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INDYCAR To Roll Out New Chassis Today

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 27 2011

Dan Wheldon behind the wheel of the new IndyCar chassis last month at Mid-Ohio. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Following a series of private tests and an undisclosed amount of laps, the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series prototype chassis is scheduled to go public today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Dan Wheldon, two-time/reigning Indianapolis 500 champion, will wheel the Dallara chassis powered by a twin-turbocharged Honda V-6 engine around the 2.5-mile IMS layout during the car’s first public session scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., EDT.

Wheldon spent two days last week testing the car on the 0.875-mile Iowa Speedway oval, reportedly driving nearly the equivalent of an IndyCar Series race each day. The battery of short and long runs were the first for the car on an oval. Four road-course tests _ a shakedown/systems check at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio; Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.; IMS and Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway _ preceded the sessions in Newton, Iowa. A test planned on Texas Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile quadoval last month was canceled. The new car will compete at TMS and Iowa Speedway next June.

“I’m very pleased with how it went,” said Will Phillips, INDYCAR’s vice president of technology, who is overseeing the program’s initial phase. “We put in good mileage with no issues at all. We ran all sorts of aero configurations.”

Engine manufacturers Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus are scheduled to begin their own on-track testing programs in early October. Teams are planning to take delivery of their first chassis in mid-December.

“The tests are very disciplined with everyone involved,” said Wheldon, who won the 2011 Indy 500 in a one-off ride with Bryan Herta Autosport, designated test team for the INDYCAR sanctioning body. “And you know, I think Will Phillips and Tony Cotman that have led the charge on this program have been extremely diligent with their approach to it. They have a strict agenda that they want to adhere by, and you know, they have done that.

“We have several different manufacturers that are testing their products: Honda, Dallara, Xtrac and several more, so this makes for lots of different components that we need to test during our runs.

“This program is very rewarding. The people involved in it – the Bryan Herta Autosport team – have done a phenomenal job. The car has really evolved from our first test. We have some great manufacturers with a common goal to not only impress the fans with a new car but also build excitement.”

Wheldon, who will compete in the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships presented by Honda at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16, said that even though not all the in-car tools have been at his disposal yet series drivers will appreciate the additions and safety features.

“INDYCAR has a great momentum right now,” said Wheldon, the 2005 IndyCar champion and winner of 16 races in his series career. “One thing I keep saying in the debriefs is that it’s going to be difficult to improve significantly with the on-track product. The races this season have been phenomenal, whether it has been on a road-course or an oval, so that will be difficult to beat. We’re certainly working on that.

“This is a fresh look and it’s more modern with a lot of great things about it. It has only two pedals in the car because of the hand clutch. It has a turbocharged engine. We’re going to have multiple engine manufacturers involved, and with all of these changes comes a lot of excitement.

“I think when the team owners receive the 2012 car, they’re going to know that Dallara has made every effort to improve on the current car. It’s exciting from a safety aspect. There has been a lot of effort that has gone into that. This has been a great program to be involved with and I hope it gives me a leg-up for next year. I was part of Honda’s program in 2002 doing a similar kind of thing, and you know, it’s been a lot of fun. It’s obviously hard work, but it’s very rewarding as you see the car develop. So I’ve been blessed to do that.”

Californian Townsend Bell will return to Dreyer & Reinbold Racing to drive the team’s No. 22 Dallara/Honda in place of the recuperating Justin Wilson during the season’s final two races at Kentucky Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“We’re excited about having Townsend back with us and being able to put him in our car at Kentucky and Las Vegas,” said Dennis Reinbold, co-owner of DRR with Robbie Buhl. “We’ve both grown significantly since we worked together in 2008, and we feel Townsend will represent DRR and our partners very well to close out the IndyCar Series season.”

The No. 22 car will carry sponsorship from Valspar for the event at Sparta, Ken., on Oct. 2 and from Dad’s Root Beer at LVMS on Oct. 16. Both tracks are 1.5-mile ovals.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity,” said Bell, the 2001 Indy Lights champion who drove in seven races for DRR in ‘08. “I’m really impressed with the technical commitment that the team has made since Indianapolis to give themselves the best chance for success on the mile-and-a-half ovals, so it will be fun to see that put into action.”

Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti admittedly was tempted to take up Randy Bernard, INDYCAR’s chief executive officer, on the $5-million prize offered to any non-IndyCar Series regular who could win the IZOD INDYCAR World Championships at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16.

“People were asking me about it and, you know, to be honest, the thought did go across my mind. Then I got smart real quick,” said Andretti, CART champion in 1991 and third on the all-time open-wheel victory list with 42. “You know, it would have been too much for me to do and I’m just not in shape. I just know being out of the car this long, to expect to go and be competitive with the talent that we have in this field today is just…you’re kidding yourself. So, like I said, I got smart real quick.”

Mikey’s most recent open-wheel race was the 2007 Indy 500, when he started 11th and finished 13th.

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

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 27 2011
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