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INDYCAR makes more aero changes for Texas

June 2, 2015

Silly me. All along I thought the idea of manufacturer aero kits was the Verizon IndyCar Series’ idea of innovation, of allowing each manufacturer to address aerodynamic needs in their own manner. Obviously I was wrong. When three of Chevrolet’s cars lifted from the tarmac during practice for the 99th Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month, INDYCAR, the series’ sanctioning body was quick to make adjustments.

Will Power into turn 1 before Sunday qualifying - Anne Proffit photo

Will Power into turn 1 before Sunday Indy 500 qualifying – Anne Proffit photo

They effected added downforce on both Chevrolet and Honda aero kits – despite the latter’s cars exhibiting none of the difficulties of the former’s cars – and, for qualifying (because the third flying exhibition occurred just prior to initial time trials and to a car in appropriate trim for qualifying) boost on the 2.2-liter V-6 engines was reduced to racing trim, from 1.4 to 1.3 kPa boost. On the road courses, the cars are allowed to use 1.5 kPa.

The problems with these decrees is that they were given first to Chevrolet and then, later, announced to Honda. While none of the Honda cars flew during the Indy 500 race meeting, there were two accidents with that manufacturer’s entries, one of them an acknowledged driver error (Pippa Mann’s incident on the front straight that hobbled her and set prep work back at Dale Coyne Racing). James Hinchcliffe’s accident in the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda was due to a fatigued suspension piece – or so we’ve been told.

As the Indy cars prepare for their second oval race of this abbreviated and rushed season, one that takes place on the banked, 1.5-mile Texas Motors Speedway oval on Saturday night, INDYCAR has once again revised the two aero kits in its continuing attempts to keep cars on the ground. The series announced, two days after the Dual in Detroit street-course races, that it is implementing closure panels to the superspeedway aero kits.

Graham Rahal into Turn 1 before Sunday Indy 500 qualifying - Anne Proffit photo

Graham Rahal into Turn 1 before Sunday Indy 500 qualifying – Anne Proffit photo

These closure panels are mounted to the rear wheel guards of both the Chevrolet and Honda superspeedway aero kits and were developed by both manufacturers. They’ll also be used at Auto Club Speedway the end of June and at Pocono Raceway later in the season, the other two 500-mile contests on the 2015 docket.

“This has been a collaborative effort with both manufacturers and they have been working on these since Indianapolis 500 qualifications,” said Will Phillips, INDYCAR’s vice president of technology, who most recently worked in sports car racing before joining INDYCAR. “These closure panels serve as a blocker, so that air cannot flow through the rare wheel guards. This will ultimately raise the point at which cars would experience lift when traveling backwards,” something everyone involved with the sport hopes won’t occur – either in qualifying on Friday or Saturday evening’s dusk-to-dark Firestone 600.

All Verizon IndyCar Series entries will run this race with a rear wing angle between (-6) and (-10.5) degrees, which results in an increase of overall downforce, at least as compared with the 2014 Texas Motor Speedway contest.

When the new strictures were announced for Indianapolis, Art St Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development (HPD) had a tough time hiding his disappointment in the sanctioning body. “I think the biggest unfortunate thing is we spent a lot of time working on the aero kits, especially the speedway aero kit. We feel that we were affected more than we expected to be affected by the rule change that happened.”

Much of HPD’s development came through its sports car experience, in the American Le Mans Series, European Le Mans Series, 24 Hours of Le Mans and World Endurance Championship, where stability is key, particularly on long straights at European venues. While St Cyr obviously understands that open wheel cars and closed wheel cars react in differing ways to aerodynamic changes, utilizing extensive computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling has been an asset to both its sports car and Indy car programs.

St Cyr, like many others (including quite a few fans I’ve spoken with) didn’t expect INDYCAR to come down so heavily on HPD’s program, wishing the group had worked to help Chevrolet solve its issues while allowing Honda to run the aero kit they brought to the dance. After all, it’s an axiom that you take care of your old friends first while making new friends, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, INDYCAR has forgotten that without Honda and its HPD engine program, they might not have had a series from 2006-2011 as both Toyota and GM departed, leaving only Honda as the engine supplier. It was a very successful technical and marketing partnership, but Honda kept insisting it wanted competition. Little did they realize that once that competition arrived, HPD would become a second cousin once removed.

Words and Photos By Anne Proffit

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