March 16, 2015

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) Graham Rahal and his IndyCar peers are still getting a clear handle on performance changes in cars featuring new aerodynamic kits, but the looks for the two manufacturers are pretty distinctive.

Drivers took to the track at Barber Motorsports Park Monday to start two days of testing and learning ahead of the upcoming season, which begins March 29 in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Honda and Chevrolet cars sport noticeably different designs on parts stretching from Chevy's vented rear wings to Honda's laddered front wings.

''The aero kits will certainly be different and people will definitely notice it,'' Rahal said after Monday's morning testing session. ''It's not subtle, it's pretty obvious. It's good from that standpoint.''

The offseason changes are expected to increase speed. Drivers are weighing their effects on things such as downforce, grip, tire wear and braking. Not to mention the sore necks cited by Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal.

Maybe for some fans the new designs will just look cool. They definitely make it easier to pick out aesthetic differences between the two competing engine manufacturers.

More significantly, which one will fare better on speedways or ovals or road courses like Barber?

''All those questions are going to be answered as we go along here,'' defending series champion Will Power said.

Most of the drivers had already tested at the newly designed NOLA Motorsports Park over the weekend. This was the first full-field event.

Chevy engines dominated the first session with the seven fastest cars, led by Simon Pagenaud (122.2 mph), Scott Dixon (121.7), Newgarden (121.4) and Power (121.3).

Newgarden said Barber is a fast track that's good for testing car packages. It also gives drivers a feel for the physical challenges of controlling the redesigned cars at high speed.

''I don't think it's going to be as straightforward as last year,'' Newgarden said. ''It was always physical in IndyCar racing. You couldn't get away from the physical aspect. It'll be worse this year.''

Power chimed in on the prospects of coming into a slow-speed corner with more downforce.

''I find it easy,'' he said.

''You find it easy?'' responded Newgarden. ''OK, so Will is obviously going to do great in the race.''

Power has already won twice at Barber, in 2011 and 2012 after Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves won the inaugural event. Ryan Hunter-Reay won the past two years.

With the season opener approaching, Rahal thinks the new looks and aerodynamic setups have helped generate some more interest from fans.

''You can hear the Honda and Chevys sound totally different,'' he said. ''The look is obviously totally different. I think from that perspective it's cool. One of the things that I have noticed is on social media and stuff, just from the look change of the car, there's a heck of a lot of talk.

''I get a lot of people tweeting at me asking about this, that and the other thing - almost as much as you during a typical race weekend, and we haven't even started racing this thing.''

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