By Noah Trister, AP Sports Writer
DETROIT (AP) — IndyCar unveiled its 2018 race car — and Mario Andretti is evidently a fan.
"I hear a lot of positives, and there is a negative in all this," the 77-year-old Andretti said playfully. "I don't have a ride yet."
Andretti's talk of getting behind the wheel again was a light moment during IndyCar's upbeat presentation Tuesday at the North American International Auto Show. Josef Newgarden, the defending series champion, described the new car at length, saying he hopes it will be a step in the right direction in terms of safety, aesthetics and racing excitement. IndyCar CEO Mark Miles sounded confident as well.
"It's almost eerie because we are having trouble finding criticism. I'd rather have it up front than after the fact," Miles said. "I'd literally call most of the drivers after they've tested and gotten out of the car and say, 'Give me the off-the-record, unvarnished view. What do you really think?' They believe that the design ideas have materialized and they will be able to get closer, there should be more passing and more compelling racing."
Newgarden said the sleek cars with universal aero kits will challenge drivers while also being "more friendly in traffic."
"It doesn't act like a winged car as much," he said. "You can follow a lot closer."
Then there's the car's look — Newgarden said it's like a throwback to the 1980s and '90s.
"Maybe we lost our identity a little bit before, so now we've got our identity back. The car has a very historical feel, but it's very forward-looking," said Jay Frye, IndyCar's president of competition and operations. "When we tested it at the speedway, and the cars left pit road for the first time, the tires looked huge. ... They're the same tires we're running before, you just couldn't see them."
IndyCar last changed cars in 2012, shortly after Dan Wheldon's death in a race in Las Vegas. It was billed as the safest-ever Indy car, and the series has had just one fatality since, when Justin Wilson was hit in the head with debris in 2015.
The car unveiled Tuesday did not include anything covering the driver cockpit. Newgarden said there's still work to be done in figuring out how any sort of protective screen might be most beneficial.
"I feel like rushing it would be a mistake," he said. "If we put something on that's not fully ready, maybe it causes more issues than good."
Miles sounds optimistic that there will be more progress in protecting drivers' heads.
"There's some curvature to the material, so you don't want distortion to the driver, and is the side-view mirror in front of it or looking through it to get to it? All those things — extraction, temperature, the right amount of durability versus weight, so all those things have to come together," he said. "The reports I get are that it keeps getting improved, and I'm hopeful that we're close."
One safety improvement on the new car is that the side pods have been moved forward, leaving the driver a bit less exposed.
"There's more crushability here, so there's more that has to go through this side pod now to get to the driver, so we're really happy about that," Newgarden said. "Really that's the biggest safety improvement that we're going to get from this new aero package."