- Associated Press - Monday, February 13, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Forget all the initial complaints about Indy’s new cars.

The drivers are warming up to the idea.

On Monday, the first of a two-day state of the IndyCar Series summit, drivers repeatedly acknowledged how much had been accomplished during a busy offseason of testing with rave reviews for the new cars and the way series officials handled the controversy.

“It kind of felt like when you go to a movie and people tell you that it’s not too good, and then you go, and it’s like `C’mon man, it’s pretty cool,’” three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves said before the real action began inside a downtown theater. “It’s still developing, but that’s the beauty of it.”

Drivers were introduced to a near-capacity crowd after walking through smoke with strobe lights flashing on stage.

This was not just some high-wire act, though.

Clearly, things had improved dramatically on the race track since three-time defending series champion Dario Franchitti said he was concerned about the weight distribution of the car last fall.

“It wasn’t just talking about a bad car, it was a bad car,” said Franchitti, Target Chip Ganassi’s top driver.

The overwhelming negativity prompted IndyCar leaders to provide more leeway in fixing problems.

The changes drivers have made in just a few months, Franchitti said, have reduced lap times on road and street courses by 1.5 to 2.0 seconds. The cars could be going even faster by next month’s season opener at St. Petersburg, and with everyone starting over, there’s no telling who may wind up in Victory Lane.

The lingering question is how the cars will work on ovals _ something drivers are eager to find out during next week’s test at Texas.

But even the earliest and most outspoken detractors are falling into line.

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said two-time runner-up Will Power complained to him after one of the early tests. Following last week’s test at Sebring, Power had a completely different perception.

“It’s a little lighter, and it’s very good on the rear weight distribution,” Power said. “I’m very happy with the engine.”

The new cars have more horsepower and more grip, a combination favored by drivers such as Power and Marco Andretti. They also have new safety features to protect against side impacts and three inches of extra foam around the driver’s seat and one inch of foam underneath to reduce injuries.

Story Continues →