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2018 Indy Cars Will Roll Without Aero Doo-Dads

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 14 2017

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

INDYCAR’s return to a universal/generic bodywork kit for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season will emphasize bottom-side downforce as the key element of a “reverse-engineering exercise” addressing aesthetics as much as performance.

In other words, the next generation of Indy car needs to look good and run fast sans aerodynamic doo-dads.  

Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations, unveiled a series of initial concept drawings  during a media roundtable at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. Completed months ago, the renderings offer the first concept designs that will cover the Dallara IR-12 chassis. While the images will not be what the cars eventually look like in 2018, they provide the first public glimpse of the design process covering a five-year plan through 2021.

INDYCAR previously announced a development freeze for the upcoming season, meaning teams will use the aero kits supplied by engine partners Chevrolet and Honda for the 17-race schedule. The season opens with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 12.

“(For) ’18, ’19 and ’20, we’ll have a universal aero kit,” Frye said. “And in the year 2021 it gives us an opportunity to do maybe something drastically different, maybe continue the current universal program, but just provides some options.

“The ’18 car _ which we will unveil completely in the next couple weeks _ we looked at the cars over the last 20 years and what different parts and pieces off of different cars that we liked and we knew that other people liked, and especially that our fans were asking for. So that’s really where the car started, and it’s kind of a reverse-engineering exercise. Usually you work on a performance piece first, where this car we worked on the aesthetics of it first, hoping that we can create a performance package around it. And besides the performance piece, it also will have a lot of safety initiatives that are very cool, I think.”

INDYCAR will share more details of the development process in coming weeks, including another public update following the 2017 preseason Open Test Feb. 10-11 at Phoenix International Raceway. The goal is to have a car built for display at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in May, with on-track testing in the summer.

Frye went in-depth on a number of design issues _ including possible inclusion of a cockpit halo safety device _ during a Q&A session with media. Frye was accompanied by IndyCar Series regulars Josef Newgarden, who joined Team Penske from Ed Carpenter Racing in the offseason, and reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi of Andretti-Herta Autosport. An edited transcript follows:

QUESTION:  Jay, let’s start with where we’re at, why we are having the discussion about bodywork, the plans you’re making and a freeze on the bodywork for 2017. Talk about where you’ve been over the last few months and why it is that you wanted to embark on this endeavor.

JAY FRYE: “Really what we have done, there’s been a lot of things that have been announced over the last year and we’ve never really sat down and put all the pieces together.

“The five-year plan. I went to the University of Missouri, so this five-year plan is actually really four years, but it could be five. If you look at each bucket for each year, there’s different elements that come with it. So in ’17, we’ve announced obviously the aero freeze. We announced earlier this year we’ll have a new brake manufacturer with PFC. We’ve de-regulated a substantial amount of parts, which is really good. Different testing regulations. So each year besides the aero piece of the car, there’s different elements that will come as we go through the process.

“In a nutshell, that’s kind of where we’re at, and we’re excited about the future and this car is going to be pretty cool.”

QUESTION: Talk about why “the look” is so important, not only from the team side but also from the fan side?

JAY FRYE: “A lower engine cover, doing some different things in the back, again, a different shape for the side pods. That’s the baseline of where this program started.

“We earlier announced a multi-year extension with Dallara. Dallara will still build the cars, chassis; we’re still working through who’s going to manufacture the aero kits. We were very enthused and surprised by the amount of people that wanted to participate in that process. So because of all of the enthusiasm and participation, we are able to take a lot of different ideas and kind of piece them together to come up with what we hope is the final product. Again, the final product we should hopefully be able to show or announce mid-February, I should think.”

QUESTION: What about the safety issue, specifically moving debris?

JAY FRYE: “Well, we did some testing last year at mid-Ohio, we tested at Phoenix. So we’re taking the current car and coming up with some of the ideas we have; we basically took parts off to see what they would do. One of the things on this new car, there’s a lot of parts and pieces that are not on it, so we took most of the downforce off this current configuration, most of the downforce comes from the top. The new car, most all the downforce will be generated from the bottom of the car. I think these guys (Newgarden and Rossi) will like that.

