Wheldon Getting Testy For IndyCar

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 8 2011

Dan Wheldon is going back to work in the IndyCar Series. He is testing the new equipment at Mid-Ohio this week.(Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Two-time and reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon will return to an IZOD IndyCar Series cockpit on Monday in a role not listed on the typical job board.

“Test dummy – that’s a good one. I like that,” Wheldon said during a teleconference addressing his latest contract gig with Bryan Herta Autosport. “That’s what I’m going to call myself: Test dummy.”

Wheldon and the fledgling organization that scored an upset victory in the 100th anniversary Indy 500 are scheduled to put the 2012 IndyCar Safety Cell through its initial on-track test today and Tuesday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Steam Corners, Ohio. The initial test around the 13-turn, 2.258-mile natural  terrain circuit – site of Scott Dixon’s victory in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 for Target Chip Ganassi Racing – will be closed to the media and the public.

Will Phillips, INDYCAR’s vice president of technology, said the session will be a shakedown of the chassis that’s been mated to a turbocharged Honda 2.2-liter V-6. Five other two-day sessions on both road courses and ovals are scheduled for August and September before the 2012 engine manufacturers – Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus – begin on-track testing in early October.

“It’s really a systems check of everything, but we’ll slowly get the car up-to-speed and take it from there,” Phillips said. “If on Day One there are no issues, then Day Two you start

Scott Dixon leads Helio Castroneves through a turn at Mid-Ohio, site of this week's test. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

pushing a bit harder. We’re not out to achieve any goals but shaking the car down and making sure we’re ready to go testing.”

It’s an often tedious task that Wheldon and team co-owners Herta and Steve Newey nevertheless vow will be handled enthusiastically by a group that has not competed on-track since May 29 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I take it very seriously doing a job like this,” said Wheldon, who won his first Indy 500 in 2005 en route to the series championship. “You’re associating yourself with big manufacturers like Honda, Dallara and obviously Firestone. I think with Firestone themselves, they’re very, very stringent with safety concerns. That’s a priority for them. They do a phenomenal job with that. And even though there’s going to be multiple engine manufacturers involved, and it’s going to be a one-tire series, it’s still a serious job.

“So to be a ‘test dummy’ for these manufacturers is important. Like I say, I’m going to be very disciplined in the role I play for them and achieve for them exactly what they want to achieve. And it’s going to be track time in a new car, so I think that’s going to be of benefit.”

Phillips heard the turbocharged engine as it went through the gears and saw the road course prototype aero kit during a visit last month to Dallara Automobili in Parma, Italy. “I continue to be extremely impressed with what I see,” Phillips said. “If it can deliver what it looks like it can, it will be fantastic and exciting. Various parties put their pieces away and sorted out their issues and they’ll all come back together for the car completion the beginning of next month.”

For purposes of testing, the chassis still is a prototype. Dallara’s winning proposal to the ICONIC Advisory Committee, unveiled in July 2010, included a uniform chassis with the potential of multiple road/street circuit and oval body kits. Aero kits could be supplied by any number of manufacturers or individuals upon receiving INDYCAR approval.

“We need to make sure the parts from all aspects of the car are achieving their goals, so we’ve got aero targets and straight-line speed targets that we’re looking to see,” Phillips said. “We want to make sure the basics are right first before we go pushing for those targets. However, you have a really good day and might end up with those targets from Day One.

“If the real numbers off the car don’t match the simulation, don’t match the CFD (computational fluid dynamics), then we obviously chase some changes, which is why we run the prototype and why we need to run it on all the configurations of circuits.”

Bryan Herta Autosport was announced as INDYCAR’s test team for the 2012 chassis and engine project in late June. IndyCar Series teams are slated to receive their first new chassis by Dec. 15.

