IndyCar tells Honda, Chevrolet to strengthen body components

AVONDALE, La. -- IndyCar officials are requiring engine manufacturers Honda and Chevrolet to make structural upgrades before this weekend's Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana.

The enhancements, announced Thursday, are intended to minimize the amount of damage involved in car-to-car contact and reduce the amount of debris littering the track -- or hurdling over catch fences and into spectator areas.

Some drivers, however, sounded skeptical about how much engineers could to with new fastenings and bolts to prevent pieces of carbon fiber from breaking off the cars' new, more intricate front wings.

"When you have those bits, I don't think those bolts are going to hold on," Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves said while gazing at one of the new fastenings on a front wing in the paddock at NOLA Motorsports Park on Thursday evening.

"I'm not an engineer or expert, but our cars are not supposed to be touching each other. We're not NASCAR that use bumps to nudge and pass people. This is a situation that you've got to be precise, so if you want to make a move, you've got to give an inch to the guy and the guy's got to give an inch to you so you don't damage the car."

Most of the debris in the season opening race at St. Petersburg on March 29 appeared to come from the front wings, which comprise a key component of new aerodynamic kits that IndyCar is using this season.

At St. Petersburg, a woman standing near a concession area was struck in the head by a piece of flying debris, which reportedly fractured her skull. The woman, Brigitte Hoffstetter, was admitted to Bayfront Medical Center, but has since been discharged, hospital spokeswoman Elena Mesa said Thursday.

Meanwhile, some of the caution periods during the race took longer than expected to clean up.

Defending series champion Will Power finished second in St. Petersburg after having a piece of his front wing knocked off as he tried, unsuccessfully, to make an inside pass on eventual race winner Juan Pablo Montoya. They made slight contact when Montoya, who reached the corner first, turned in on Power.

Power said if the same type of contact happened with the new enhancements, there was "no question" that he would still lose a piece of his front wing.

"You'd have to make them so heavy and strong to actually not break," Power said, stressing that it was really up to drivers to avoid contact as they get used to offseason changes on their cars.

"I think the racing will be cleaner this weekend," Power said. "For one, it's the second race, so everyone's kind of used to it and understanding car limits a bit better. It is down to the drivers to race clean."

Derrick Walker, the series' president of competition, says the upgrades include adding components that will improve the overall strength of the body work. The two engine manufacturers, Walker says, have already redesigned the components and the modifications have been approved by series officials.

"With a quick turnaround from St. Petersburg, our partners were very diligent in making these enhancements in time for this weekend's event," he said. "We will continue this collaboration and expect additional improvements in the future."