IRL Introduces Cars With Changeable Clothes

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 15 2010

Members of the panel which chose the look of IndyCar's future presented their new program on Wednesday. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Indianapolis – Borrowing from the auto industry’s “global platform” concept – and the fashion industry’s “project runway” concept – the IZOD IndyCar Series will compete in 2012 and beyond with a basic rolling chassis covered with changeable bodywork.

The IndyCar Safety Cell to be manufactured by longtime series partner Dallara Automobili of Parma, Italy, was the centerpiece of the Future Car Strategy announcement unveiled by Indy Racing League officials during an elaborate presentation Wednesday at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Scheduled to be manufactured at a new facility in nearby Speedway, Dallara’s IndyCar Safety Cell will serve as the base of the new car. However, the IRL is encouraging manufacturers from around the globe to produce their own aero kits in an effort to brand the car as “theirs.”

“It has a lot of similarities to the real automotive industry,” said Brian Barnhart, the IRL’s president of competition and racing, and one of seven members of the ICONIC Advisory Committee that recommended the concept. “Take what GM does. If you look at the dashboard in a (Chevrolet) Tahoe and in a (GMC) Yukon or a (Chevy) Suburban, it’s all the same. The chassis is all the same. They change the clothes on the outside of their cars.

“It’s no different.  Why would we allow teams to change wishbones and the stuff that’s underneath? Fans aren’t going to see that. Change something that matters to them, and that’s the visual appearance of it. So it’s no different than what automotive manufacturers do right now. I guarantee you the speedometer in a GM vehicle is probably the same in about 10 different vehicles. That’s only logical. That’s how they reduce the cost. We apply the same model here, and I think it’ll be great.”

Reducing costs was among the objectives of the ICONIC (Innovative, Competitive, Open-Wheel, Industry-Relevant, Cost-Effective) Advisory Committee, formed at the request Randy Bernard, the Indy Racing League’s CEO.

“This car puts everything all of our stakeholders want on the racetrack – safety, competition on and off the track, diversity, efficiency and more,” Bernard said. “The new car also is a cost-

Indy Racing League boss Randy Bernard.

effective package that positions the series for tremendous growth and enhances the series’ relevancy to future automotive technology, while respecting the tradition of innovation in open-wheel racing.”

Here are significant features of the Future Car:

– The rolling chassis manufactured by Dallara to IndyCar specifications will cost $349,000, with a complete car costing $385,000. That is a 45-percent price reduction from the current formula. The IndyCar Safety Cell is designed for use on all types of tracks on which the series competes – ovals, natural-terrain road-courses and street circuits. Bernard said the IRL’s deal with Dallara runs through 2015.

– Each team can race two different aero kits from any manufacturer during the season, with a maximum price of $70,000 for each kit. Series officials must approve all aero kit parts before production. All approved aero kit parts must be made available to all teams and undergo safety testing approved by the series.

– Targeted minimum weight for the new car is 1,380 pounds, nearly 200 pounds lighter than the current car. Theoretically, this will make the car more efficient, in keeping with the auto industry. The actual minimum weight of the car will be determined once variables with suppliers, including engine weight, are determined.

– The IndyCar Safety Cell is designed for improved visibility, head, leg and back protection, as well as advanced padding and ergonomics. A key safety component is the wheel interlock prevention system, which will allow the cars to run side-by-side while limiting the chance for wheels locking and going airborne.

“Our goal was to maintain the IZOD IndyCar Series as the fastest and most versatile racing in the world,” Barnhart said. “This strategy achieves the different looks that fans wanted while maintaining the close, intense racing that occurs at every IndyCar Series event. A new car also levels the playing field, giving more teams a chance to succeed and generating more excitement for our fans.

“The significant reduction in price of the new car is very important, as it helps to maintain economic stability for our teams as we transition to a new car. It also creates a more attractive avenue for new teams to enter the series.”

The aero kit is defined as the car’s front wings, both side pods, the engine cover and rear wings. Barnhart said the first Future Car chassis is expected to roll out in October 2011 and be available for purchase in December 2011.

