INDYCAR News and Notes – Feb. 18, 2016

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1. Chilton gets more comfortable with car following tests: Following his first tests with Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, Max Chilton is on steady ground heading into the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Chilton, 24, makes the step up to the Verizon IndyCar Series after competing in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires for Carlin in 2015, following two seasons driving in Formula One.

Chilton completed his first test Feb. 10 in the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet on the road course at Sonoma Raceway alongside new teammates Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball. The Brit found the experience of driving a Dallara DW-12 different from anything that he has raced before and was astounded by the amount of downforce produced with the Chevy aero kit.

“It’s an amazing bit of kit,” Chilton said on an INDYCAR media teleconference. “I knew they always had an amazing amount of downforce. They perform well in the corners. They performed better in the corners, better than I expected.

“The test went well,” he added. “I got up to speed pretty quickly. In the afternoon, we concentrated on not doing a full race distance but we did fuel stints, you know, 25 laps at a time. It was good to sort of see how the tires wore down throughout the run.”

Chilton also had his first taste of driving an Indy car on a superspeedway oval in a rookie test Feb. 13 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. He admitted he still has much to learn.

“In the first run, ovals, I don’t think you can ever really feel comfortable on an oval,” Chilton said. “I know I got comfortable quite quickly. I’m sure that changes with other cars around you, especially at Fontana with the seams. I’m sure when you have to dip down halfway through a corner with other cars around, it becomes a lot more daunting. It was a good way for me to learn without other cars around and just built up to it as the day went down.”

2. Dallara IR-12 added to Project CARS racing simulator package: The Verizon IndyCar Series will take a giant step forward in the virtual world Feb. 23 when the Dallara IR-12 chassis becomes a part of leading racing simulator Project CARS and its U.S. Car Pack available for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and personal computers.

Game developer Slightly Mad Studios collaborated with Verizon IndyCar Series team Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and its drivers to create the most realistic simulated racing experience possible with the Dallara IR-12 chassis – affectionately called the DW12 in honor of late two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon, who was instrumental in its on-track development.

Working with SPM, game developers learned the chassis in great detail, including use of real-world telemetry, to produce a virtual car that accurately reflects how the Indy car performs in real life.

“Working with the SPM team has been a fantastic experience,” said Casey Ringley, vehicle lead at Slightly Mad Studios. “Their engineers were incredibly helpful during physics development of the car, offering setup advice and providing data to make sure the model in the game is as close to the real thing as possible for aero performance, suspension tuning, tire behavior and so on.

“Having the team’s driver, James Hinchcliffe, give it a shakedown session on the SPM simulator to help refine the model was the cherry on top. It has been a very successful collaboration for us and it shows in the experience you get in the game.”

Conor Daly, who drove in four races for SPM in 2015 and a fifth with Dale Coyne Racing, also participated in development of the sim car. He can’t wait to “take it for a spin.”

“When the Project CARS team came to speak with me last May about what they were doing with the DW12 and the game, I was really excited,” said Daly, who will drive the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda for the entire 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season. “It’s amazing to see our cars brought to life in a game with the technology we have access to these days. I have no doubt everyone will enjoy piloting the DW12 in game.”

3. Urrutia, Piedrahita, Tan set for Mazda Road to Indy rides: Santiago Urrutia, the 2015 Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires champion, is moving up to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires this season with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Meanwhile, Team Pelfrey named Juan Piedrahita top drive in Indy Lights this season and Weiron Tan to return for a second season in Pro Mazda.

Urrutia, 19, became the first driver from Uruguay to claim an international racing championship when he scored three wins and 10 podium finishes to win the title in Pro Mazda, the middle rung of the three-level Mazda Road to Indy ladder series. He will drive the No. 55 Mazda-sponsored car for SPM in Indy Lights.

“I am very honored to be able to drive for (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports),” Urrutia said. “The team has an amazing record in Indy Lights and I am going to make sure I add to its tally of wins and championships. I’m also very happy to work with an incredible group of guys and gals that I’ve already met during my tests with the team.”

Team co-owner Sam Schmidt is pleased with the addition of Urrutia.

“He is clearly talented and deserving to have won the (Mazda) scholarship to advance to Indy Lights,” Schmidt said. “What impressed me most are his focus, maturity and determination to be the very best. You can see it in his eyes and the way he approaches every aspect of the business. He is totally committed and will be competitive straight away.”

Piedrahita, the 23-year-old Colombian, will be competing for a third season in Indy Lights but his first with Team Pelfrey. His best 2015 finish was third place at The Milwaukee Mile.

Tan, the 20-year-old Malaysian, finished fourth in the 2015 Pro Mazda standings, winning four races. He also finished vice-champion in the Cooper Tires Winterfest, scoring two wins and three second places from five races.

4. Of Note: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has added Fifth Third Bank as an associate sponsor on the No. 15 Honda that Graham Rahal will drive in the Verizon IndyCar Series for the 2016 season that begins with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 13. … Butterball has expanded its relationship with Andretti Autosport, marking 2016 as the third year for the successful partnership. Butterball, the U.S.-based food corporation that accounts for approximately 20 percent of total turkey production in the nation, will see its branding on the No. 28 Honda driven by 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. In addition, Marco Andretti’s No. 27 Honda will carry Butterball’s mark for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500. … Popular R&B, funk and pop band Morris Day and the Time – with hit songs such as “Jungle Love” and “The Bird” – will perform on the MotorCity Casino Hotel Entertainment Stage at the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix on June 5. The grand prix features the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans, the only doubleheader race weekend for the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2016. Race weekend runs June 3-5.