“I think it’s super important,” Herta said of the testing program. “Everybody’s excited about the new car – what it’s going to look like, how fast is it going to be; you know, there’s going to be different engines going into it. So it’s important for us to make sure that the car is fast, reliable, safe, all those things, so that by the time it’s out on-track and the public is seeing it, that it’s a finished product and something that everybody’s going to want to come out and watch racing next year.”

Wheldon, whose resume includes extensive development of the current Honda Indy V-8, reiterated his commitment to working the program.

“I think with something as serious as this, it’s not about achieving goals for yourself, it’s about achieving goals for everybody involved,” said Wheldon, a 33-year-old native of England living in St. Petersburg, Fla. “It’s, for me, a job that I’m going to take very, very seriously. I’m thankful to the IndyCar Series for giving me the opportunity. But there’s a lot you have to undertake. We need to make sure that the product that the IndyCar Series puts out towards the end of this year, beginning of 2012, is something that primarily the fans get very excited about, but also the teams and drivers. And obviously we want to make sure that the product we put out is incredibly safe.

“And I think that’s why it’s very good to have Bryan Herta Autosport involved. We saw the job they were able to do at the Indianapolis 500.”

Newey was involved with setting up Firestone Racing’s test team in the mid-1990s, when the manufacturer returned to domestic open-wheel competition in place of corporate rival Goodyear.

“Some of the challenges, you know, are very similar to what a race team faces every race weekend or every test event,” Newey said. “And that is conducting the testing in a very practical manner, first of all, and conducting it in such a way that all the various invested parties get what they’re looking for in terms of results.

“So it’s a very tedious process. It can be at times downright boring, frankly, because you’re not out there competing and racing against other teams and other drivers. It’s about accumulating miles and confirming the structural integrity of all the components that are highly stressed and it’s a very methodical approach, and we’ve got a great team put together.

“I think I’m looking forward to it. And it reminds me a lot of the program we did put together for Firestone back in 1994 – and I might add that was a very successful program. We’re taking this very serious, as Bryan said, and we’re looking forward to the challenge in providing each constituent that’s involved in the testing program with the conclusion that they’re looking for.”

Herta added the test is especially important to BHA as it attempts to put together funding to run the entire 2012 schedule. “We’re looking forward to what it means for the future of our organization,” Herta said. “It’s no secret that we’re very happy with Dan, that our goal is to race the full season in 2012, that all things being equal we’d love to do that with Dan. So I think we’re working in that direction.

“I think being part of this test program and the continuity that we bring over from the Indy 500 – it’s the same group of guys, same driver, same people involved – we can transition seamlessly into the test program. Ideally, out of the test program we’ll be able to transition into a full season program for next year.”

Herta described the program as “extensive” – and at the outset – purposely secretive. “We’re going to be visiting tracks almost on a weekly basis throughout August and September,” Herta said. “All different types of circuits – short ovals, speedways, Indianapolis, short street course-type circuits and road courses. Specific details, when they are released, will come directly from IndyCar. I think some of it needs to be done in secrecy for a host of reasons.

“I think at some point there may be opportunities for people to come see the car run, but I say initially you’re not going to see that. You may hear rumors of a car being running here, there, but it’s going to be comprehensive and we’re going to run on various tracks all over the country.”

Herta did confirm that all test miles will be run with the next generation turbocharged V-6 engine. “For the start of the test program it will be a Honda unit because they’re the first one with an engine completed and ready to do the testing phase,” Herta said. “But certainly I think as the test program moves on, other manufacturers will get involved once we get past that August deadline.”

Wheldon, winner of 16 IndyCar races in 132 starts, acknowledged the program will give him a mileage head start in the new car.

“For sure it’s an advantage,” Wheldon said. “But I want to come out of this test program with everybody saying: ‘You know what, Dan was extremely disciplined and did a great job. And if ever we do something like this again _ and this goes for all the manufacturers involved – we’d love to have him do it.’ That’s the kind of job that I want to do.”

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 8 2011
No Comment

Comments are closed.