In addition to the traditional manufacturers, Barnhart said there is nothing to stop Team Penske or Target Chip Ganassi Racing or Andretti Autosport from building and submitting their own kits.

“Absolutely not. It’s encouraged,” Barnhart said. “They could submit a kit and it’ll get approved and it’ll have to be available to everybody. They won’t have exclusivity on it. But there could be a Penske kit, which would make it a Penske IndyCar. It has to be available to everybody , and sell that kit for $70,000. Absolutely. That basically brands the car.”

Members of the ICONIC Advisory Committee were shown in a video casting their votes this morning. That group began an extensive review of chassis proposals on June 6.

ICONIC member Tony Purnell, founder of Pi Research, noted that the innovations recommended are not limited to traditional racing manufacturers.

“It’s our goal to reach out and challenge the automotive and aerospace industries,” said Purnell, former technical representative to the FIA and former head of Ford’s Premiere Performance Division. “Come on Ford, GM, Lotus, Ferrari. Come on Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Electric. Come on you engineers working in your garage or in small shops. We’ve done our best to provide a framework for all of you to showcase your technical prowess without a need for a major raid on your piggy banks. We want you guys involved, all of you.”

ICONIC member Eddie Gossage, the president of Texas Motor Speedway, praised the cost-cutting aspect of the recommendation.

“Cutting the cost of the chassis by 40 percent is a game-changer for the sport,” said Gossage, the board’s promoter representative. “After spending countless hours working with the ICONIC Committee, it became very clear that only one chassis supplier could be chosen because of the economics. For the fans, we’ve ensured that team owners currently in the sport can continue to participate and we can entice new teams to join affordably. When is the last time you ever heard of the cost of a high-tech race car – the fastest in the world – dropping?”

Gossage added that fan input played a huge role in the recommendations.

“They (fans) made it clear that they wanted to see some variety in the cars,” Gossage said, “and the ICONIC Committee constantly factored that desire into the consideration. In a perfect world, we would have recommended multiple chassis providers but the research and development costs alone would have caused the price of the cars to inflate astronomically instead of reducing them. That would have been bad for the health of Indy-car racing.

“The committee and the IRL technical staff have developed the concept of ‘clothes,’ which can be changed to allow different looks for the car. It’s a smart, affordable way to offer variety while providing a known, proven, safe race car that will provide wheel-to-wheel racing action at more than 200 miles per hour. We think it’s a great compromise to provide the fans with what they demand and ensure the long-term vitality of Indy-car racing.”

Gil de Ferran, co-owner of De Ferran Dragon Racing and the 2003 Indianapolis 500 champion, agreed the recommendation largely was in response to a desire by fans to see a variety of cars on-track.

“By encouraging multiple manufacturers to supply bodywork parts and, essentially, brand the cars,” de Ferran said, “the IndyCar Series brings in the innovation and competition many of us were looking for.” De Ferran added his team certainly would explore the possibility of building its own aero kit.

With the exception of the 2007 Indianapolis 500, Dallara has operated as the exclusive supplier of IndyCar Series chassis.  The current-style chassis has been run since the 2003 season.

In addition to Dallara, the ICONIC Advisory Committee received and reviewed chassis proposals from BAT Engineering, DeltaWing Racing Cars, Lola and Swift Engineering that ranged from evolutionary to revolutionary.

Bernard termed the DeltaWing concept as “radical,” and added it would be “pretty darn hard to see multiple engine manufacturers by 2012.”

Honda currently is in its eighth season as an engine partner with IndyCar. This is the fifth consecutive season the manufacturer is supplying its Honda Indy V-8s to every team. Honda joined the series in 2003, competing then against General Motors’ Chevrolet brand and longtime Japanese industry rival Toyota.

In addition to Barnhart, de Ferran, Gossage and Purnell, the ICONIC board includes industry technical representatives Tony Cotman, Rick Long and Neil Ressler. The panel is mediated by retired Air Force Gen. William R. Looney III.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 15 2010