INDYCAR’s road to the future
INDYCAR should look a little bit different by the time 2015 rolls around. With less than a week on the job, new president of competition and operations Derrick Walker is starting to initiate changes that have been begged for by fans of the open-wheel racing series: “Give us different looking cars and higher speeds.” That’s been the call since the IZOD indyCar Series went to a single chassis in Dallara and went from a single engine supplier, Honda, to three and now two in Chevrolet and Honda, since Lotus logged off after a single forlorn season.
Walker offered a timeline for expectations, centering on the Indianapolis 500, cornerstone of the IndyCar Series. The plan initiates now and goes through to 2021. From the start, Walker wants to see changes in the underbody of the Dallara DW12 chassis that make it less prone to lifting, citing last month’s solitary practice crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where rookie Conor Daly’s AJ Foyt Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone Indy car nearly rolled onto its side after impacting the SAFER barrier in the tricky first turn.
INDYCAR intends to work with Dallara to reduce the surface area of the underbody to reduce the potential for lift, in anticipation of the introduction of new aerodynamic configurations for the 2015 season. It takes manufacturers like Chevrolet and Honda at least a year to do their due diligence in coming up with, testing and perfecting any body extensions, wings and the like. These aero configuration kits will be introduced and utilized for all races on the 2015 schedule; there will be specific superspeedway and road/street/short oval configurations.
Walker expects the current DW12 chassis to remain with the series at least until 2018, which is when a new spec engine/chassis combination could be initiated. The chassis might even last longer than that, but likely engine specs will change. It’s important, Walker believes, to maintain a stable package but, at the same time to initiate changes that make the Indy cars look and act different from one another. “We need to listen to our manufacturers because they do spend the most money,” he said.
INDYCAR will make deliberate calculations to increase speeds, particularly at Indy, once they’ve dealt with the lift component, definitely a safety matter. “We will research the floor to reduce lift potential,” Walker proclaimed. “We will talk with Dallara, with Honda and with Chevrolet as we mow forward.”
There will be some changes to the engines in 2014 as different homologation factors move forward. This will be done with minimal cost to the teams, Walker insisted.
In 2015, as per a chart, the aero configurations will change with kits from both engine manufacturers, but Walker did state the series is open to having other entities involved.
The objective, in 2016 is to possibly break Arie Luyendyk’s record of 236.986mph at the Indy 500, which will be the year of the race’s 100th anniversary. There has to be some type of balance in this endeavor, however, as turning up the boost means more rebuilds and therefore more cost to the teams. In 2017 there are engine upgrades on the docket, with changes to other homologated parts.
Will there be speed reductions after 2016? Walker emphasized,” We don’t need to be through the sound barrier every year.”
The current Dallara, he maintained “could” end its current configuration as the basic package would have been on the shelf for six years by that time. There might be a new car in 2019 or there could be an extension of three to four years. INDYCAR could look at the newest technology or the latest thing as key components may be changed by that time, in terms of technology available. At this time, Walker and the entire INDYCAR staff are looking at a lean and mean economy and have to defer to that before making any huge adjustments to the formula.
He anticipates major improvements to the engines for 2019. “Any new formula will involve consultation with our partners, Chevrolet and Honda. We will look at other technologies and engine sizes, with an emphasis to a green element. There will be variations in the formula and they could happen sooner – but that’s not likely,” Walker said.
One thing Walker is addressing that is quite important to the teams is the use of outside suppliers in the series. Teams, at one time used to make or out-source many of their development items but that’s been delegated to Dallara only – including such items as radiators, which used to be free. Walker wants to bring in what he calls the “cottage industry” but also wants to keep Dallara happy to be part of the series. How about other chassis, he was asked?
“I think we’d all love to have more competition from different chassis manufacturers. Longer term, when the windows open up for that consideration, we wouldn’t turn anybody down. We’d obviously look at it and see if it’s viable and the best thing in the interests of INDYCAR,” he said. “That’s a bit further out; right now we’re partnered with Dallara, and that’s where it’s going to be for the next few years.”
Change in INDYCAR is coming, but it’s not going to be an overnight presto-change-o kind of adjustment. With Walker at the helm, safety will be the first consideration, with speed second.
Yet it’s hard to disagree with team owner Dale Coyne, who’s always run a tight ship. Coyne thinks these innovative ideas are great but he wants to see the series look to its marketing and television programs before working on changes to cars and engines. If nobody’s watching, what difference will it make?
By Anne Proffit