Today was the beginning of a new era for IndyCar racing as two cars fitted with new aerodynamic bodywork designed for the 2018 season took to the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for their first tests.
While all IndyCars share the same basic IR-12 chassis and safety cell, designed and built by race car constructor, Dallara, since the 2015 season they have had dramatically different aerodynamic bodywork depending on engine supplier – Chevrolet or Honda.
For the 2018 season, they will revert to common aero configurations, supplied by Dallara. The move is intended to reduce costs for teams and engine manufacturers, as well as to improve the cars’ aesthetic appearance and further equalize competition.
As is currently the case, the aero package will come in two specifications: one for superspeedway ovals and the other for use on short ovals, permanent road courses and temporary street circuits.
Design support for the new configuration came from Dallara and Chris Beatty, a UK-based concept design and 3D animation consultant. Drawings of the new design were first shown at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, more images were shown in march and further details were revealed in May. Dallara was formally selected to supply the universal aero kit in June.
Today, the real cars were revealed for the first time as drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Oriol Servia began initial shakedowns of two cars with the new bodywork, powered by Chevrolet and Honda respectively.
The new design was intended to replace the somewhat bulky look of the current cars with a more svelte shape that emulates the look of the iconic turbocharged Indy cars of the early 1990s, which were fan favourites.
The smaller, lower wings on the new configuration, combined with a lower engine cover, contribute to a long, lean look and the massive rear wheel guards, which added to the current cars’ visual bulk, are gone.
Side impact protection has been significantly improved in a variety of ways, including the sidepod leading edge and intake duct joined with two bulkheads to create a crushable structure ahead of the radiator. The unitary construction is designed to absorb loads from all directions, and the structure is 20 to 25 cm wider at the driver's hips. Oil and coolant radiators have been moved forward, adding cushioning on the driver's sides.
A wider leading edge mitigates the chance of another car's wheel climbing on top of the underwing.
The revised design will provide greater downforce generation from beneath the car rather than from the wings – as much as 66% in road course/short oval configuration, which is an increase of 19% from the current configuration.
Reducing the dependency on the wings for downforce reduces 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 short oval test where some of the new kit's components were fixed to a current car, the following distance for a trailing car was cut in half, which should help increase the opportunity for passing.
The current 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged 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.
Today’s and tomorrow’s testing at IMS is not intended to achieve maximum speeds but just to evaluate the function of the cars and ensure that specific design targets have been achieved. Further testing is scheduled for the Mid-Ohio road course on August 1, the Iowa Speedway short oval on August 10, and Sebring International Raceway, a street-course simulation and brake and cooling test, on September 26.
The first kits will be delivered to Verizon IndyCar Series teams in November. Expect to see a lot of detail changes in the design by that time, based on the preliminary testing.