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IndyCar

Breaking Down The NEXT Look for IndyCar

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The Verizon IndyCar series will have an all new look in 2018. And their sexy, new car design could create a lot more passing, enhancing the thrill factor on track.

Last November, IndyCar’s President of Competition and Operations, Jay Frye, VP of Competition/Race Engineering, Bill Pappas, and Director of Aerodynamic Development, Tino Belli, met at Dallara in Italy to share their conceptual drawings, asking the chassis constructor to reverse engineer the car. Their illustrations were based on the popular open wheel cars of the 1990’s, requiring Dallara to adapt their 2012 tub to the new design.

IndyCar wanted their new chassis to be much sleeker and racier looking. The bumper pods, body work behind the rear tires that were incorporated into the DW12, have been eliminated. The wings are much smaller in profile, and even the sidepods have been brought in closer.

Back in 2012, IndyCar changed to a new Dallara chassis and a turbocharged, 2.2 L, V6 engine format that would attain 700 hp at 12,000 rpm. Then in 2015, IndyCar allowed both engine manufacturers to create body work known as aero kits (the front and rear wings, sidepods, and engine cover) as long as they fit within certain box-like dimensions. These kits made it possible for fans to distinguish a Chevy from the Honda package quickly. The additional surface area offered greater sponsor advertising.

For a new engine manufacturer to compete in IndyCar, however, it would not only build a racing engine but commit a significant budget for body work development. Recognizing that this would be cost prohibitive, IndyCar switched to the universal car for 2018.

The new 2018 body work and car floor will be bolted on to the 2012 Dallara tub, also known as the safety cell where the driver sits. Creation of the currently used aero kits added about 25% more downforce generated from the top of the car. To compensate, the undertray, or floor of the car, had to be modified (reduced in size) to generate less downforce. But the resulting turbulence made passing difficult. With the new car producing most of its downforce from the undertray, 66% of the total downforce, the drivers will have a lot less turbulence to deal with, which should allow for closer racing and more passing.   

At the initial test on July 25 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Juan Pablo Montoya drove the Chevy powered prototype for Team Penske, and Oriol Servia drove the Honda powered prototype prepared by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

“It’s exciting because the car drives really, really well,” said Montoya, two-time Indy 500 winner. “The car looks amazing. Having one aero kit for everybody will be great for the sport. For the engine manufacturers, it’s definitely a plus because it won’t be about the aero kits. When you talk about Chevrolet or Honda, it’s all about who is making the power.”

Both prototypes were converted to the road course configuration with different wings and body work and then tested at Mid-Ohio’s 2.258-mile road course on August 2nd

“It feels pretty good; it’s very different than the current aero kit,” said Montoya, a driver who quickly adapts to anything on wheels. “The car is a little more forgiving, but the level of downforce is a lot lighter, so you slide around a lot more. The chances of mistakes are higher, so it’s going to bring better racing.”

The new car will not only look leaner and more aggressive than the current car but has about 1/3 less downforce overall, separating the great drivers from the good ones.

“When you have a little less (downforce), and the cars move around, at least the fans can see that we’re doing something,” explained Servia, the 2005 title runner-up with over 200 Indy car starts. “It really was a lot better than this year’s car. At Detroit, where the speeds are a lot less, you couldn’t get close to anyone even in the slow corners because there was so much downforce (turbulence) and the rear got loose. With the new car, you lose a little bit of front (grip) but it stays very balanced.”

The actual cost to the teams may be less overall because there will be fewer parts to replace with the universal kits. The current price of a chassis, including the aero kit, is $385,000.

Building a safe race car is particularly challenging for the IndyCar series because of the different tracks it competes on: road and street courses, short ovals, and superspeedways. While it may have been cheaper to outsource the body work to other vendors, Dallara has proven its safety value.

The new car will have anti-intrusion panels with added padding at the driver’s hips. The cockpit is eight to 10 inches wider to prevent an injury like Sebastien Bourdais’ qualifying shunt at Indianapolis. They were able to accomplish this by bringing the radiators and sidepods forward, which brings the weight distribution forward, making the car more nimble.

With fewer parts to clean up from an incident on track, cautions should be shorter as well.  

Two more tests are scheduled, at Iowa Speedway on August 10 and then at Sebring International Raceway on September 26. Teams will receive their new car parts in November, and then the real testing will begin to see who can get the optimum performance out of the new car design.  

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Mary Bignotti Mendez, the IndyCar Technical Editor for PopularSpeed.com, has been involved in open wheel racing for thirty years. She is an award winning journalist who started writing technical articles in 1997 for IndyCar Magazine. Entering her eighteenth season writing for Inside Track Motorsport News as their Open Wheel Editor, she continues penning her column, “Get A Grip” as well as providing features covering IndyCar. For many years, she contributed weekly to Motorsports News of Australia and the European newspaper, Motorsport Aktuell. Concurrent with writing, she served a stint as a pit announcer for the CART Radio Network and has supported both radio and TV announcers in the booth or on pit lane for fourteen seasons.