New 2012 Indycar Taken For A Test Drive

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 9 2011

Dan Wheldon puts a 2012 IndyCar Dallara through its paces during a test at Mid-Ohio on Monday. Testing resumes on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

INDYCAR’s next generation chassis logged its historic initial shakedown laps Monday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the first of 12 days of an itemized evaluation scheduled for three road-course and three oval layouts.

As is his custom, two-time and reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon patted the black and red-striped Dallara Automobili-built chassis with the road/street course prototype body kit three times before climbing into the cockpit. Wheldon and the Bryan Herta Autosport team that won the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 in May are serving as INDYCAR’s official test team, beginning with this two-day session around the 13-turn, 2.258-mile natural terrain circuit in Steam Corners, Ohio.

A few minutes later, the familiar roar of the IndyCar Series’ 3.5-liter normally-aspirated Honda V-8 that competed in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 was replaced by the higher-pitched whine of the 2.2-liter turbocharged Honda V-6 that will be supplied for the 2012 season by that manufacturer, Chevrolet and Lotus.

“It’s a great day, to see the work of many individuals in a very short amount of time out on the racetrack,” said Tony Cotman, project manager. “It’s the start of a new era for INDYCAR.”

Dallara’s proposal of a rolling chassis  – a universal car dubbed the IndyCar Safety Cell that comes complete but for the Firestone tires, steering wheel and driver’s seat – was recommended to the sanctioning body by the seven-member ICONIC Advisory Committee in July 2010 after it reviewed multiple manufacturer concepts. The Safety Cell is designed to accommodate different body coverings for ovals and road/street courses.

The new chassis will replace the Dallara design that came on line in 2003, and was built for oval racing. The first INDYCAR road/street course race was contested in 2005 at St. Petersburg, Fla.

Media and fans will note a differentiation in bodywork on the various racetracks. Sam Garrett, quality control leader for Dallara in the United States, said IndyCar Series teams will realize a cost savings – beyond the initial chassis purchase price – in replacement parts.

“It’s a lighter car, it has more horsepower and it has a lot less drag than the current car, so naturally on the right day it will go quicker,” Cotman said. “That’s something the fans have to look forward to. I think it also will provide a different type of racing with different engine manufacturers, too. It will be interesting, it will be exciting and it will be a bit of a change.”

A Dallara facility that will be open to the public is nearing completion in Speedway, Ind., where design, testing and production will continue. The testing prototype was assembled at Dallara’s headquarters in Parma, Italy.

“We’ve spent a lot of time trying to incorporate all the elements the ICONIC Advisory Committee asked for  – safety, lower cost, something that looks unique,” Garrett said. “Our time has been focused on making the car safe and stable so that it is possible to put different bodywork styles on it to make it look unique.”

Systems confirmation will continue through the end of September, with the next test booked for the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway quadoval in Fort Worth.

“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,” said Will Phillips, INDYCAR’s vice president of technology. “We want to make sure the basics are right first before we go pushing for those targets.”

The three engine manufacturers – each of whom have ordered a next-generation chassis  –will begin testing in early October with their respective aligned teams. So far, Target Chip Ganassi Racing, A.J. Foyt Racing and Sam Schmidt Motorsports have signed on with Honda Performance Development. Team Penske is the anchor team for General Motors’ return to open-wheel competition with Chevrolet.

Teams are scheduled to receive their first chassis in mid-December.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, August 9 2011
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