Wednesday, Indy Racing League announced the decision by the ICONIC committee regarding the direction for the 2012 chassis. We posted an initial reaction to this announcement yesterday, and Shaun and I debated the pros and cons of the future chassis proposal in Podcast Episode 47. Today, I’d like to look at the proposal in a bit more detail and first I’ll present the facts and details that are clearly known and highlight areas that are yet to be fully fleshed out. Following the clear facts, I’d like to dive in to a bit of opinion and explain what I see as some of the advantages and disadvantages of this direction. Tony Johns of PopOffValve.com made a very pointed comment and challenge to me and the rest of the folks throughout the blogosphere and forums who have been negative toward this plan to do more than rant and actually offer constructive comments on how the plan could be better. He was exactly right to issue that challenge. All too often, we bellyache about the way things are, but we don’t offer alternative solutions that fit into constraints of the problem. So, after I go through the advantages and disadvantages, I’ll try to offer up some thoughts on how things could be better in my opinion. Agree with me or not, I’d love to discuss and debate the various points. Leave your comments and arguments in the comment section below or hop over to the forum.
Details of the proposal
The IndyCar Safety Cell
So here’s the basics of what we know about the spec safety cell that is to be built by Dallara.
•The rolling chassis manufactured by Dallara to IndyCar specifications will cost $349,000, with a complete car costing $385,000. This is a 45 percent price decrease from the current IZOD IndyCar Series formula. The IndyCar Safety Cell is designed for use on all types of tracks on which the IZOD IndyCar Series competes, eliminating the need for separate chassis.
•Each team can race two different aero kits from any manufacturer during the season, with a maximum price of $70,000 for each kit. The IZOD IndyCar Series must approve all aero kit parts before production. All approved aero kit parts must be made available to all teams and undergo safety testing approved by the IZOD IndyCar Series.
•The targeted minimum weight for the new car is 1,380 pounds, nearly 200 pounds lighter than the current formula. This will make the car more efficient, another trend that will define the future of the automotive industry. The actual minimum weight of the car will be determined once variables with suppliers, including engine weight, are determined.
•The IndyCar Safety Cell will feature improved visibility, head, leg and back protection and advanced padding and ergonomics. Another unique safety concept is the wheel interlock prevention system, which will allow cars to run side-by-side while limiting the chance for wheels locking and the subsequent risk for cars getting airborne.
More details from the press release are also contained in Dave Lewandowski’s article 2012 car strategy embraces innovation at IndyCar.com. This safety cell will not be called a Dallara, but rather will simply be referred to as an “IndyCar” as it was claimed that this is an in-house design that will be constructed by Dallara. …more on that below in the opinion section of this article.
Each aero kit will include all of the various wing variations necessary for running on a road course, street course, or speedway. So if a team wanted to go cheap, they could run one kit for the entire season and utilize the various wing flaps and wickers. In addition to the front and rear wings, the other areas open for development will be the sidepods and the engine cowling. The nose cone and underwing will be part of the standardized chassis. Other areas off limits for development are the suspension, ECU, gearbox, and brakes. Aerodynamics of the outer body will be the only open parts of the car. There has been some mention that perhaps the dampers would be open, which would please Penske Racing Shocks, but there certainly would be any development allowed in the actual wishbones or other suspension elements.
Dallara Factory in Speedway
A major part of the successful proposal by Dallara was their commitment to building a factory and fabricating all of the 2012 chassis in Speedway, IN right in the shadow of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For their efforts, the Indiana taxpayers will provide subsidies which will be passed onto the first 28 Indiana-based teams that purchase the new chassis.
“We feel very honored and proud to be part of the future. We are making this commitment to build the facility in Indianapolis. It’s important for us to not only have a factory where you build a car, but to have a center of technology that is open to our third party partners, universities, race engineers, the teams and drivers. We will put here our best knowledge with engineers and also in terms of tools. We’ll have a state-of-the-art simulator that drivers will drive the car before it is built so they can give us their impressions on what we can improve before we put the car into production. I think this is a new way to do motorsports in the future.” — Andrea Pontremoli, CEO Dallara Automobili, from IndyCar.com
Dallara wasn’t the only proposing group promising to build the chassis and components in the central Indiana region. In fact Swift was the one company with plans of building outside of Indiana given that Swift already has a top-notch facility at their headquarters in southern California. Its apparent that the Hoosier-centric economic impact was significant factor in the consideration of the committee.
