As we mentioned in Episode 15 of FBC indi, INDYCAR has released some preliminary sketches of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series bodywork for the current Dallara DW12 chassis. Keep in mind that these sketches are just that, sketches. They are not the final renderings before production, but they do highlight the design direction that INDYCAR has in mind. There are three things that stand out to me as I look at the sketches: there is no giant air box on top of the engine cowling, the rear is tapered as opposed to widened as it currently is, and the width of the undertray remains the same as current. Let me examine each of these observations in more detail, each in their own turn.
The Missing Air Box
Ever since it was announced that the DW12 would be powered by a turbo-charged power plant, the IndyCar fandom had gleefully anticipated the deletion of the giant air intake box on top of the engine cowling, integrated with the driver-protecting roll hoop, that was necessary for the naturally-aspirated V8s that powered the previous Dallara and Panoz chassis. The air box was retained as part of the initial DW12 design spec, and it persisted as a mandated design during the last couple of seasons of manufacturer-designed bodywork.
The current sketches indicate that there’s been a change in philosophy in this regard. The absence of the air box, of course retaining the roll hoop, harkens back to the cars during what many regard as the golden age of Indy car racing. During the early 90s, CART was setting track records at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and at circuits around the country with a design spec that was far more free than in any of today’s forms of formula car racing. It was a time when CART was beginning to pose a significant concern to Bernie Ecclestone as the series lured Formula 1 drivers to North America, including in 1993 the reigning Formula 1 World Driving Champion Nigel Mansell.
The cars were fast, and they were sexy. So was Nigel’s moustache, if it comes to that. The lower engine cowling allowed a smaller overall profile to be presented to the air. Less frontal area tends to result in less drag, all other things being equal. This change alone could allow speeds to elevate enough for cars to be within sight of Arie Luyendyk’s record four-lap qualifying speed at Indianapolis of 236.986 mph. We’re already closing in as Ed Carpenter and James Hinchcliffe have both qualified on Pole in the DW12 at speeds in excess of 230 mph. The removal of so much frontal area normal to the air flow will make Arie’s record all the more attainable.
The Rear Profile
One of the more disappointing aspects of the initial DW12 renderings, and subsequent design implementation, was the very triangular, almost Delta Wing-esque, shape of the body as the rear of the car widened to engulf the rear wheels. The motivation for this was driven primarily from a number of catastrophic wheel-to-wheel contact incidents that resulted in cars being flipped into the air. Substantial effort was put into the DW12 design process to eliminate the risk of side contact having such calamitous effects resulting in a widening of the sidepods until they were flush with the rear wheels at their leading edge.
[singlepic id=1195 h=300 float=left]The rear of the car was similarly protected by a pair of pods that extended behind the rear wheels. This protected the lead driver from having their rear tires cut by an overly-aggressive trailing driver. It also prevented incidents like that between Dario Franchitti and Kosuke Matsuura at the end of 2007 Kentucky race where Dario rear-ended Kosuke, launching Dario into the air. The rear pods did mitigate this risk, and it did eliminate the cutting down of rear tires. It did not eliminate the necessity for drivers to make an unscheduled pitstop. When it became damaged, it seldom was completely removed from the car, but instead dangled precariously resulting in the leading driver to come into the pits for repairs.
While the rear pods and an element in front of the rear wheels remain in the sketch of the 2018 bodywork, the main part of the engine cowling tapers producing a more pleasing aesthetic. The purist in me cries out that what matters is how fast a car goes, not how good a car looks, but the marketing geek in me objects and demands that how a car looks is critical. When a series is in the position that IndyCar currently finds itself, growing but still a shadow of what it was two decades ago, the marketing aspect is just as important as the speed. The tapered rear end makes the car look a lot sleeker and more balanced in its design.
The Undertray Width
Along with the rear pods, the width of the undertray and placement of aero along its perimeter reduced the risk of wheel-to-wheel entanglements. This allows the design to retain the barge-board-esque piece at the forward end of the underwing just aft of the rear wheel. This piece, being substantially thicker than traditional barge boards we see in Formula 1, helps to mitigate the intrusion of a wheel of a competitor into another’s front wheel causing catastrophic failure of the front suspension.
One other opportunity that this permits, and one that Jay Frye, INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations, mentioned in a media roundtable at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, is that much of the downforce produced by the car could be moved from the front and rear wings, to the undertray. Producing the downforce underneath the car in an distributed fashion makes the car more stable, easier to trim, and produces a wake with far less turbulence that could disrupt a trailing car. This, more than the aesthetic enhancements, will be the most meaningful change in the new 2018 configuration. It would mean the possibility of closer racing, but without the mandate of pack racing like we saw in the days when the cars were drag-limited.
So there are my thoughts and observations on these sketches. I like the philosophies behind the designs that Jay Frye described on Thursday, and I think it will help the series move forward. What are your thoughts on these sketches? Good? Bad? Ugly?