New IndyCar Chassis Hits The Bricks At IMS

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, July 25 2017

Test driver Oriol Servia crosses the start/finish line at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Tuesday in the new Honda-powered Dallara Chassis. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

INDYCAR’s return to a universal/generic bodywork kit for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season via a Dallara chassis that has been “reverse-engineered” made its on-track debut Tuesday during a day-long test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Inspired by “old favorite” designs but clearly pointing toward what’s “NEXT” for the series, the chassis is being touted as “bolder, safer and even more thrilling” than the current configurations supplied by engine partners Chevrolet and Honda for superspeedways and short ovals, permanent road-courses and temporary street circuits.

The new chassis is a collaboration of several key constituents _ INDYCAR, Dallara and design experts in the United Kingdom _ along with input from drivers, teams and fans.

The new design eliminates many of the add-on body panels _ most notably the rear wheel guards that have made the current cars appear boxy. Still, Jay Frye, INDYCAR’s president of competition and operations, declined to say the current manufacturer-supplied bodywork kits will go into the history book as a lesson in over-engineering that never caught on with fans.

“I don’t think so,” Frye said during a teleconference Monday with national media. “I think earlier we mentioned that everybody has their opinion on it. Like when we looked through the last 20 or 30 years of cars, we all had opinions on which one we liked the best, so that’s very subjective. I think what both manufacturers did, the amount of effort they put into it was spectacular. You think about all what happened with that era, the last couple years, now we’ve just pivoted into this next version and this next era of where we’re going. So this has, again, got a historical feel but an overall forward look.”

In addition to Frye, the program has been overseen by Bill Pappas, INDYCAR’s vice president of competition/race engineering; Tino Belli, INDYCAR’s director of aerodynamic development and Dallara, supplier of the IR-12 chassis that has been used by all Verizon IndyCar Series competitors since 2012.

“I feel Tino Belli and Bill Pappas have been incredible through this whole process,” Frye

Juan Pablo Montoya put the new Chevy-powered Dallara thought its paces at Indy on Tuesday.

said, “from numerous trips to Dallara (in Italy) and the things that we had to do to put this all together, they’ve been really phenomenal.

“This car is a sleeker look. There’s less parts and pieces. One of the things we talked about is on the safety aspect, there’s less opportunities for debris with this car we’re going to test, which is good. None of this is easy, but for the mechanics, the way that this body comes…this kit comes off the car, how it is to work on, will be better for them. There’s different things that affect different people different ways, and again, we’ve tried to check the box on as many of them as we can. So far, so good we think.”

The process for the new design started in April 2016 with invitations to potential manufacturers. Soon after, Frye’s “reverse-engineering” mantra came into play _ make the car appealing to the eye then responsive to the track. The project of outfitting the current Dallara IR-12 chassis developed by the late Dan Wheldon with a new aerodynamic kit began more than a year ago. Design support came from Dallara and Chris Beatty, a UK-based concept design and 3D animation consultant. Throughout the process, competitors contributed to the design.

The public reveal of the concept began with drawings shown at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January. Additional images were shown in March, another batch in May. Dallara was named in June to supply the universal kit.

Fans reportedly liked the look of the low-line turbocharged Indy cars of the early 1990s, and that sentiment inspired the design of this car. The goal was to give the car a sleek look reminiscent of those popular cars while offering an attractive edge to a new generation of drivers and fans.

Along those lines, a lower engine cover and lower short oval/road-course rear wing endplates provide a long, lean look. The wings are lower, smaller and more aesthetically pleasing.

The LED display system on each car _ which currently shows position in the running order, time of a pit stop and when push-to-pass is engaged _ is more sophisticated, expanding opportunities for providing fans with content.

The fan experience also was taken into account with new camera positions strategically placed on the car. Views will be available from the nose and rear attenuator in addition to the traditional overhead and rear-view mirror locations.

Safety-wise, INDYCAR and Dallara have six years of collective research and study with the IR-12 chassis to help understand the limits of control. This information has been included in the design of the new car.

Side impact protection has been improved in a variety of ways, including the sidepod leading edge and induct duct joined with two bulkheads to create a proper crushable structure ahead of the radiator. The unitary construction is designed to absorb loads from all directions, and the structure is eight-to-10 inches wider at the driver’s hips.

The top of the sidepod has been designed to exceed FIA side impact tests. The inlet duct, sidepod side and bottom have been constructed in hybrid carbon/dyneema fibers for improved penetration protection. Oil and water radiators have been moved forward, adding cushioning on the driver’s side.

A wider leading edge mitigates the chance of another car’s wheel climbing on top of the underwing.

