One of most frustrating things that a racing series can do is to change the technical regulations mid-season. (see the whole fric suspension issue from last year’s Formula 1 season) The IndyCar season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida saw the first running of the long-awaited aero kits from the two engine manufacturers, Chevrolet and Honda. The two solutions were very different and based on opposing philosophies. Chevrolet’s solution was focused more on drag reduction whereas Honda’s solution was more about downforce. To be sure, both kits provide more downforce than the standard Dallara kit, but the Chevrolet model had specifically focused on keeping the air flow as far away from the front wheels as possible. A large part of their solution was the use of a winglet on a stalk mounted to the front mainplane.
This element may not seem like much to many, but its inclusion does significant work in keeping the airflow away from the front wheels. Wheels are the most drag and turbulence producing aspects of a racing machine. They’re basically giant egg-beaters that whip the air into a messy froth. The more you can do to keep the majority of the air flow away from the wheels, the less drag you’ll have, and the cleaner the air will be over the rear of the car. The removal of these winglets not only affects the downforce applied to the front wing, but it also compromises the rest of the aero kit’s design.
Release from INDYCAR on Friday afternoon
Aerodynamic bodywork kits, effective for this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
- INDYCAR will continue to be proactive in its review of aero kit performance.
- This process will be ongoing as INDYCAR is committed to delivering an entertaining on-track product throughout the Verizon IndyCar Series season.
- The first step in this process began with last week’s mandate of structural upgrades to both Chevrolet’s and Honda’s aero kit components and will continue as the season progresses and opportunities for improvements are identified.
- As a result of the ongoing development of aero kits, INDYCAR has requested the following actions:
- Chevrolet to add a tether to the winglets, or remove the winglets, from its front wing assembly.
- Honda to implement additional reinforcements to its rear wheel guards.
- These upgrades must be implemented prior to Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The obvious angle here is that the changes are being made for safety purposes after the Festival of Carbon Fiber (do I need to pay PressDog royalties for that line?) that was the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. I’m not even going to talk about the yellow flag party at NOLA, so don’t ask. When the kits were announced, many suspected, and with good reason, that there would be more debris as the new elements looked fragile. Turns out they are, but the primary cause of the debris-strewn street at St. Pete wasn’t the fragility of the new kits as much as it was the drivers not being able to keep from running into one another. I’ll admit that avoiding incidental contact is far more difficult on a street circuit than on a road course, but still, keep your wheels to yourselves, people. Having flying shards of carbon fiber is certainly a hazard to not only the drivers, but also to the fans, photographers, and corner workers.
This move by INDYCAR to single out the front wing design of the Chevrolet kit has many crying foul. Admittedly, most of those are also wearing tin-foil hats and prone to believing conspiracy theories, but the Chevrolet teams may have a legitimate complaint. While I seriously doubt that the change was implemented as a conspiratorial move to allow the Honda teams to be more competitive, I can see how it may appear as such to some. Yesterday’s qualifying results certainly didn’t show that Chevrolet was hampered too much as only three Honda-powered teams managed to qualify in the top ten, and only Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay made the Fast Six, qualifying in fourth for today’s race.
So a couple of take-aways from this. One, I dislike mid-season rule changes as they result in unanticipated expenditures for the teams and manufacturers. I especially dislike substantial rule changes such as this during a race weekend as it doesn’t allow time for the affected teams to develop a suitable alternative solution. Two, while the conspiratorial rumor mill may like to portray this as a way to enhance the competitiveness of the Honda teams as compared to the Chevrolet teams, the data simply do not support this. Yes, the Chevrolet teams have been challenged this weekend in finding a new balance for the car with some teams/drivers being more successful than others. Will Power had the most significant trouble and could only manage to qualify 18th out of 23 entries. Overall, though, the Chevrolet teams, and especially Team Penske, Power notwithstanding, seem to have suffered the changes well.
So what are your thoughts on this? Was the right call made for improving the safety of the design; was the timing right; was the change made as an attempt to improve the parity between the two manufacturers?