A Glimpse Into The Future

Robin Miller, Lindy Thackston and Kevin Lee have certainly set the bar awfully high in their first two shows of IndyCar Open Wheel Weekly on Versus. Last week they had Randy Bernard breaking the news of the owner’s desires regarding the aero kits. Yesterday, they featured Tony Cotman unveiling the long anticipated 2012 IndyCar chassis. It sort of makes you wonder what they’ll do for an encore next week, when practice is underway for the 95th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Overall, I’d have to say I liked the car. I thought it evoked a certain amount of sexiness. We have to remember that this is by no means, a final version. It’s more of a concept mock up that was built to give us something to talk about. There wasn’t much that surprised me, but there were a couple of things that caught me off guard.

On the positive side, I loved the front-end. I thought the raised pointed nose looked sleek and very graceful. I also liked the front wing treatment on both configurations that were represented – the speedway and road course versions. The inlets around the sidepod openings gave a nice flow to the overall design. The presentation was helped with a colorful paint scheme that gave it the look of a car ready to hit the track. One wonders if the DeltaWing would have been more favorably received, had they not made it a solid casket gray – probably not, but the boring scheme didn’t help the cause of that ill-fated design.

For the negatives – and yes, I had a few – I’m still not crazy about the idea of the rear wheels being partially enclosed. I understand the safety behind the concept, but I’ve always felt that it was the danger of running too close to the other car that set open-wheel racing apart from other forms of racing. It’s another factor that stock car drivers don’t need to worry about as they follow their “rubbin’ is racin’” philosophy. Open-wheel drivers must take the risk into account before choosing to run so close to a competitor. Maybe I’m too old school, but I’m not in favor of enclosing the wheels at all. I heard people make comparisons to a sports car when talking about the enclosed rear wheels. To me, it more closely resembled a Mickey Thompson Skate from the early sixties. That’s really not a compliment.

I was also not fond of the bulbous sidepod on the “oval” version of the car. Hopefully, that won’t make its way onto the final version. In fact, I liked the road course version better than the oval version, which is odd for me. I liked the sidepod treatment of the road course version and the overall appearance of the car.

I also have a question regarding the airbox above the driver. Is that necessary or a benefit with turbocharged engines? I am not a mechanical engineer, but I’ve never cared for the look of an airbox over a driver and I thought we would be getting away from that, so if that’s something we’re still going to have – that’s a disappointment.

But in my opinion, the biggest drawback of all is the presence of the dorsal wing over the engine cowling. Roger Penske introduced the shark fin on his cars in the second race of the 1994 season. By Indianapolis, two-thirds of the field had them. By the late nineties, the dorsal wing was on most cars throughout CART and on all cars in the IRL. By the year 2000, they had all but disappeared completely.

I know a few engineers whose opinions I fully trust. They say that the dorsal wing really does very little, if anything, to add to the handling or the stability of a car. They do, however, give more signage space for sponsor decals. But I think they completely detract from the aesthetics of the cars. The only way you could have made the first generation IRL car any uglier was to add a shark fin to the back of it. Hopefully, the dorsal wing will be gone before the real car hits the track.

I’ve added a few pictures of the car in both configurations. I don’t really know where to give credit for the pictures. They were e-mailed to me Tuesday afternoon by a friend of mine, and I have no idea where he got them. If I am violating someone’s copyright, I apologize.





But those things aside, I liked it. At first glance, it is a much better looking car than the current nine year-old Dallara. Best of all, it pretty much looks like what an IndyCar is supposed to look like.

George Phillips

21 Responses to “A Glimpse Into The Future”

  1. Mike Silver Says:

    George, you read my mind. I also like the road/street configuration better. That huge sidepod bump on the oval needs to go, as well as the airbox. The oval version looks like the beginnings of an LeMans prototype. The road/street model is much sleeker.

  2. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Generally I liked the design, do not like boxed in rear wheels. Regarding the shark fin. I believe that the shark fin does more aerodynamically than you think. While the shark fin may seem as though it adds or detracts little from the overall drag coefficient, it does help maintain and channel the flow of air coming off the front of the car. As the flow of air passes around the air box intake, instead of creating turbulence (air trying to mix from one side of behind the air box to the other, hence increased drag and instability) what would be an open area behind the air box it forces the air to to essentially remain in line with itself as it passes over the rear of the car and rear spoiler box. The idea is to create and maintain a uninterupted flow of higher pressure air over the top of the car and a smooth lower pressure free flowing surface under the car. The air box is located where it is primarily so that the air inlet system can benefit as much as possible from the ram air effect it recieves from the accelerated oncoming air (will help create a positive air flow through the turbo. Oh, another thing that the shark fin helps with is lateral stability at high speed… Particularly on ovals such as the IMS, as you might imagine.

