What do we know about this supposed “Radical” new car design for 2012? Here is a summary of all the information that has come out to date. This is in response to a couple articles that have come out in the last few days from Speed TV and the Indianapolis Business Journal.
According to Robin Miller’s article, the non-disclosure agreement that he was under has just expired, but his article still did not provide a picture of this new IndyCar concept, but it did add quite a bit to our understanding of what this cars design goals are.
The car’s chief designer is Ben Bowlby, who happens to be the current chief engineer for Target Chip Ganassi and former lead designer for Lola. Clearly, this guy has the credentials to back up his design effort, though one would have to question what kind of advantage this would give TCGR if the car were accepted. One also would have to ponder why Penske was denied their request to make their own chassis back when Dalarra, Panoz & Falcon were approved as IRL chassis manufacturers. I guess a lot has changed since then.
Ben is not in this alone. A company has been formed called Delta Wing LLC and is jointly owned by team owners Michael Andretti (Andretti Autosport), Eric Bachelart (Conquest), John Barnes (Panther), Tony George (Vision), Kevin Kalkhoven (KV), Roger Penske (Penske), Dennis Reinbold (Dreyer & Reinbold), Keith Wiggins (HVM) and Chip Ganassi (TCGR). The name of the company alone makes us wonder what this car will look like, since the delta wing style of jet fighter with wheels would not make the most attractive race car.
The chassis itself reportedly has no front or rear wings. Instead it will rely upon under car airflow to provide downforce. Ahh, the return of ground effects. No wooden FIA legality plank here.
Also, the chassis is going to be ultralight. No word on what that means in comparison to the current weight, but the current IndyCar weighs in at 1525 lbs on ovals and 1600 lbs. on road courses (without driver). For comparison, a 2009 F1 chassis weighed in at a minimum of 1334 lbs with driver.
The engine will be a non-stressed engine. The current Honda IndyCar engine is a stressed member of the overall Dalarra chassis. The current engine and gearbox support the rear assembly of the car including suspension, half shafts, rear wheels and rear wing. A non-stressed engine would be something like the engine in your car. It is bolted to the frame, but does not make up part of the frame.
Also, the engine is going to be a 4 cylinder, turbocharged package. This would allow different boost settings to be applied for different tracks (i.e. more boost for road courses, less boost for ovals) so that the overall power output of the engine can be matched to the top speeds that the series wants to see at any given venue. Along with the ultralight nature of the chassis, the overall fuel efficiency would be something around 10 miles per gallon, which would allow you to run the Indy 500 on 50 gallons of fuel. Obviously, this would be different on road and street courses since they are much more ‘city’ driving compared to the ‘highway’ driving on the ovals.
Take the overall changes to the engine package (smaller engine, non-stressed, lighter car) and the hope is that the engine could be produced for around $140,000 per.
Another benefit of the chassis design is that their would be increased surface area for sponsor logos. Whatever the case, the car has been described as a cross between a motorcycle and a sportscar (Le Mans style), it has also been described as a futuristic jet fighter on wheels. Whatever the case, it supposedly was at one point during design a 3-wheeled chassis, but the FIA nixed that idea saying that 4 wheels makes a car.
According to Robin Miller’s article, this would supposedly bring innovation back to IndyCar racing, but it is unclear what that actually means. The design of the chassis certainly sounds innovative, but will the teams be allowed to independently develop their own chassis? Will engine development be allowed?
Delta Wing LLC sounds like they don’t want to manufacture the parts for the car, they want to outsource. Most likely that means Dalarra would still be on board, but possibly a Panoz or Swift might get involved. The Indianapolis Business Journal says that the car most likely would be made in Indianapolis, but I see nothing currently that supports that idea. Obviously, the IRL has to green light this chassis as the 2012 IndyCar before many of these type of plans can be finalized.
If this chassis gets the go ahead from the IRL, then we might start seeing pictures of the car. Further, a rolling prototype chassis could be on the track by June or July for testing. This puts the kaibash on rumors that they already had a rolling chassis being tested in TCGR’s secret underground tunnel.
If you are just coming out with a new spec chassis, then I don’t fully understand why you would go away from the traditional winged IndyCar appearance. The current style of car was an evolution of years of development, and without simultaneously developed solutions from others, it is not clear that this actually would perform better than an ultralightified version of the Dallara chassis with a similar engine in it.
That said, this chassis appeals to me on several fronts. More add space on the cars would certainly help the league and the teams. A lighter car would allow for better fuel efficiency which is a goal of the series. Underbody ground effects would certainly be a safer option than externally mounted wings. We have all seen the calamitous impacts caused by rear wing failure. The cheaper engine package would help the economics of the teams.
What I am afraid of though is my reaction to finally seeing a picture of this car. If it looks ridiculous, then all the achieved design goals may not make up for a perceived lack of visual appeal. Of course, all of the iterations that brought us from upright front-engined roadsters to our current design have all met with some resistance, but in all of those circumstances, performance on the track silenced the critics. Without nothing to compare this new design to, this may be the jumping off point of many of the oldtimers. We shall see.