Drivers: Back To Drawing Board For Next Gen

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 13 2021

Bubba Wallace tests the Next Gen Toyota at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. (Photo by Bob Leverone/Getty Images)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

CONCORD, N.C. – Steering problems that can be a “nightmare”, intense heat inside the car, and the amount of downforce are three issues NASCAR Cup drivers cited Tuesday as needing to be resolved with the Next Gen car before the 2022 season begins in February.

“The majority of the garage is working on trying to figure out how to fix the steering rack stuff,” Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman said about the Next Gen car, which uses rack- and-pinion steering. “Some guys have it all the time. Some guys only have it some of the time. We’ve been on both sides of it. I think we’re on steering rack four or five. 

“It drives awesome compared to the current car when the steering is OK. When the steering issues pop up it is a bit of a nightmare.”

Twenty-one teams participated in a two-day Next Gen test that began the day after the Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and concluded Tuesday evening. Joey Logano said having the Next Gen test on the 2.32-mile road course immediately after racing on it with the current car was extremely beneficial because “you have a great comparison of the old car, new car.”

Team Penske’s Logano described the test session as “old school” since both drivers and crews must learn the new car and its idiosyncrasies without data.

Joey Logano says the 2022 Cup cars need work. (Photo by Bob Leverone/Getty Images)

“I’m a blind squirrel out there just like they are trying to work on this thing and trying to figure out the best way to go about stuff,” Penske’s Ryan Blaney commented.  

When it came to the steering problems, Logano said his Ford had so many that he didn’t know where to begin in describing them.

Blaney noted that on the test’s first day he made half a lap and had a steering issue. 

“We came in and changed it,” Blaney continued. “It was good for a couple of runs and then it kinda started going south again. (There was) a lot of vibration with it. Mainly on the oval when you would get up to maximum speed under load. Then it would start losing like power steering assist.”

Blaney’s crew changed the steering rack again. It still had some shake, but it lasted the rest of the day. 

“We took some boxes back to Penske, took them apart to where we were able to tinker with them a little bit,” Blaney said. “Today (Tuesday), I’ve been pretty happy with it.”  

The new cars have sequential gear boxes. (RacinToday photo by Deb Williams)

 Corey LaJoie equated the steering issues to a “caster shake sensation … similar to a NASCAR modified because the tire patch is so big” that it confuses the servomechanism on the steering racks, “especially when it takes high load into the banking.”  

The wheel width on the new car is 18 inches while the current car possesses a 15-inch wheel width. The servomechanism, or servo, uses error-sensing negative feedback to automatically correct the action of a mechanism.  

In addition to the steering issues, Tyler Reddick voiced concerned about the car’s downforce, noting it increased with some of the things NASCAR tried to cool the car’s interior.

“We already have too much downforce on this car,” Reddick said. “You’re still driving the daylights out of it, but you’re not going to have to manage the throttle a lot the more downforce you add. We’re almost just going back to wide open throttle like you would in a street car accelerating from a stoplight. I don’t want to see more downforce, but it’s nice to know that we have some options and helping cool the inside of the cars off.” 

 Logano wasn’t sure about the downforce issue.

The multi-lugnut wheels have been replace by single-lugs. (RacinToday photo by Deb Williams)

“It’s hard to say what’s mechanical grip, what’s downforce,” Logano said. “We definitely have more mechanical grip than we did on Sunday. The thing that matters the most to me … is to be the trailing car and not be at a huge disadvantage in dirty air to where you can’t catch the car in front of you and you can’t pass. You want to try to minimize the wake in the air. Whether that’s with a lot of downforce, a little bit of downforce, I think minimizing the hole in the air behind the car is the biggest thing.”  

The intense heat inside the car is an area NASCAR has been working on since it was discovered during a Daytona test last month. 

“It is the hottest thing I’ve ever drove by a longshot,” Logano said. “Fifteen to 20 laps in that thing and you’re done. It is really, really hot!”

LaJoie said the interior of the current car was usually 25 degrees above ambient. 

“So if it’s a 90-degree day, we’re looking at 115 to 120, maybe 125,” LaJoie said. “Let’s call it 30 degrees above ambient temperature. Right now, it was a 70-degree day yesterday (Monday) and it was still the same. So the delta between ambient temperature and cockpit temperature are at least 15 degrees more with this car. It (also) doesn’t have any (air) circulation (inside) because the pans are on it. It just radiates. There’s no air circulating through the rocker boxes.”

NASCAR tried different windshield louvers during the two-day test in an attempt to get air circulating in the driver’s compartment. 

Another test is planned at the 1.5-mile Charlotte track in November, one at Phoenix in December and Daytona in January. NASCAR also expects to schedule additional tests once the season starts.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 13 2021
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