Simulations show the new car meets all of INDYCAR’s targets for not going airborne in

The Chevrolet-powered Dallara and the Honda versions are the future of IndyCar.

spins at 90, 135 or 180 degrees yaw. The rear wing and front wing main plane are smaller and the centerline wicker from the nose of the car to the cockpit is tapered to provide protection against the car lifting when it spins.

The front wings are noticeably smaller with fewer pieces, reducing the amount of potential debris in incidents. Fewer pieces also means less to maintain.

Some elements added to fix previous instability issues (domed skids on the car’s undertray and a large tail fin) no longer are necessary. The stability and downforce provided by the domed skids on the 2017 car have been replaced by lateral domes attached to the underwings of the 2018 car.

With the rear wheel guards gone, the winglets also have been removed. Fences in the rear of the underbody have been added to the road course/short oval package.

The design also has allowed for a cockpit windscreen application, if/when one is developed.

The current 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged, direct-injection V-6 engines from Chevrolet and Honda will continue to be used. Modeling indicates oval-track qualifying speeds at Indianapolis Motor Speedway should be comparable to 2017 Indianapolis 500 speeds. Given the car will be lighter, higher speeds than previously seen at some venues are possible.

“Chevrolet’s INDYCAR fans will continue to have a great deal to cheer about in 2018,” said Mark Kent, director, Chevrolet Motorsports competition. “While we enjoyed tremendous success with the Chevrolet-specific aero kit, we are looking forward to the next chapter of competition as INDYCAR introduces its universal aero kit.

“The focus for Chevrolet INDYCAR teams, technical partners and Chevrolet engineers will be on optimizing integration of our 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged, direct-injection V-6 engine in this new package such that the engine continues to deliver the right combination of performance, efficiency and reliability to provide our teams and drivers the best opportunity to win races and championships.”

Art St. Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development, added, “We’re excited to see the 2018 INDYCAR body kit on-track. It looks great, with a return to a more traditional overall design, but with many forward-thinking elements and still incorporating the great advances in safety the series has made in recent years. It looks fast, as it should. We think the fans will love it, too.”  

Drivers have been asking for the car to generate more downforce from underneath the car instead of on top using wings. Now, 66 percent of the generated downforce will be at the bottom of the car in road course/short oval configuration, an increase of 19 percent.

Reducing dependency on topside downforce has eliminated the need for many of the extra aero kit pieces, which added to the turbulent air an Indy car leaves in its wake. At a recent short oval test where some of the new kit’s components were affixed to a current car, the following distance for a trailing car was cut in half, improving maneuverability. If it’s easier to follow, it should be easier to pass, creating an opportunity for tighter, more exciting racing.

Drivers have long been asking for the car’s weight to be moved forward for improved handling. This design has accomplished that.

Open-wheel veterans Juan Pablo Montoya and Oriol Servia will drive two cars _ one for each engine manufacturer _ throughout the testing regimen operated by INDYCAR. Team Penske is providing the Chevrolet-powered car for Montoya; Schmidt Peterson Motorsports the Honda-powered chassis for Servia. Testing will be conducted Tuesday and Wednesday (if necessary) around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The remainder of the testing schedule:  Aug. 1: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (road-course); Aug. 10: Iowa Speedway (short oval); Sept. 26: Sebring International Raceway (street-course simulation; brakes and cooling test). The first kits will be delivered to Verizon IndyCar Series teams in November.

An edited transcript of Frye’s teleconference follows:

THE MODERATOR: Jay, anticipating the car’s first actual on-track test at IMS, what do you like about the new look?

JAY FRYE: “Well, there’s lots of different things we obviously like. I really like that it’s…this has been a year and a-half in the making, and the process has finally come to the point where we can get the car on the track. We certainly appreciate everyone’s help from Dallara to the teams’ help and the manufacturers that have helped. And certainly the fans; over the last few months we kept putting out some different things to get reactions from the fans to see what they thought of the project. It helped us a lot because it made us feel like we were certainly going in the right direction, which was great.

But I think one of the things that’s really cool about the car if you think of something specifically…again, there’s a lot of little things, but one of the little things that I think is pretty good or great is if you take the engine cover off now, you can actually see most of the engine, right, which before you would pull it off and you might see a lot of air inboxes and air intake and that type thing that’s now been moved to the bottom. You’re able to pull off the engine cover, Chevrolet and Honda will be able to display the engines in a different way, and just little things like that make this project come to fruition.”

THE MODERATOR: This project has been a collaboration. Can you elaborate on the steps INDYCAR has taken to include people in the process?

