Penske and the aeroscreen to debut at IndyCar season opener

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FILE - In this April 24, 2019, file photo, IndyCar driver Fernando Alonso, of Spain, drives out of the pit area during testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis. Alonso will once again attempt to complete motorsports' version of the Triple Crown with a return to the Indianapolis 500 in May with McLaren. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – A billionaire and ballistic windscreen will be the obvious attention-getters as IndyCar opens its season Sunday on the streets of St. Petersburg.

Roger Penske, the winningest car owner in Indianapolis 500 history, in January completed the purchase of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and most of its assets. That includes IndyCar, a series many consider among the most competitive forms of racing in the world, and the season begins with Penske literally on top of everything.

The new owner of the league, the prestigious 500 and the landmark speedway is armed with a three-car team that includes both defending IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden and defending Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud.

“The parity is better than it’s ever been,” said Newgarden. “You can get plopped into any situation it seems like right now and have a good, fighting chance. There’s such a depth and talent not just from the drivers but the teams. You have good engineers, good mechanics everywhere. There’s really not any bad seats anymore. ”

The Penske trio and the entire field will spend the weekend adjusting to the aeroscreen, IndyCar’s newest safety development.

After 10 months of testing, the canopy-shaped cockpit protector is intended to ward off debris. Justin Wilson was killed in 2015 when a broken part from another car bounced off his helmet and IndyCar increased its efforts to beef up driver head protection. The PPG-manufactured screen weighs about 17 pounds (7.7 kilograms) and is built to withstand a small object striking it at more than 220 mph (354 kph) . The titanium frame, which weighs 27.8 pounds (12.6 kilograms) , is designed to withstand 34,000 pounds (15,422 kilograms) of load.

It could be a hindrance — to sight lines and a driver's ability to rapidly exit the traditionally open cockpit of an Indy car — and it could make the compartment much hotter. It will be a learning process throughout the season for drivers, teams and even IndyCar, which is being run status quo under leadership in place before Penske’s purchase.