“When we did the tests, one of the things the drivers mentioned and commented was how we have a great racing product right now, we don’t want to affect that negatively in any way. But this new car, the universal car, we should be able to pull it better. We don’t run into that (dirty) air that they currently do. Performance-wise it should be better because we don’t want to go backwards. And the safety elements to it, there’s some stuff on the side-impact (issue) that should be much better.

“There’s a lot of parts and pieces on these current cars. You know, there’s a lot of debris that we’re tethering a lot of things for safety reasons. So part of what we’re doing in ’18, the car will be…there’s new safety enhancements that are going to be built into the car, not having all these parts and pieces is going to make the car safer. Then, too, just for cautions and debris and cleanup and that type thing, it should make the flow of the events better.

“We are looking at a windscreen or a halo-type application. Will that be on the car in ’18, I’m not sure, but we’re full-speed ahead designing and developing as soon as possible. But again, because of our schedule being so diverse, maybe there’s two different applications. It would be difficult to run a halo at an oval but what’s to say you couldn’t run a halo at road courses? We’re looking at all different scenarios.”

QUESTION: You talked previously about going faster all the time. What about the speed element?

JAY FRYE: ”Yeah,  obviously when you develop this car you don’t want it to go backwards in performance. Like I mentioned earlier, we reverse-engineered this for aesthetics and looked first and then performance second.

“We have had this car configuration that we’re looking at in a scale model wind tunnel, and we’re very pleased with the initial numbers that it came back with. Actually we were very pleased. We feel like we’re on the right direction aesthetically. We feel like we’re in the right direction performance-wise, and then again, the safety piece of this car will be much further ahead than where we are now. You don’t want to go backwards, so this ’18 car, it will be even better in ’19 and ’20, also.”

QUESTION: What is your timeline for actually seeing and then testing a car?

JAY FRYE: “Well, the timeline is…an actual drawing of the car will probably be mid-February, and then it’ll be early-to-middle of the summer before we get on any kind of track testing. And then once that happens, the process will accelerate very quickly. The model wind tunnel test was done, I believe, 10 days ago, two weeks ago, so once we got those numbers we were very encouraged by the plan and how it could work. If those numbers would have come back not what we thought, then we would have had to maybe regroup a little bit, but right now we don’t have to.”

QUESTION: What does “freeze” mean for ’17? To me that implies if one side is inferior to the other they’re frozen in the inferior position. So if Chevy was better than Honda last year, then they’re better than Honda this year?

JAY FRYE: “Theoretically, yes. But there’s other elements besides the aero kit that make it better or worse _ teams or manufacturers or whatever. So the aero kit was one piece of the puzzle. I think the puzzle has changed some going into ’17, but the aero piece of the kit, yes, is frozen for 2017.”

QUESTION:  Maybe Josef can answer this because you drove a Chevy when they had the decided advantage in 2015 and you saw how much of a gap Honda was able to close. Could you talk about what the freeze will mean this year in terms of a fairly even competitive balance?

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: “Yeah, absolutely. And Jay brought a great point up here with the freeze. Obviously, I’m on the Chevy side so you can say I’m biased. But looking at last year, we look at the two pillars of success in INDYCAR. You have the Indy 500 and you have the championship. We have those split. On the Chevy side we were disappointed we weren’t able to win the Indianapolis 500 and we believe we have some areas that we need to improve for that.

“I don’t know if you can say it’s clear-cut that one side is stronger than the other. I think there’s certainly elements that make both sides strong, and like Jay said, that’s going to change going into ’17. There’s other elements of the car which always advance that you just don’t know how that’s going to shake out until you get on the track in 2017.

“I think it’s really interesting where we’re going in 2018, but for ’17 in the meantime, we had a great product. We had great racing. We had one of the best 500s we’ve ever had, which we keep following up year and year, so I think you’re just going to see a lot of great racing again. But I don’t think there’s anything set in stone of who’s going to win the championship.”

