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Q and A: BAT Boss Talks Cars

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 5 2010

Indy Racing League boss Randy Bernard is new car shopping these days. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

This is a big week for Bruce Ashmore and partners Alan Mertens and Tim Wardrop. The three, who have formed BAT Engineering, will make a presentation Sunday in Indianapolis to the advisory committee helping IZOD IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard choose a new spec car, expected to being competing in 2012.

Ashmore is the former chief designer for Lola and former president of Reynard North America. Mertens was chief designer and engineer for March and also designed and built the Galmer race car, which won the Indianapolis 500 with Al Unser Jr., in 1992. And Wardrop is a respected longtime open-wheel racing engineer.

The trio hopes to beat out concept cars from Lola, Dallara, Swift Engineering and Delta Wing to become the next IndyCar.

Following is a Q and A with Ashmore, conducted by RacinToday.com in Indianapolis last week:

RacinToday: Tell us a little about the concept of the car.
Ashmore: “If you look at all the different concepts that have been put out there, I felt that Delta Wing and ourselves have the only clear presentation as to what we thought the next car needs to be. So what I took, from all of that experience designing Indy cars from the 70s through the present day  _ the cars that run now are derivatives of the cars that we designed through the 70s, through the wings to the ground effects to the kind of car. So what I wanted to do is look at `What would you do next?’ and solve all the problems that the current car has.

“We started with designing the driving compartment. The driver currently lays down at about 35 degrees. We wanted to sit him up to 60 to 70 degrees. You’ve got to make a big change to get rid of when they have in forward impacts. The bottom of their spine sits on the edge of the dash bulkhead. It’s the physics of how the car is designed and how the car needs to be. In a big crash, that puts a huge compressive load on his spine.

“It took us several years to get the drivers to lay down. It was a gradual process. Each year, we designed a new car and inched him down a little bit more. If we went too much, we had to sit them up a little bit. Eventually, they got used to it and we’d lay them down a little more.

“Well, it was never to make a better racing car. It was to make a faster racing car. So we hurt the racing. You saw one car overtaking another, but it was really the fast car overtaking the slow car. Now, we want to sit the driver up, make it safer, but also improve the show. So now you’ve taken his chin and his elbows out of his chest and you’ve set him up so now he can drive the car, defend and attack, put on a better  racing show and show off his athleticism. We’ve got great athletes, but  we don’t have a vehicle that showcases their talents.’’

RT: Cars running over each other’s tires is a constant danger in IndyCar racing. What would you do about that?
Ashmore: “You need to get rid of the interlocking wheels crash. So the bodywork has to be outside of the width of the tire. Then, when two cars rub alongside each other, they don’t touch tread to tread, tangle and crash into the wall. That crash happens pretty much in every race. There’s no need for it. That’s hundreds of thousands of dollars that you’re throwing against the wall.

“The next thing we did was narrow the bodywork and the tires. That put the car into proportion to what we’re used to from an IndyCar because we made the bodywork wider.  In our car design, the track is narrower and the body is wider, but it looks in proportion to an IndyCar. But the narrow track is because you can’t make the racetracks wider, but you can make the car narrower. That helps to improve the overtaking. It’s 8 inches narrower than the current car. That makes it a little more difficult to drive, which makes it a little harder to corner, which means the car in front is going to make a few more mistakes and the guy behind is going to be more likely to overtake.’’

RT: Are the aerodynamics on the BAT car much different than the current design and can you reduce the dirty air that limits close racing?
Ashmore: Yes. We made it so that the underwing produces pretty much all the downforce. The wings are  just trim tabs for balance. Then the wings and the bodywork on the sidepods and the flowing the air through the rear tires into the back is all about keeping the wake of the car smaller. The bodywork in front of the rear tires, shields the rear tire. There’s a big vortex that comes off the top of the rear tire, so you put bodywork in front of the rear tire to shed that vortex and you have much less turbulence coming off the front car onto the rear car. Then the rear car, because his downforce now comes from the underwing, he has relatively more downforce than current cars and so he has an extremely, much higher chance of making an overtaking maneuver because he’s not trying to get around this dirty air from the vehicle in front.’’

