Taking Things Just a Little Out of Context

Perhaps the most significant quote to come out of last week’s IndyCar Content Days, was when Scott Dixon uttered the now infamous phrase junior category car to describe the current Indy car.

Normally, there is not a whole lot of meat in driver’s quotes at these sort of things. Most drivers have had all winter to polish whatever thoughts they have, and there is little controversy in most of the drivers comments, other than to express optimism for the current season.

When Dixon mentioned junior category car to describe the current version of the Dallara, the old Champ Car die-hards suddenly resurfaced out of their dormant woodwork. They were overjoyed to think that a current driver as accomplished as Scott Dixon, would essentially use the same comparison as Paul Tracy had almost twenty years ago, when he called the IRL car of the day a crapwagon. These are the same folks who consider the Panoz DP01 as the most perfect race car that ever turned a wheel.

If you dig a little deeper and read the entire quote, you realize Dixon’s comments were taken completely out of context. Dixon did not suddenly decide to slam the cars in the series he had been driving in since 2003. Instead, he was answering a question about the ever-increasing weight of the car that started out over a decade ago as the DW12.

The Dallara IR-12, was unofficially named the DW12 in honor of the late Dan Wheldon for all of the development work he did on the chassis before he was fatally injured in the 2011 IndyCar season finale at Las Vegas. Except for the nose of the car, there is very little physical resemblance between the car that raced at the 2012 season-opener at St. Petersburg, and the car that car that closed out the 2021 season at Long Beach.

The bulbous rear-wheel treatment is gone, along with the rear “bumpers’ that used to hang off of the rear of the car. The sidepods and the undertray are visibly different, as well as the loss of the airbox and raised cowling behind the cockpit.

The most obvious visible change is the aero screen, added for the 2020 season to protect the driver, which added weight – a lot of weight – all on top of the car. I’ve heard estimates ranging from 50 to 75 pounds. That’s significant on a car that started out at around 1,500 pounds, especially when it sits atop everything else.

Some of the less notable changes over the years are the addition of intrusion panels and stiffeners, added for safety and handling. In 2023, another 120 pounds will be added to this car with the added weight of the new hybrid engine.

Over the years, the car that began life as a clean sheet of paper in late 2010 – has become a bloated version of itself more than a decade later.

When Dixon made his comments and compared the current car to a junior category car it wasn’t a slam against Dallara or the type of racing that has earned him six championships. It was more of a commentary of how much has been added on to this car over the years for various reasons. I look at this as how much he will welcome a new car in 2024, more than how inferior he considers the current chassis.

He said the current car is “…not particularly fast, it’s not particularly nimble, it’s very heavy and not a whole lot of grip…” When a car has had as much added to it as this car has, especially with the aero screen making it seem top-heavy – it’s not going to feel very nimble.

Josef Newgarden and Will Power backed up Dixon’s comments. Power says that once they add the hybrid engines to this current car, it will be “too much”. Power says the aero screen has already been detrimental to the handling of the car. He emphasized that for the new car set to debut in 2024, “…they’ve got to find ways to get weight out of the car”. Newgarden tested the car at Barber this past October with the 2023 weight added on. He repeated Power’s comments that it was “…important to keep the weight relatively low”.

Graham Rahal also echoed Dixon’s comments by saying “the weight of the chassis is significantly higher than when I started my career.” He added that Dallara needs to build the new car right in the first place; rather than adding on so much weight in the evolution of the car.

I don’t blame Dallara for this dilemma. When the current car was designed and developed in 2011, I don’t think anyone would have predicted that a heavy aero screen would be bolted to the top of the chassis, or that hybrid engines and their increased weight would be added to this car. Dallara built this car for what we knew in 2011. It’s not their fault the series decided to make changes which added so much weight to the car.

I’m not an engineer or a car-designer. I don’t even know enough to be dangerous. But I’m under the impression that it is much better to structurally design a car with an aero screen in mind, rather than bolt one onto an existing design. My hope is that this can help make the new car lighter and with a lower center of gravity, so that all of the increased weight is not sitting on top of the car.

I’m hoping the same thing for the hybrid units. Surely it’s easier to design around the additional components required by a hybrid system, rather than just finding a place for them on the current car. I’m optimistic that designing a car around the features added to this current car, will make the new car a lot quicker and more nimble.

David Malsher wrote a fairly comprehensive article for Motorsport.com laying out Dixon’s comments, and those of the other drivers. Once you read it, you realize that the snippets and headlines we saw on social media how Dixon compared an Indy car to a junior category car, were nothing more sensationalistic comments taken completely out of context that played to the old Champ Car loyalists, who are apparently still alive and well.

George Phillips

10 Responses to “Taking Things Just a Little Out of Context”

  1. Tony Geinzer Says:

    I still hate Dallara, for a myriad of reasons, and I feel that what is not out of context is Dallara has made Undrivable Cars for Years. I would rather have the Monsters of the Reynard and Lola’s than the current cars, and they where better cars than the Current Formula One Cars, which is saying a lot, and the Late 1990’s Reynards where the engineering genesis to the 2000-2004 Ferraris.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    A reasonable view of Dixon’s comments, George, thank you for this.

    Frankly, the adaptability of the DW12 is pretty remarkable, and it has continued to provide comparable performance to its earlier iterations even as it has gotten increasingly heavier and cumbersome. A new chassis should address the weight concerns somewhat, but I’m not sure it can do so completely as this sport has been gradually trading maximum performance for safety in its cars for five decades now.

  3. Bruce Waine Says:

    From Mashall Pruett’s article yesterday in RACER:

    “As IndyCar originally designed the March test, the new hybrid engine would test as a complete ICE+ERS package, along with prototypes of the new and lighter bellhousing and transmission case that are part of the 2023 chassis updates.”

    So it will be interesting to learn where additional weight reduction might next be.

  4. maybe the drivers go on a diet.

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      More than one driver at the time mentioned that Danica had the unfair advantage ………….. over the rest of the starting grid.

      If you have ever seen her in person, you can appreciate her size and as a result her much lighter personal weight advantage over the average race driver weight spectrum………………..

  5. The 2024 chassis will be designed with the cockpit as an integral part of the design which hopefully will further strengthen the chassis and save some weight. I’m sure they will be looking at considerable weight saving ideas through materials however some more bhp would be most welcome. Would like to see the lap time differential to F1 greatly reduced and feel that would further differentiate between the super stars and ride buyers.

  6. Crapwagon hahaha! I sure miss drivers like PT, he was a character! Remember the fight with Tag and the wrestler mask and cape. Im also going to miss his enthusiasm and sense of humor in the booth

  7. Power steering. Is there a future in Indy Car? Could it help with weight issues?

  8. […] I wrote about at the end of January, this current car is now in its eleventh season of service. Since it […]

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