QUESTION: What jumps out at you about the concepts when you look at them?

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: “You know, this is actually the first time I’ve seen these, too. But one of the things I really liked hearing from Jay is that what drivers have been screaming about for a long, long time is that we want more bottom side performance from the race car, we don’t want to rely on the top. You have to remember the racing product has been really, really good. It’s not like we’ve had a bad racing product. We have a great racing product. I think we just want to make it what you always want to make it. You’re always striving to make the car more difficult to drive, provide more separation in the talent of the drivers and then make the racing product better.

“That’s the first thing that stands out to me, it’s kind of cool looking seeing the concepts of the side pods shrinking, the floor becoming a more prominent element, again, and then obviously there’s the Kardashian discussion of the rear. I think it looks really cool; I’m excited to see more of it next week.”

QUESTION: With Dallara building the chassis…Dallara has said it would like to build the aero kit but you’ve got other companies also wanting to build the aero kit. Would you feel comfortable in saying you may have a different company involved with INDYCAR as far as the universal aero kit?

JAY FRYE: “Well, certainly that’s possible. But again, we’ve announced the new multi-year extension with Dallara, so we’re very confident in what they do. I feel all this stuff we’re talking about today, there’s been a complete transparency with the teams. The teams have been involved in every decision that we have made. They’re very aware of everything we’re doing and where we’re going for the future.

“Now, part of this is knowing we can de-regulate part of this. The new Dallara deal, there was some price breaks, there was some parts that were completely de-regulated that we took back. There was another group of parts that now the teams are able to buy direct from the manufacturers. So the product has become more efficient, but it’s also become much better.”

QUESTION: Josef, you mentioned briefly the halo project. Is that something you guys are screaming about and wish they would get it in now?

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: “Well, it’s obviously a sensitive topic. I love the heritage and the history of open-wheel racing. I respect it. It’s why I’m in an open-wheel car. I don’t mind jumping in an Indy car the way it is right now. That’s the way I fell in love with it as a kid. I’ve got no problem jumping in a race car as it currently sits and driving in it. I think anyone will pretty much tell you that for the most part. There’s always going to be inherent risks to racing. You’re never going to get away from that.

“I think the biggest thing INDYCAR is trying to do is put in their due diligence. You can’t just make a knee-jerk reaction to something like this. You never know what type of knock-on effects you could have of just throwing something on a car and not being responsible about it.

“When I look at just going into 2017 I feel very comfortable to get back in the car. Always have. I’ve got no problem with what we’re doing. I’m excited to go racing in 2017 in an Indy car. But going into the future, I get to talk with J.R. Hildebrand every now and then, and he’s a really smart guy and fun to talk to, and I think he put it best that we’re going to be able to find a solution at some point that keeps within the spirit of open-wheel racing and open-cockpit cars and advance the safety of that.

“So what’s that going to look like? I think we’re working on it right now. I think that’s coming down the pike, and I’m comfortable with that. Formula One is doing the same thing. You don’t see them throwing something on the car right away, and that’s exactly what’s happening on the INDYCAR side, too.”

QUESTION: Alex, what are your thoughts on the halo concept?

ALEXANDER ROSSI: “I mean, I agree with Josef. It’s very important that there is no rush decision. There’s much smarter people than racing drivers doing the research on that, and I think the FIA in combination with INDYCAR is obviously really trying to figure it out. I stand with Josef in the sense that I have no issue getting in the cars as they are now, and the last thing I’d want to do is do something that could make the situation a whole lot worse.”

JAY FRYE: “To expand on that, it’s been actually very flattering and pretty cool, we’re getting a lot of calls from Formula One teams and FIA and that type of thing because they see what we’re doing and how far along we are and what possibilities we have, so it’s been quite flattering. We feel like we’re kind of taking the lead on it right now as to what’s possible and what could be next.