JAY FRYE: “Yeah, throughout the whole process we wanted to get as many opinions as we could get and be as transparent as we could about everything. Thinking about the whole process, how this has played out, last fall or last year we had a couple tests, one at Phoenix and one at Mid-Ohio where Andretti Autosport, Ganassi and ECR (Ed Carpenter Racing) were involved, and at that point we did a lot of things to the current car that we wanted to apply to the new universal kit. So we’ve had great support of the teams at that point.

From that point, we took what we thought the car should look like, and that’s where we talked about ‘reverse-engineering’ the car and to aesthetically make it look with the historical feel but yet a very forward-looking car, and we think we’ve done that.

From that point we did six or seven scale model wind tunnel tests, and the numbers have come back very strong, and here we are (Tuesday), where we’re going to have our first on-track test. So it’s been a long process but it’s been very methodical. It has been a process, so every day we’ve been able to check a box, and so far, so good on checking the boxes.”

THE MODERATOR: One of the groups you involved in getting feedback from was Verizon IndyCar Series drivers. It’s clear even from photographs we’ve seen that the top of the car has far fewer wing pieces. Do you think that will reduce the turbulent air for a trailing car?

JAY FRYE: “Absolutely, and that’s what we talked about earlier when we did the test, especially at Mid-Ohio. We did that to see what the difference was, where the drivers would have the ability to pull up closer/quicker, not run into the blanket of air or wake, and that really worked well there. So I would say probably 60 to 70 percent of the downforce is generated from the bottom of the car, where before it was 40 to 45 percent, so there’s been a big gain in that. Also another piece of this puzzle is there are less parts and pieces on top of the car, which creates less debris opportunities, that type of thing.

Again, hopefully we’ve hit a home run on the aesthetic part. We’ve hit a home run hopefully on the performance part of the car. The safety part of the car is well-advanced. The driver’s side impact piece that’s in this car is moved forward. The radiators are moved forward, so it’s also a much more robust protection piece for the side impact for the drivers. Again, we’ve worked really hard to check numerous boxes, and hopefully everybody thinks we have.”

QUESTION: What will the new car cost for teams and what parts will carry over from this year to next?

JAY FRYE: “From a total cost perspective, one of the things we had to look at was a conversion cost, right, so there’s what would it cost to convert the cars now? It’s not as much as we first thought it would be. Part of the process, too, is they can use this product for at least three years, so it’s good for at least ’18, ’19 and ’20. So the conversion piece is one thing.

The annual cost should be 30 to 40 percent less than what the current car is. One of the things with having a universal car is we’re able to negotiate that, able to negotiate the term, which is, again, for three years, so the teams can plan for it. That was something that was very important, what the actual conversion cost was going to be and then what the annual cost was going to be over this term.

So the cars just in general, I would say it’s 30 to 40 percent less than what the current model is, and again, the conversion costs didn’t end up being…it wasn’t bad, and part of that was because we were able to do it over a three-year period.”

QUESTION:  Concerning the wind screen (halo) that’s been talked about. Are you going to try to get this aero kit the way you want it without the wind screen, or are you going to be popping the wind screen on at some point and including that in the testing before you finalize it?

JAY FRYE: “Well, the cars have been built and designed around having some sort of application like that, so at some point between now and the end of the year we’ll test something, whatever application we come up with. We’re definitely conscious of it. We’re conscious of how it will affect aesthetically. We’re conscious of the safety piece. A lot of things that went on recently with some other testing, hopefully we are already ahead of that, and we are already aware of some of the issues that could come with the testing.

When we get it on, we want to make sure we’ve got it right and we want to make sure it’s ready to go. Again, at that point, then we’ll decide is it an ’18, ’19 (addition), or are we going to use it in the future. If we’re going to use it in the future, we want to make sure we’re ready. When the product is actually done and designed and developed, we’ll actually be ready to put on a car.”

QUESTION: A lot of the drivers we’ve talked to have asked for…give it 100 percent throttle racing. They want to have more horsepower and less downforce and lift in the turns. Is the net or the total downforce now going to be less than it was so that you might get some lifting in the turns, or did you go for more downforce or the same downforce? What were you looking for in the total numbers?

JAY FRYE: “Well, there’s probably a 20 percent overall reduction, 20-to-25 percent overall reduction to the current car. What we tried to do is create the window, so the total potential window of the car’s downforce level has definitely shifted down, not just the top, the maximum amount of downforce, the bottom end has changed, too, where it’s dropped. We’ve moved the window down. Not saying we’re ever at completely max downforce but this car does have less overall downforce.

Obviously as the teams start running the car, they’ll get better and better and better, so we wanted to make sure to move it a different direction so that once downforce comes back, to a degree, that we haven’t exceeded this window that we’re looking at.”

