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DeltaWing Designers Take Issue

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

The developers of the radical DeltaWing car think the Indy Racing League made a bad choice.

The generally positive buzz created Wednesday by the IZOD IndyCar Series’ announcement of its Future Car Strategy has drawn its first public negative response from DeltaWing Racing Cars.

Indianapolis-based DeltaWing was one of four manufacturers passed over when the Indy Racing League’s ICONIC Advisory Committee voted to partner with long-time supplier Dallara Automobili on a platform featuring a basic rolling chassis covered with changeable bodywork, or “clothes.”

Scheduled to debut at the start of the 2012 season, the IndyCar Safety Cell to be manufactured by Dallara was the centerpiece of the Future Car Strategy announcement unveiled by IRL officials during an elaborate presentation Wednesday at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Scheduled to be manufactured at a new facility in Speedway, Ind., 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 aero kits that would brand the car as “theirs.” Theoretically, those manufacturers would include the four left standing by the ICONIC Advisory Committee – BAT Engineering, Lola, Swift Engineering and DeltaWing.

A non-attributed statement issued by DeltaWing Thursday indicated CEO Dan Partel was not embracing the idea of partnering with the IRL on production of an aero kit – the car’s front wings, both side pods, engine cover and rear wings – to be mated with Dallara’s IndyCar Safety Cell.

“We wish to congratulate the ICONIC Committee and the IZOD IndyCar Series on their decision regarding the 2012 chassis strategy,” the DeltaWing statement began.  “However, we are extremely disappointed that they have decided to pursue a strategy that does not include the DeltaWing.

“The DeltaWing concept was designed to provide a relevant solution to the environmental, economic and social realities that must be addressed by all premier status racing series. We proposed a revolutionary solution that met or exceeded all of the IndyCar Series criteria for the new car, resulting in a chassis with half the weight, half the drag, half the cost, half the horsepower and half the fuel consumption of the existing IndyCar.

“This was accomplished with a design that would provide more on-track excitement and performance on every circuit where the IZOD IndyCar Series competes and the potential for 235 mph or faster laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Our many partners and supporters have invested significant time, financial resources and effort into DeltaWing. We want to thank them for their commitment, courage and vision for the future. We have initiated the process of reviewing options for DeltaWing which we will present to our investors, industrial partners and governmental advisors. We will announce our plans for the DeltaWing in the near future.”

The seven-member ICONIC (Innovative, Competitive, Open-Wheel, Industry-Relevant, Cost-Effective) Advisory Committee was formed this spring at the request Randy Bernard, the IRL’s first-year CEO.

Of the designs submitted to the ICONIC board, the DeltaWing concept clearly was the most revolutionary.

“The DeltaWing was a radical car,” ICONIC board member Tony Purnell, founder of Pi Research and former head of Ford’s Premier Performance Division, said during the news conference. “When you ‘step out,’ you’re that brave, you take risks. A car like that’s never been done before. From the series’ standpoint we had to think very carefully on many factors – safety was certainly one – and the fact that the whole series depended on us making a choice that would race, no question, in 2012.

“So we came to the conclusion that stepping back again…as a holistic decision, Dallara offered us the best bet. But really, I think that none of the proposals quite match what we wanted to achieve, and it was this committee that formed the final direction for the whole series.”

Asked to explain the “key factor”  leading to Dallara’s selection, Purnell pointed to the holistic approach.

“It’s not one thing, it’s everything,” said Purnell, a former representative of the FIA and a professor at Cambridge University. “When we step back and look at the various proposals given and presentations, we felt Dallara was the complete package. We were very comfortable in going forward with them. And I have to say they addressed every aspect that we asked them to, and they addressed it with gusto. They really wanted this.”

Partel’s partners in DeltaWing are Ben Bowlby, chief technology officer, and Bill Lafontaine, chief marketing officer.

Asked if he thought the DeltaWing proposal was “dead,” Bernard said Wednesday, “Personally, you know, the DeltaWing project was, like what Tony said, a radical concept. That’s a question that you really need to ask Ben what the next step is going to be with it. With us, we’re focused right now on our next concept, and we believe that we’ve made the right decision and we’re excited about it.”

Bernard said the contract with Dallara runs through 2015. Additionally, Brian Barnhart, president of competition and racing operations for the IndyCar Series, said the current Dallara chassis – in use since 2003 – would not be grandfathered into the rules for 2012 or used as an upgrade in the Indy Lights Series.

“I don’t think they’ll be the Indy Lights cars for the 2012 or 2013,” said Barnhart, standing next to the No. 10 Dallara/Honda that Dario Franchitti drove to victory in the Indianapolis 500 in May. “I think this is a cost-prohibitive car. The fact it was an eight-year-old car that was designed to run on ovals only and converted to run on the road and street circuits that are currently on the schedule, has created a situation where we have excess parts inventory.

“The new car will be designed to be a road-course car that will be capable of doing ovals, that will reduce the parts required or reduce the inventory. I think this would be a cost-prohibitive car. Then you get into the aero aspects of it. If you put a reduced horsepower engine, the tires are the wrong size for it, the L over D (lift over drag) is the wrong formula as well. So it will not move in that direction.

“The fact we’ll get to 2012, at this point the car will have raced nine years, and I think it will be time to become show cars.”

Bernard announced last month the ICONIC board had approved an unprecedented move from normally aspirated V-8 engines to a more flexible, turbocharged-powered formula beginning in 2012. The turbo platform allows for a maximum of six cylinders with displacement of 2.4-cubic liters. The ethanol-fueled engines will produce between 550 and 700 horsepower, in order to suit the diverse set of tracks on which the IndyCar Series competes.

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.

With the engine and chassis changes being implemented simultaneously, Bernard admitted the 2012 season could be run with Dallara again as single supplier of the latter.

“I think we have to be realistic and not set our expectations too high,” Bernard said. “Our goal was to be looking at the long-term. We knew that engine manufacturers and chassis manufacturers were under deadlines right now, you know, to get moving. So we think it’s going to be pretty darn hard to see engine manufacturers by 2012, we’re optimistic yet, and there’s a due date not too far down the road.

“But our goal is to have some interest, farther than interest, we have some automotive and chassis manufacturers… I’m sorry, the aero kit manufacturers in 2013 for sure.”

In addition to Barnhart and Purnell, the ICONIC Advisory Committee includes Tony Cotman, founder of NGR Consulting, focusing on race circuit design and safety and designer of Champ Car’s 2007 chassis; Gil de Ferran, co-owner of the IRL’s De Ferran Dragon Racing and winner of the 2003 Indianapolis 500; Rick Long, owner of Speedway Engines Development Inc.; Neil Ressler, former vice president of research and advanced engineering and the chief technical officer at Ford Motor Company and Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway and the board’s promoter representative.

The panel was moderated by retired four-star Gen. William R. Looney III, who oversaw modernization of the U.S. Air Force’s fleet.

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

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