Does reducing downforce work?

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Robert Wickens and Will Power lead the field into Turn 1 at the start of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg -- Photo by: Chris Owens
Robert Wickens and Will Power lead the field into Turn 1 at the start of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg -- Photo by: Chris Owens

The season-opening round of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, was the first time the new downforce-reducing bodywork for the Dallara DW12 chassis was used in competition. The new kit bears many significant changes from the previous, manufacture-produced kits including:

  • the repositioning of the engine air intake,
  • the reshaping of the engine cowling,
  • the reduction in front and rear wing-produced downforce,
  • and an increase in downforce produced by the undertray.

The overall changes in the profile of the car produce less total downforce, and what is produced is generated below the car rather than on top of it.

These changes place a greater importance on the mechanical grip of the car, and reduce the wake turbulence. With less aerodynamic grip, the braking zones are longer, and cornering speeds are lower. The accompanying reduction of drag also increases the straight-line speed. The reduction of turbulence in the car’s wake allows trailing cars can follow more closely while maintaining grip and balance. All this was done to enhance the competitiveness and quality of the racing action.

Changes such as these, a reduction of overall downforce, a greater reliance on mechanical grip, and a reduction in wake turbulence, is something that drivers and fans have been asking both IndyCar and Formula 1 to implement for years. So does reducing downforce create better racing? Yes. Yes it does!

Robert Wickens sails into Turn 13 during the final warmup for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg -- Photo by: Chris Owens
Robert Wickens sails into Turn 13 during the final warmup for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg — Photo by: Chris Owens

The IndyCar race last weekend saw lots of fantastic racing action, amazing examples of car control, and examples of even veteran drivers not getting things right. The cars are more challenging to drive and engineer. Mechanical balance is harder while also being more important to achieve. It has helped to level the playing field among the various teams and enable talented drivers such as Robert Wickens to really shine. Wickens dominated a race filled with rookies and veterans alike desperately searching for grip, sawing at their steering wheels, and adapting to the changing brake points as more rubber was put down on the track.

Not everyone got this right as even Scott Dixon broke a bit too late into Turn 1 and collected last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Takuma Sato. It was a mistake that several made throughout the afternoon, but none with as much impact on the results as the mistake by Alexander Rossi with two laps to go. On the final restart of the race on Lap 108, Rossi and Wickens drove away from the field jockeying for position and lead of the race into Turn 1. Rossi broke too late and too far inside were there was even less grip due to the accumulation of klag. His No. 98 machine slid sideways into the side of Wickens, tossing the rookie race leader into a terminal spin.

It’s good to see a series finally move in the direction of less downforce and more emphasis on mechanical grip. Hopefully, the remainder of the IndyCar season will be just as much of a showcase of driver skill and car control talent as the St. Petersburg race was. It would also be nice if Formula 1 took notes on how these changes to the IndyCar aero solution has affected the racing.

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sunny stivala
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sunny stivala

“Does reducing downforce work?”.
It does in more way than one.
According Rick Mears one way it will “reducing downforce the cars will not hit a wall so hard”.

subcritical71
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subcritical71

Doug, the St. Pete race was very interesting with the low downforce configuration. Will they be using the same at the bigger ovals? I’m thinking of a place like Indy where the top speeds could be even higher than they were last year in a straight line… It may also not give such a big advantage to the trailing car (ie. tow).

ShocksAndAwe
Member
ShocksAndAwe

That was a great race. IndyCar may have really hit it out of the park with this format. Last year, this was the only IndyCar raced I watched. This year, I’m hooked at least for the second race of the season…

ShocksAndAwe
Member
ShocksAndAwe

So I watched the race via the British BTSports broadcast, where the British commentators take over while the Americans are on commercial break. And it’s terribly sad to me that they were way more knowledgeable and interesting the their American counterparts.

The Brits were talking about actual race strategy and what each drivers’ challenges were, and the Americans were relying on fake news and hyperbole.

Member

If there’s a downside in following Indycars, it goes to their broadcast package, especially ABC. I could say disparaging things about their “on-air” talent but I won’t. However, I always did like(and have met) Rick DeBruhl who did a great job with F1 on Speed Channel years ago.

Carrizojim
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Carrizojim

Nice to see Indy move in the right direction. I’m pissed I missed the race!

subcritical71
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subcritical71

They may actually be going in the right direction, just as F1 hasn’t decided which way to go. The decisions that are made this year will be the most important in a long time for F1.

rbunce
Member
rbunce

I have been waiting for this… unfortunately St Pete test not as conclusive as it could have been by placing the turn 1 braking zone on top of the end of the runaway marks made with white paint. I heard someone comment during the telecast that in the past they had placed something on that paint to increase the grip but did not do it this year. Hopefully next few races will provide a better test of the aero changes. An oval and a couple road courses as I recall.

rbunce
Member
rbunce

Barber Motorsports Park April 22 might provide a better look at performance on road circuit. Long Beach is before that but a street circuit. Phoenix next but not sure if they use the superspeedway configuration with the larger floor hole or short oval configuration with the smaller floor hole and more ground effect downforce than the superspeedway configuration?

rbunce
Member
rbunce

Indy, Texas, Pocono the superspeedways? If so Phoenix could be interesting in short oval configuration. Just looking at recent Phoenix test video and seemed to be the smaller hole for short oval/road course.

Forrest
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Forrest

Phoenix uses the road course/short oval(RC/SO) configuration. It will be interesting to see if the race there in a few weeks time is any better than the processions that have taken place the last two years, since Indycar went back there. The only time there was any passing the last two years was on starts and re-starts.

Member

Although it might not be representative, the fastest lap time was faster this year too. Pole Position this year was .6 behind, but there was also some rainfall to go with that. All with less downforce.

Howard
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Howard

This guy really reiterated what has been stated before. Also noted he couldn’t even get the right car numbers with the proper drivers. Rossi drives the #27 this year, not #98, that belongs to Marco Andretti.