My Analysis of the Proposal
There’s a lot being said both for and against this plan all across the interwebs. Even within our own OpenPaddock.net family there are differences of opinion. After a full day to reflect on the situation, here’s my take on what we heard at yesterday’s announcement.
We at OpenPaddock have long been advocates of having a standardized cockpit while allowing open development of the rest of the chassis. This proposal comes close to that. Allowing fully open development wings and sidepods has the potential to attract many different constructors to the series, although I don’t really expect any of the other proposers to join in. In fact, Delta Wing has already released a statement claiming disappointment and that they are disinclined to participate. Its understandable, but there are some who may join the aero game including Lotus.
“Lotus Racing congratulates the IZOD IndyCar Series on this exciting news and supports the ICONIC Advisory Committee’s recommendation on the revolutionary concept of a standard safety cell with various manufacturers producing aero kits. We look forward to seeing more details on this future car strategy, and hopefully, allow our involvement in the IZOD IndyCar Series.” — Tony Fernandes, Team Principal, Lotus Racing (Formula One), CEO Air Asia
The cost of the rolling chassis is also a huge benefit of the proposed direction. At $385k for a fully outfitted chassis complete with aero bits, the cost of the car is 45% less than the $700k of the current car, and there is a promise for cost control of the spare parts for the chassis as well. That’s gotta be good news for KV Racing! Overall the cost of competition should be considerably less in 2012 which should attract more competitors, or at the very least make it easier for current competitors to attract primary sponsors.
There is very little motivation for most constructors to be involved in the game. Swift, Lola, BAT Engineering, or the DeltaWing group can’t have any interest in applying a body kit to the chassis of a direct competitor. Its the same reason why you don’t see Ford Racing offering parts for Corvettes. In fact, DeltaWing Racing issued a bitter statement on Thursday.
We wish to congratulate the ICONIC Committee and the IZOD IndyCar Series on their decision regarding the 2012 chassis strategy. However, we are extremely disappointed that they have decided to pursue a strategy that does not include the DeltaWing.
IndyCar would likely try to argue that their strategy does include DeltaWing as a body kit constructor, but obviously the folks at DeltaWing didn’t see it that way and are looking for other ways to get their car on track. In fact, I would not be surprised in 2012 to see a new six to eight race series using the DeltaWing as the car. In the announcement and repeatedly in the Q&A afterwards, many automotive names and aerospace names were thrown out, but with the body kit purchase price limited $70k, its going to be hard for any company to make a profit on selling kits without an additional marketing benefit.
Said ICONIC Advisory Committee member Tony Purnell, founder of Pi Research, former technical representative to the FIA and former head of Ford’s Premiere Performance Division: “We are delivering the best of both worlds to our fans and teams by creating new looks in a cost-effective manner. The innovation bred by this new formula is not limited to traditional racing manufacturers. It’s our goal to reach out and challenge the automotive and aerospace industries.
“Come on Ford, GM, Lotus, Ferrari. Come on Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Electric. Come on you engineers working in your garage or in small shops. We’ve done our best to provide a framework for all of you to showcase your technical prowess without a need for a major raid on your piggy banks. We want you guys involved, all of you.”
I could perhaps see Ford and GM involved if and only if they also come in as engine manufacturers, but I cannot see Lockheed, Boeing, or General Electric being involved. There’s been PLENTY of opportunity for these aerospace companies to become involved in motorsports through various series throughout the world with the highest profile series being Le Mans and Formula 1. The customers of these large aerospace companies might have an interest in seeing success in the Indianapolis 500, but if they were to have found value in this type of sponsorship/involvement then it would have happened in the 1980s and 90s and in Formula 1 or at Le Mans. The fact that we have NEVER seen Boeing or Lockheed have any involvement in motorsports tells me that we also won’t see them involved in IndyCar racing in 2012.