“One of the things on safety, too, if you look at last year _ this was the domed skids, the tethering, the rear wheel guards to the rear flaps. You know, two years ago we had the issues with the cars getting airborne (at Indianapolis Motor Speedway). Last year at Indy, every car that spun, smoke completely engulfed the cockpit. Well, the year before the cars would get light and there would be no smoke when they spun.

“We saw smoke when the first car spun and the car was completely engulfed with tire smoke _ that was perfect. That’s exactly what that safety element was supposed to do, keep the car on the ground. It flat-spotted the tires. You shouldn’t do a 360 spin or whatever and just be able to drive off. It needs to keep the car on the ground. There’s been other safety things that we’ve done that we will incorporate into the ’18 car that we have in ’17 that we developed in ’16.”

QUESTION: Does this universal bodywork program have the potential to attract new OEM participants to the series as engine suppliers, new manufacturers?

JAY FRYE: “Manufacturers? Well, again, when we talk about this five-year plan, one of our targeted goals is to recruit another OEM to come into INDYCAR. Our five-year plan, part of that was predicated on the wishes of OEMs or prospective OEMs, so what we think we’ve done by coming up with this five-year plan with the universal kit is we’ve eliminated some huddles for other OEMs to come in.

“Our two current partners are great, Chevrolet and Honda, and they have completely signed-off on this program. They’re participating in it. They’re going to be part of the testing program. But simultaneously we also ran these ideas by other OEMs that aren’t currently in the (Verizon) IndyCar Series because it would have not been very smart on our behalf to come up with this great five-year plan and then take it out to different OEMs and them be like, ‘We don’t want to do that, either.’

“Does this five-year plan mean it’s imminent that somebody is coming in? No, but again, we’ve removed the hurdles and he we think by having them part of the process, it’s created some enthusiasm. We’re talking to three or four at this point. Some of them have said ‘No,’ which to me that’s encouraging, and we’ll just keep working on this and we’ll get the new car out. We’ll let everybody see what we’re doing. Again, them being part of this process I think is really good and then through this five-year plan there’s a couple of natural opportunities for another OEM to come in, so we’re going to keep working on it.”

QUESTION: You mentioned you’re going to open up some things to the teams this year. Can you clarify what any of those are?

JAY FRYE: “Well, an example is the driver’s cockpit. There wasn’t a lot of flexibility in pedals and different things, so we thought the teams should be able to _ he’s got certain ideas of what he wants, he’s got certain ideas of what he wants, so we’ve opened that up. There’s probably 15 things that they’ll be able to do in ’17, and not a lot of it is…there’s three or four that are performance-related, or five, and then the other 10 are really where they can build their…if I’m a race team I think I can build stuff better than anybody else and I think I can build it more efficiently and cost-effective wise, we’ve given them an opportunity to build some of their own stuff in ’17. In ’18 there will be more and it’s part of the plan how we go through that process.

“The other part, too, is there’s five manufacturers now that the teams will be able to buy direct; it’s kind of a left-handed, we’re trying to recreate some of the cottage industry. The stuff that they can build on their own and the stuff that they can buy direct now is going to create opportunities for others to build things and to create development and to come up with. We’ll every year look at different opportunities of outside cottage industry people coming to us with things that we can approve or disapprove and get into the system again.”

QUESTION: If your most interested OEMs decided to go Indy car racing tomorrow, what season would it be that they would be able to begin competition?

JAY FRYE: “2018 would be a stretch; ’19 would be possible. But again, if somebody wanted to come in then we would do everything we could to accelerate it as quickly as we could. Again, we have two great partners now with Chevrolet and Honda. There’s a lot of things that would have to happen. There would have to be a lot of collaboration as part of that.  And Chevy and Honda have been great. They understand it’s important to the series and the league to have a third or fourth partner, and they’re very actively participating in it with us.”

QUESTION: And how interested is your most interested OEM?

JAY FRYE: “Again, so far none of them have said ‘No,’ so that to me, half-full/half-empty, that’s half full.”

