights being pretty seamless: it’s not like we encountered any extra knock-on effects to other areas of the car.

“That said, a racecar just gets worse in all respects with extra weight and this was a pretty significant increase we were testing. It affects the processes you go through as a driver in the cockpit: the brake zones get longer, the car is slower to react, it’s not as nimble.

“And Mid-Ohio is probably one of the tracks that exaggerates that the most – so many changes in direction that require a really active and nimble car, a lot of elevation change, and quite a few high-speed corners. You notice the pendulum effect of the car even more with increased weight, and weight that’s put rearward.

“So a driver and his engineer have to work together to try and regain that original feel. It forces you to rethink the way you set up the car. But that’s fine, that’s what we’re supposed to do, right? Find the best solutions.

“No, my concerns over the cars increasing in weight are simply down to trying to think on behalf of the series as a whole, and about the cars becoming maybe too physical, given the current heat-management solutions.

“The good thing, like I say, is that IndyCar is very aware of the consequences of making the cars heavier – like having more momentum when you crash, especially at oval speeds. So they are looking at areas where we can reduce weight without compromising the safety that was substantially improved by the various cockpit protection measures that have made the car heavier over the years.

“Probably the big step to improvement – but of course it’s the most costly – will be a new tub with a fully integrated aeroscreen, as opposed to what we have at the moment, where the screen was an add-on. But you can also significantly reduce the weight of the bellhousing, the gearbox.

“IndyCar is aware of that, and is looking at all areas to see what can be done.”

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