Romain Grosjean

When the NTT INDYCAR SERIES races on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval Sunday for the XPEL 375 (12:30 p.m. ET, live on NBC and INDYCAR Radio Network), two new aerodynamic pieces will be available for use on the cars, with the goal of improving racing conditions for both fans and drivers.

These new pieces – the barge board and trimmed sidewall – are intended to help cars better follow one another with less of an impact from dirty air made by the car ahead. Both pieces are optional this weekend, not required.

Barge boardThe barge board, a curved, plate-shaped piece of carbon fiber located on the leading edge of the underwing, will create front downforce with the underwing. This allows the front wing angle to be reduced, which can prevent the car from washing out in the corners behind other cars. The option of the trimmed sidewall will produce underwing downforce, too.

Tino Belli, INDYCAR director of aerodynamic development, said in looking to help NTT INDYCAR SERIES cars drive better in traffic, the combination of these two parts was selected to help keep the car in balance for front-to-rear downforce.

Additionally, Belli said the biggest motivating factor for allowing these options at TMS is in response to feedback through fan polls and timing-and-scoring metrics. He said INDYCAR expects these pieces to create closer racing and improve the ability to pass, but they will not replicate the close-quarters pack racing that was once commonplace at Texas.

“We follow what the fans want,” Belli said. “We can see from all this data what the fans like and dislike, and it actually matches up fairly well. So, we watch all of that, and we’re trying to make the competition as good as we can without creating pack racing, because it’s not safe.”

While these two pieces are new to TMS, they are not new to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. Both parts were tested last year at Texas and made available as options at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

Belli said 32 of the 33 teams competed in the race with these parts. Ricky Davis, the chief mechanic on Alex Palou’s No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, said his team did not use the barge board in last May’s race en route to Palou’s second-place finish.

The quality of racing at the 2.5-mile IMS oval with these parts used by most teams convinced INDYCAR they were worth considering for the XPEL 375, Belli said. And in testing last week at Texas in preparation for this weekend’s race, early data showed positive results.

Tim Broyles, president of Ed Carpenter Racing and strategist for Conor Daly’s No. 20 BitNile Chevrolet, said ECR was optimistic about what it saw on track last week and expects the optional pieces to improve the cars’ handling in traffic.

“We did a little bit of group running (last week), and it looks like the cars can run a little closer together,” Broyles said. “We think it’s going to let the guys run up a little closer together in race configuration. Hopefully being able to run closer and set up a pass rather than get stuck in a wake behind the guy where we can’t get a run on them.”

Davis, who led Palou to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship last season, thinks the trimmed sidewall will be the biggest help in allowing drivers to set up and complete passes. Combined with the barge board, he agrees the combination will produce better driving conditions in traffic at TMS.

“Theoretically, in race trim it should help keep the front more planted,” Davis said. “I think it’s going to help us get closer.”

Belli, Broyles and Davis all noted that because this weekend’s event is not an impound race, teams will be able to trim out their cars for qualifying to produce more speeds. That means it is unlikely teams will run the barge board in qualifying.

But come race time, Belli said he expects all 27 teams to use the combination of these two parts to set up passes and better move throughout the field. And he thinks fans will be rewarded with a better show because of them.

“We want the cars to be racy, but we want it to be safe,” Belli said. “We’re pretty sure the drivers will be able to follow closer. That’s certainly the feedback we’ve gotten.”

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES action in Texas kicks off Saturday with practice at 10:45 a.m. (ET), followed by qualifying at 2 p.m. ET. There will be a special practice session at 5 p.m. ET to help lay down rubber in the second groove of the corners before final practice at 5:45 p.m. ET. All Saturday session will be live on Peacock Premium and INDYCAR Radio Network.