QUESTION: Can you be a little more specific about the 11, 12 manufacturers interested in building the kit? Are they all race car companies?

JAY FRYE: “Yes, there’s a couple that when you speak of cottage industry folks, there was a couple of domestic and international that have got excited about…one of the things this has really done, too, is this has created a lot of opportunities for 2021. So again, we have the five-year plan. At the end of ’21 is there more than one manufacturer? Again, who knows? It gives us a path to get to ’21. I’m not saying we didn’t have paths or plans before. I didn’t mean that. We have a plan that everybody has bought into and understands. It’s efficient. It should be performance gaining, it should be a better safety initiative product, it should create better racing, it should put more of it in the driver’s hands. And be more efficient for the teams.”

QUESTION: Alex and Josef, what do you see and what do you hear about the car?

ALEXANDER ROSSI: “I like how prominent the floor is because that means, like they’ve discussed, the bottom side downforce will be a priority. And for those of you that don’t understand the significance of that, it’s when we’re trying to follow closely and you get to this point where the racing kind of seems stagnant because nobody is really getting closer. It’s because the car behind us is so affected because they’re going over the top of it. It’s what we call ‘dirty,’ meaning it’s moving, and it’s not a flat surface, which is what the car was designed in. When you’re relying on downforce coming from the bottom, you’re not affected by turbulence or dirty air because it’s irrelevant the state that the air is in when it hits the floor. So that part is massively encouraging.

“And beyond that, I think it looks awesome. It’s the first time I’ve seen it. But it takes us back to kind of the glory days, I think, which is the direction the sport is heading. The Verizon IndyCar Series is only progressing forward and this is a huge step, I think, in going in the right direction. It looks like a real race car for sure, which is awesome. That’s what we need.”

JAY FRYE: “Again, we mentioned earlier that we have done one test on this car, model test, and it was overwhelmingly good performance-wise to-date. We’ve got a ways to go but we’re definitely in the ballpark. That was very encouraging. That will help accelerate this whole process. So we didn’t want to do these drawings and then say, ‘Hey, guess what? We did a test and it’s like, oh, my, it’s not going to work.’ We think this car will work.

“It’ll be hopefully a more race-able car. You’ll be able to maneuver it more. You’ll be able to drive it, different things you can’t do now because like Alexander said, you get stuck. This should eliminate that.”

QUESTION: What are your concerns or things you’re thinking about going forward?

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: “I think from the driver’s side, you always have questions. You go into the race shop, I got a question every day, tons of questions about what we’re doing, what we’re working on and I think it’s kind of the same thing when you get to see the folks at INDYCAR and the leadership and the management. So the drivers have things they want, the teams have things they want, the manufacturers have things they want. Behind closed doors, we’re always trying to help from the driver’s side.

“What Alex is talking about on the racing side, we’ve had great racing. It’s not like we have something we need to fix, but we’re always looking to make it better. Yeah, we want to make the racing product the best on the planet, and how do we make it even better than it is right now?

“Well, trying to get rid of some of the effect of air behind cars is really the biggest thing. Shifting everything to the bottom of the car, not having the dirty air come from the top, the cars generally perform better. I think they’ve gone through and done a lot of due diligence to figure out how do we make this car even better than it currently is, and they’re trying to do that while making it look sexy because I think all of us as car as race car guys, we want a sexy-looking race car.

“We want people to show up _ and you’ll get this from the drivers when they come to the racetrack _ you want them to be wowed by the race cars. Whenever you see it in the garage area, you see them on the track, you see them in pit lane, you want to be blown away by what you’re looking at because the cool thing about Indy cars and open-wheel race cars in general is you can’t see these thing anywhere else. It’s not like a production car. I mean, it’s kind of like a fantasy almost which is what makes Indy cars so cool.

“The sexy element, making them bad-ass looking, that’s really, really critical. And we’re going to tie the performance into that, too, so it’s just encouraging to hear all those points that they’re trying to hit from the INDYCAR side.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 14 2017
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