  3. I have two questions.
    What, if anything, can we learn from the “Lotus” decal on the engine cowling?
    What is the covered third car in one of the photos above?

    • Jim in Wilmington Says:

      There was also a Chevrolet logo and a Honda Logo, so I don’t think the Lotus logo signifies anything.


    • HB Donnelly Says:

      The covered car was Mike Conway’s 500 car, which had a new sponsor/livery package that was unveiled on the Versus show.

  4. Didn’t vote this time because “meh” wasn’t on the list. But the asthetics aren’t a big deal for me; to me it’s all about putting the races back in play. If Penske/Ganassi continue to win 9 out of 10 races, it wouldn’t matter what the cars looked like one way or the other.

  5. There’s bound to be plenty of arguments about both the cars and the debut of the aero kits. I’ve been so back and forth, I make my own head spin. But basically, I really like the prototypes (with tweaks) and I look forward to seeing the cells with different aero kits (at some point.)

    I just want cars that are safe (for that reason, the semi-enclosed rear wheel don’t bother me at all) and fast and reliable. I want Indycar to continue be the series that demands a varied set of skills from it’s drivers and increases manufacturers competition in engine and chassis. And I want it to stay (comparitively) cheap, so there are plenty of competing teams and opportunities for both sponsors and owners. And I think Bernard has done a great job in making tough decisions.

    And I’m real excited about quals and the 500 this year.

  6. I’ve no problem with the rear wheels enclosed, this is a huge gain of performances especially at high speed (thats why the sides pods are bigger on the oval version), and this is a good way to have less dirty air behind the car.
    And it make the cars safer.

    For the shark fin I always hated it !

  7. I like both cars. I think the back end is cool and I like the rear “bumper.” I don’t think that the fins will stay and I would like to know if the airbox is neccesary behind the cockpit. Overall, it’s a keeper and I look forward to seeing how they run with engines in them.

  8. Not a huge fan. They’re okay and I can live with them next year but they don’t excite me, either. I actually like how they did the wheel covers in the back… it actually looks like an LMP prototype. The road course car looks too much like an F1 car

  9. carburetor Says:

    I certainly think it is an improvement over the current car, although the oval is not necessarily a thing of beauty. I’m pretty “old school” as well, but the enclosed rear wheels do not bother me as much as I thought they would. It still looks as though you could rub wheels… which keeps the open-wheel risk factor in play. I’ll be curious to see how much of this car actually makes it into the final version….

  10. Simona Fan Says:

    I’m with you, George on the rear bumper. “Anti-launch” technology. If you allow the drivers to touch without consequence, then they will. Heck, they already do. However, I don’t mind it on speedways and here’s why: I think IndyCars need to get back to breaking track records and running at speeds all other race series can only dream about. But to do that, you have to keep the cars on the track and out of the stands, and you have to keep drivers from getting seriously hurt or killed. With the new car and SAFER 2, you have a safer cockpit, but you still need to keep the cars from flying very far into the air. The rear bumpers will help that, but I think the shark fin is also part of that. During IndyCar Weekly, Tony said that they tested the car sideways in the tunnel. I bet you the sharkfin is a spoiler when the car gets sideways to help keep the car on the track.

    With a lighter weight, more venturi (I think), less drag and more horsepower than the current cars, I hope we see higher speeds and more gutsy driving next year. I think people will come back to the series when they know the drivers are hanging it out on the edge and aren’t just flat out all the way around the track.

  11. HB Donnelly Says:

    Simona Fan has hit one thing on the nose. That shark fin has been implemented by IMSA for its Le Mans prototypes this year because of a rash of blow-over incidents at their European events. When the car gets sideways, positive pressure builds in front of the fin and keeps leading sidepod on the ground, while also significantly slowing the car. I don’t know if the Dallara powers-that-be had the same reasoning, but now they have a good excuse for it.

    We may not like the wheel fairings, but that’s certainly not going away and I think we’ll get used to it. The cars are probably still twitchy enough that sidewall-to-sidewall contact between the wheels will destabilize the car quite a bit. Danger for the competitors is one thing, but an airborne car in the wrong spot puts the fans in danger and that is unacceptable. Speedway catch fencing may be up-to-snuff for the most part, but there are still a lot of road courses that have no fencing on a lot of their walls and cars can easily find their way into the campgrounds.