Although the word issued during the announcement was that the development of the aero package was to be “open”, keep in mind that the kit must conform to the constraints of the rolling chassis which included the nosecone intakes for the radiators and airbox. This means that the basic shape of the sidepods will be constrained to follow the shape of the underwing, and the shape of the nosecone will dictate much of rest of the aerodynamics and therefore the shape of the rest of the aero elements of the car. The opportunity for development isn’t as open as it first seems. There are a large number of constraints that will force each kit to look extremely similar to each other, and the basic design isn’t really a significant evolution of the open-wheel racer platform. It looks different than what we have now, but its not really an evolutionary step forward.
There’s also no motivation for kit suppliers or teams to develop technology that minimizes the trailing wake turbulence of the cars. This was one of the more attractive aspects of the Swift and Lola designs. The strong wake turbulence we saw in 2009 and to a lesser degree now in 2010, inhibits a trailing car’s ability to close in and pass a car ahead. As Graham Rahal and others have found out in Turn 4 at Indianapolis, that turbulence can be race-ending when the trailing vortices wash over the front wing removing the downforce on the front end and causing the car to suddenly understeer. From a fan point of view, a “Mushroom Buster” type of element that allows the cars to run closer and execute passes easier is a great thing. As a competitor, its absolutely what you DON’T want to have. You want that air behind you to be dirty so that it is harder for cars to get by you. Unless there is a regulation built into the final specs mandating a level of performance from the proposed rear wing that limits the wake vorticity, then we will see a return to the oval racing of 2009.
How Things Could Have Been Better
Ok, so with all this ranting of what I see as flawed about the future strategy, how could it have been better? First of all, going even further with the DeltaWing model and not having a single manufacturer of the tub, but rather a single blueprint for the tub and allowing multiple constructors to build the spec tub and then allowing open development of the aerodynamic package surrounding the core tub. As it stands now, as I stated above, DeltaWing, Swift, Lola, and BAT have no motivation to build a kit for a direct competitor’s chassis. The concern about this is of course cost. However, one could do the same with the construction of the core tub as is being done currently with the body kits, mandate a fixed price for the tub, rolling chassis, and/or complete car. A small thing, but important in my opinion, is to offer a constructors championship as well as a team and drivers championship. Recognition as the most successful constructor during a given season would provide additional value to the cost of participation. Let’s face it, no one is going to be turning a profit selling body kits at $70k a pop.
Even without the above change, opening more of the chassis for development would enable the developers of the body kits to more fully exploit their talent and expertise in aerodynamics. As it stands now, the shape of the sidepods are pretty well fixed and there are only some subtle differences in shape that one can employ. As a result, the differences in the appearance of the cars won’t boldly stand out. You’d also see different performance strengths and weaknesses in the designs. Some would end up with greater performance at the top end, others would have greater strength in the turn, and the resulting racing product would be more engaging and interesting.
The biggest omission from the announced 2012 chassis strategy is the fate of the Firestone Indy Lights chassis. As it stands now, the proposed IZOD IndyCar series Dallara chassis with body kit will be $15k less than the current Dallara FIL chassis. The Lola concept of utilizing the same core safety cell for both series made a lot of sense, and it would have been great to see as part of the announced strategy. Unfortunately, as it stands, the cost of the chassis, even if they were to use the 2012 Dallara, it far to high given the value of the series now. Its one of the factors currently contributing to the lack of participation in the Firestone Indy Lights series. The chassis needs to be about half the cost that it is now, in the $200k-250k range. When the league put out a request for proposals for the new IndyCar chassis, they should have also included an invitation to propose a new Indy Lights chassis. Right now, if they put out a RFP, you can be certain that Swift and Lola will not be sending in a submission.
It may be that I’m proven wrong and that multiple constructors come to play and build aero kits. Quite honestly, I’d love to be proven wrong. It would mean that the sport that we all love is getting healthier. However, I really can’t see any other non-team constructors wanting to become involved. Keep in mind that Lotus is strongly tied to KV Racing, so I don’t include them as a non-team constructor. Boeing and Lockheed have no interest in motorsports, and the only other option might be Ford or GM. However, if history teaches us anything, they will be interested in making an engine, but not a car. So there it is. My full take on the 2012 strategy. At the moment, it seems like more of the same from Dallara and Honda while alienating many of the players that could have helped revitalize IndyCar racing. To quote Han Solo, “I have a bad feeling about this.”