RT: What’s the most important difference in your proposal?
Ashmore: “The thing I’m most passionate about is that I think the car needs to be made in Indianapolis. The whole chassis can be made in within a 30-mile radius of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“There’s new materials on the market which are a more modern laminate, a pretty traditional pre-impregnated composite-type construction. There’s seven composite shops here in Indianapolis, three of which have an autoclave large enough to make the chassis and the underwings.

“What we wanted to do is come up with a body package that would race at all of the different racetracks. I couldn’t see the point in having all of these different body kits. With the turbo engine, you can tune the horsepower level for all the racetracks and then come up with an aerodynamic package that will work on all the racetracks. You’ve got get cost out of the series for the teams and, I believe, what the series needs is a car that’s more adaptable  to go from one track to another. If they want to want to shuffle the venues and shuffle the types of racetracks on the schedule, you don’t want the car to hold up their decision problem. The schedule should be made up from a logistics standpoint, a business standpoint, a weather standpoint. Then it doesn’t matter which order you do things in.  You can go oval, road course, oval road course and it’s the same body kit.’’

RT: One of your competitors is Delta Wing, which is a very radical design. As a longtime designer, what do you think of their concept?
Ashmore: “I think it’s a very interesting concept. It’s the only concept that’s been put forward what will truly race Indianapolis with 300 horsepower and use half the fuel. That’s interesting, but the downside is that a car should have four wheels. … I would love to have the BAT concept introduced as the spec racing car for IndyCar and then, over time, have, the Delta Wing race against it. I think that would be a really neat process because  then what you’ll be doing is creating a situation where the next evolution of race cars could be introduced over a gradual time.

“If you take the roadster era through the rear engine to the wings to the ground effects, each one of those eras didn’t switch overnight. It was a gradual process. But, in our mind, they’re very clear for different eras. When you’re involving in it, there were cars left over from the last era racing in the new era. So I think it would be great to have the Delta Wing race against the BAT.’’

RT: Cost control is one of the stated goals in choosing the next IndyCar. Where does your car stack up?
Ashmore: “With building all the components in Indianapolis, you don’t have any shipping duty and all the headaches that go with that. Then, we’re going to reduce the markups as much as we can. As long as the design and development is covered and we can make a living, then we can reduce the cost to the teams. So we’re more of an engineering, consultancy and parts procurement area. The manufacturing will be done by companies in town.

“There’ll be an education process to get the prices down because most of the companies in town are used to making five or six cars at a time. We’re going to be ordering 50. But that’s no different to the education that we had to do in England when we were getting all of the companies that make all of the components for the race car companies. I think it’s a misunderstanding that Lola and Dallara, and Reynard in the day, used to make those cars. Through the times when I was at Lola and Reynard, our most profitable years were when we put the majority of the components outside. That cottage industry exists here in Indianapolis.’’

RT: How confident are you that your concept will be chosen?
Ashmore: “I think we’ve got a very good chance. I’m very excited about it. Starting off (last) December and getting to this point, all we asked is that we got treated fairly and had a fair shot at landing this. As it’s got to become a more professional  bid and interview process, I think (IndyCar CEO) Randy Bernard has done a fantastic job of assembling all those people on the (advisory) committee. He’s got great brains from around the world to come in and help him make this decision and we’re going to go in that room and present our ideas. I think we are being given a fair shot to display our ideas. We just have to prove to them that we know how to organize this.

“The companies in Indianapolis desperately want to make the next IndyCar. Cars that race at Indy haven’t been built in Indianapolis really since the  70s. From the 80s onwards, they have been made abroad. It seems crazy for two English guys (Ashmore and Mertens) to get together and present this, but we’re both U.S. citizens and we came here because we love this country. And I think our experience of living in the UK and growing up through the Formula One cottage industry can help us put that experience to good use and build the next IndyCar.’’

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 5 2010
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