  12. Simona Fan and HB got here before I could. Good explanations there. Also, I 100% agree with Simona Fan’s take that giving a nod to keeping the next car out of the grandstands is a really good idea, even if it’s just a reduction in that risk area.

    As far as the airbox, I just think that’s probably the best solution for engine induction. An airbox over the driver’s head is actually even in vogue for turbo cars at the moment, despite what Marshall Pruett’s article/column on SpeedTV.com seemed to indicate, and Exhibit A and Exhibit B on that front would be the Peugeot 908 and Audi R18 that ran at the Spa 1000km last weekend. Both turbo cars (Peugeot is a twin turbo V8, Audi is a single centrally mounted turbo V6), both moved their engine intakes from the sidepods to the roof for this generation of car, probably because some room had to be taken up up there already by the dorsal fin (see Somona Fan and HB’s posts for reasons there).

    As to why that’s the best solution, not only do you get maximum ram air effect with the high mounted airbox, you also get the least amount of disruption of air to the rear wing. If the 2012 car had sidepod intakes (kind of like the Peugeot 908 HDi-FAP, the Audi R8, R10 or R15 or even the McLaren-Honda MP4/4) and an old-style roll bar, you’d have FOUR pieces up there dirtying up the air to the rear of the car (two intake scoops and two roll bar pieces), as opposed to the one impediment posed by an airbox. To boot, the old-style roll hoop likely creates an orifice that would produce even worse turbulence right in the center of the wing.

    Anyway, the point of those 8,000 words is that an airbox is probably the most efficient solution to engine induction, especially when paired up with a dorsal fin of some sort. It’s possible that different engine manufacturers may use their aero kit (if they happen) to intake air other places, but I think they’ll probably all go with an airbox, so long as it’s an option.

    • The Lapper Says:

      Good post Speedgeek and you have explained a great deal of the reasoning to me. I remember the first time I saw a picture of an airbox on a racer, it was an Elf sponsored F1 car back in 69 or, at least, the very early 70’s. I thought it odd, but I knew what it was the second I saw it and while studying the picture I imagined how the car ran.

      • Oops. A correction: the Peugeot 908 still runs snorkels on the sidepods to feed the turbos. If one were so inclined, though, you could certainly feed them via an overhead airbox. My point stands on the Audi, though.

  13. billytheskink Says:

    While I didn’t find either car to be exceptionally attractive, I’m under the impression that these show cars gave us a glimpse of what will possible under the aero kit rules more so than a preview of what Dallara’s aero kit will look like. And being under that impression, I thought the cars were great. They illustrate that the new rules will allow for some creativity, for noticeably different-looking cars, and for cars that ought to be fairly distinct from those of other series’.

    The cars themselves look how I would imagine a Dallara competitor to the DP-01 would look. I’ve never been a raised nose fan, particularly the fanged maw nose style that has ruled F1 for 15+ years, but I don’t mind the slightly raised, wider, flatter nose on this car.

    On the rear “bumper”, I don’t like the look of it but I agree with the reasons for adding it.

    On the shark fins, the lower the cowling sits, the less ridiculous they look. The billboard-sized fins on the current F1 cars and Audi look asinine. The ones on these show cars look much less so, but don’t pull the look off as well as the Reynard. As to their function, do they work better than the current Dallara’s center wicker?
    It appears that the shark fins are on an area of the car that kit manufacturers can play with, so we may not see them on all or any of the rolling cars.

    On the airboxes, they make me wonder what car was the basis for these show cars. Did Dallara build a pre-rolling version of their 2012 safety cell to dress up? Or was this car built upon the tub of a current Dallara? Panoz? Old Dallara/G-Force? It seems possible, at least, that the airbox was a part of the car these show cars were built upon, and were worked around rather than a design decision.
    Perhaps this was explained somewhere and I missed it. I do know Cotman was much more confident that the area from the cockpit forward would look on the rolling car as it does in these show cars than he was about the area from the driver back.
    While I personally find airboxes to be unattractive on nearly any race car, my real concern with them is that they exacerbate the problem of casual fans confusing IndyCars with F1 cars.

  14. Steve K Says:

    Anyone interested in the technical side of open wherl cars should check out Steve Matchett’s (at Speedtv.com) Chalk Talk. There about 5 min long videos on the ins and outs of F1 cars. Most if not all would have to relate to IndyCars. Good stuff and I’m sure there is a good archive from previous seasons. Great stuff.

    • Agree 100%. Matchett does a great job of simplifying technical issues to language that I think just about anybody, any age, any background, could understand. As Pressdog would say, “viewing enhanced”.

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