QUESTION: Teams will get the kits delivered in November after the series test process is complete. Will there to be actual team testing before the end of the year, or would that come after 2018?

JAY FRYE: “Actually that would be in 2018. What’s going to happen is after the series, after we have the sign-off test, which is here at Indianapolis, Iowa, Mid-Ohio and Sebring, the manufacturers will have a testing period, also, where they’ll get kits to go test with their teams. And then the teams will get their kits in November, and then their team testing process will start in January.”

QUESTION: How involved were the drivers in the design process in terms of safety in relation to…like we’ve seen big accidents with Sebastien Bourdais and then also with James Hinchcliffe (both at IMS). Did those incidents play any impact on the overall design of the car?

JAY FRYE: “Yes, we tried to make sure we were very transparent through this whole process, and if you look at the two incidents you just mentioned, this driver side impact protection device piece is a big part of this new kit. It would have addressed Hinch’s incident, and it would have addressed Seb’s incident, too, or it was areas that the car now is more robust than it currently is, so it’s something we paid attention to. We made sure the drivers were involved with it.

Even if you look at the, per se, sponsor blocker on the current car, as you notice, it’s not on this car. Well, with the radiators and the body and everything being moved forward, the body is moved out farther as you can see because of the driver impact device, so a wheel contact to the side of the car will be more like hitting a sidepod versus getting up on the underwing. So there’s things like that that we’ve done, again, little nuances to this entire project that we think has made the car safer. We definitely have paid attention to the drivers’ input, we’ve paid attention to Jeff Horton and Dr. Terry Trammell and everybody else who’s been involved with this to make this car as safe as we can.”

QUESTION: Do you think the new universal chassis will entice more teams to come into the series?

JAY FRYE: “Hopefully, yes, because we’re very fortunate right now, we have four or five different entries, or possible entries going forward, which is really good. But one of the things from a team perspective that you know you can get a kit now and you’ll know that it’s good…you can plan a three-year window so you can plan your budgets three years out. You know what it costs. The price is not going to go up. We were able fortunately to lock in all the costs to the car, so it’s a good time to come in.

Also at this time, this whole process started as we began talking to new manufacturers to come into the sport. They weren’t necessarily interested in the aero kit piece, so this was one of the things that we did. Hopefully besides new teams, we have an opportunity to recruit a new OEM partner, too.”

QUESTION: You said that the engine cowling opening will be much lower on the engine so that it becomes more visible, correct?

JAY FRYE: “When you take off the engine cover, yes, the engine is more visible than it was before. There were obviously things on top of it that kind of blocked it where now that’s gone, so you get a much cleaner, closer view of the engine.”

QUESTION: That said, I wonder how on-board Honda and Chevrolet are with this, because they always like to cover their engines so that people (competitors) can’t see the technology.

JAY FRYE: “Well, they’ve been very on-board with it. They’ve been certainly a big part of the process. We’ve been working with them since this entire project started. And then recently, the last couple weeks when the kits started coming in, again, we for sure thank the Penske folks and the Schmidt Peterson folks for their help through this process, too. It’s been a collaborative effort to make sure all the parts and pieces fit because it has changed how the…not so much how the engines are installed but how the air box is installed and the turbos and that type thing, electronics. But the manufacturers have been involved in it from Day One.”

QUESTION: Over the process of introducing this new look, you’ve talked about historical styling cues. What part of the 2018 package would you call new or revolutionary?

JAY FRYE: “Revolutionary? Great question. I think it’s a combination of different things. Again, the car, the styling of the car was derived from…we looked at pictures of cars over the last 20 or 30 years. We tried to find parts and pieces that we like and tried to put them all kind of together. Obviously everybody has different opinions on what they like or what they don’t like. This car will have all new electronics. It’ll have a new dash. It will have a new brake package. Obviously PFC is coming in with the calipers for next year.

So it’s a pretty overall new car. The chassis is the same. Again, we’re fortunate to extend the term with Dallara on that through ’20. Again, from a team perspective, they know where we’re going. They were part of the process, were able to lock it in for three years and what we try to do is work three years out. So then next year we’ll try to have an understanding of where we’re going to go in ’21.”

QUESTION: Does Dallara expect to make the majority of the parts in its facility in Speedway (Indiana), or will some be produced in Italy?

JAY FRYE: “Yeah, most all of them will be produced in Speedway.”

QUESTION: Can you offer us some insight into any specific goals that may lay-out for testing at these four diverse tracks?

JAY FRYE: “Yes. The way we look at it, it’s more of a sign-off test, so we’re really…there are certain targets we’ll have at each venue that we go to. We’ll try to hit the target. Once we hit the target, we might try to back it up and do it one more time, and then be done _we’ll as the league be done and that’s really what the four venues we’re going to are for. It’s just more of a sign-off test to make sure everything works like we think it’s going to work, make sure we hit speed targets that we think we can hit, make full-tank runs a couple times to see how that plays-out.

Once we’re done with that, then we give it to the manufacturers. The manufacturers can then go test with their teams, and then after that, the teams will get their kits and then they can go test. We’ve got to the track-testing part. We’re going to do the sign-off piece. I want to thank Juan and Oriol, too, for their participation in this. They’ve been great.”

QUESTION: You’re standardizing this car _ chassis, aero kits, everything. What about the shock package? As I understand it today, teams are able to do their own shock package, but that’s expensive. I’ve heard complaints where the teams with bigger budgets can do more R&D. Will the new car have a standard shock package, or will that still be open for development?

JAY FRYE: “That’s one of the areas we’re exploring right now. We came up with our five-year plan, and we’ve de-regulated some parts and pieces. We’ve tried to get more of a cottage industry going again and that type thing. We haven’t got to that yet and right now, like you mentioned, it is open. It is expensive. But it’s something that we’re certainly going to look at in the future to see, again, transparency with the teams and see where we want to go and what we want to do. It’s certainly on the list to incorporate into the five-year plan at some point.”

QUESTION: The comment I heard was that those shock packages aren’t putting even one additional person in the grandstands, so why waste the money?

JAY FRYE: “Yeah, and understand it’s something we’re certainly cognizant of and we’re going to evaluate that. The aero kit was a big project over the last year. We were fortunate enough to get some renewals done with our manufacturers and Firestone and Dallara this year, and that’s…the brake piece last year with PFC, so the shock package is something we’ll look at next.”

QUESTION: With these changes, other teams and engine manufacturers are now looking at your series because the engine manufacturers don’t have a huge investment in aero kits. Are you getting close to somebody that’s getting dead serious about joining Honda and Chevrolet?

JAY FRYE: “Well, I’m not sure if we’re close. I would say we’re closer because there were several hurdles that we had, and hopefully we’ve removed the hurdles, so there seems to be more enthusiasm about the direction. They see our five-year plan, they see where we’re going. That doesn’t mean they’re coming. It’s just maybe there’s now an opportunity that they could come.

“One of the things we did, too, when we went through this whole process is we made sure to let other OEMs who aren’t currently our partners know what we’re doing and ask for their opinion because we thought it certainly behooved us to show them where we’re going and what we’re doing before it came out.  I think we’ve eliminated some hurdles. I think they see we’re doing what we said we’re going to do, and they like our direction. They like where we’re going. Again, now we’ve just got to keep doing it.”

QUESTION: I understand the pre-testing as you built the car was conducted in an air (wind) tunnel as opposed to a computer. Do you feel confident your data indicates what the car should do on-track?

JAY FRYE: “We think so, yes. Again, you know, I’ve always been a believer that data doesn’t drive. This is going to be the finished product. And even (Tuesday), for instance, this is a test and we fully have expectations that there’s going to be things happening that we’re going to have to react and do things and that’s why you go test. We’re optimistic because we have all the wind tunnel testing we’ve done. The drivers have been in the simulator with this car, so Oriol and Juan are both up to speed as much as they can be with today’s technology without actually being in the car. (Tuesday) will be the first chance they get to sit in the car and drive the car.

I’m sure there will be some bumps but we’ll get through it. We’ve got a lot of great people at INDYCAR. We’ve got a great paddock. We’re all in this together.”

QUESTION: Will there be any new camera angles on this chassis or anything like that for TV broadcasters and fans?

JAY FRYE: “Yes, that’s something that we’re looking at. There’s one in the rear and one in the front, maybe in the nose. One of the attenuated…they’re still kind of fluid on how it’s going to go and how it’s going to work, and that’s one of the testing pieces we talked about. There was a spot on the car that we wanted to put a camera for next year, and we didn’t think the area was hot or that part of the car would get hot, so we’ve already done some basic heat strip tape testing on a couple current cars to see how much heat is generated. We actually found out that there was way more heat than we thought, so the heat would exceed what the camera can take.

“Again, this is just part of what we’re working on now, part of the testing, but our ultimate goal with Robby Greene and his group is to get as many cameras on as many cars as we can to just enhance the overall product for our fans and give them different views and looks. We’re excited about where that’ll go, but it’ll certainly be part of the ’18 car.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, July 25 2017
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