IndyCar Open Wheel

Breaking Down The NEXT Look for IndyCar

The Verizon IndyCar series will have an all new look in 2018. And their sexy, new car design could create a lot more passing, enhancing the thrill factor on track.

Last November, IndyCar’s President of Competition and Operations, Jay Frye, VP of Competition/Race Engineering, Bill Pappas, and Director of Aerodynamic Development, Tino Belli, met at Dallara in Italy to share their conceptual drawings, asking the chassis constructor to reverse engineer the car. Their illustrations were based on the popular open wheel cars of the 1990’s, requiring Dallara to adapt their 2012 tub to the new design.

IndyCar wanted their new chassis to be much sleeker and racier looking. The bumper pods, body work behind the rear tires that were incorporated into the DW12, have been eliminated. The wings are much smaller in profile, and even the sidepods have been brought in closer.

Back in 2012, IndyCar changed to a new Dallara chassis and a turbocharged, 2.2 L, V6 engine format that would attain 700 hp at 12,000 rpm. Then in 2015, IndyCar allowed both engine manufacturers to create body work known as aero kits (the front and rear wings, sidepods, and engine cover) as long as they fit within certain box-like dimensions. These kits made it possible for fans to distinguish a Chevy from the Honda package quickly. The additional surface area offered greater sponsor advertising.

For a new engine manufacturer to compete in IndyCar, however, it would not only build a racing engine but commit a significant budget for body work development. Recognizing that this would be cost prohibitive, IndyCar switched to the universal car for 2018.

The new 2018 body work and car floor will be bolted on to the 2012 Dallara tub, also known as the safety cell where the driver sits. Creation of the currently used aero kits added about 25% more downforce generated from the top of the car. To compensate, the undertray, or floor of the car, had to be modified (reduced in size) to generate less downforce. But the resulting turbulence made passing difficult. With the new car producing most of its downforce from the undertray, 66% of the total downforce, the drivers will have a lot less turbulence to deal with, which should allow for closer racing and more passing.   

At the initial test on July 25 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Juan Pablo Montoya drove the Chevy powered prototype for Team Penske, and Oriol Servia drove the Honda powered prototype prepared by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

“It’s exciting because the car drives really, really well,” said Montoya, two-time Indy 500 winner. “The car looks amazing. Having one aero kit for everybody will be great for the sport. For the engine manufacturers, it’s definitely a plus because it won’t be about the aero kits. When you talk about Chevrolet or Honda, it’s all about who is making the power.”

Both prototypes were converted to the road course configuration with different wings and body work and then tested at Mid-Ohio’s 2.258-mile road course on August 2nd

“It feels pretty good; it’s very different than the current aero kit,” said Montoya, a driver who quickly adapts to anything on wheels. “The car is a little more forgiving, but the level of downforce is a lot lighter, so you slide around a lot more. The chances of mistakes are higher, so it’s going to bring better racing.”

The new car will not only look leaner and more aggressive than the current car but has about 1/3 less downforce overall, separating the great drivers from the good ones.

“When you have a little less (downforce), and the cars move around, at least the fans can see that we’re doing something,” explained Servia, the 2005 title runner-up with over 200 Indy car starts. “It really was a lot better than this year’s car. At Detroit, where the speeds are a lot less, you couldn’t get close to anyone even in the slow corners because there was so much downforce (turbulence) and the rear got loose. With the new car, you lose a little bit of front (grip) but it stays very balanced.”

The actual cost to the teams may be less overall because there will be fewer parts to replace with the universal kits. The current price of a chassis, including the aero kit, is $385,000.

Building a safe race car is particularly challenging for the IndyCar series because of the different tracks it competes on: road and street courses, short ovals, and superspeedways. While it may have been cheaper to outsource the body work to other vendors, Dallara has proven its safety value.

The new car will have anti-intrusion panels with added padding at the driver’s hips. The cockpit is eight to 10 inches wider to prevent an injury like Sebastien Bourdais’ qualifying shunt at Indianapolis. They were able to accomplish this by bringing the radiators and sidepods forward, which brings the weight distribution forward, making the car more nimble.

With fewer parts to clean up from an incident on track, cautions should be shorter as well.  

Two more tests are scheduled, at Iowa Speedway on August 10 and then at Sebring International Raceway on September 26. Teams will receive their new car parts in November, and then the real testing will begin to see who can get the optimum performance out of the new car design.  

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

IndyCar Open Wheel

Accelerometers Just One Tool IndyCar Uses for Driver Safety

Driver safety has always been a significant issue in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Competing in open cockpits naturally puts the drivers at risk. The Indy cars can be 50 mph faster on the same track as a stock car where drivers are protected with a roof over their heads.

Safety Innovations that have evolved through open wheel racing include the HANS device (Head And Neck Support), and the SAFER Barrier (Steel & Foam Energy Reduction) installed at most oval tracks in the U.S.

IndyCar requires all drivers to wear earpieces fitted with accelerometers to determine if a driver has suffered a concussion in a crash. The earpieces are designed for hearing protection. A tiny speaker inside each earpiece allows the driver to hear team communications through the attached wires that plug into the cockpit radio system. The accelerometers are embedded in the earpiece and are connected to the cockpit crash box.

These specialized earpieces are made in-house by IndyCar. The process is much like making hearing aids or earpieces for musicians. First, a custom impression is made of each ear canal using a two-compound material from a tube known as polyvinylsiloxane. This pink plastic-like material is soft and squishy upon application and hardens in about five minutes.

The unique mold is then trimmed and placed in a dish filled with a gel material to create a negative imprint, which takes overnight. Then clear silicone is used to fill in the impression made by the mold.

“Once the silicone earpieces are made, I refit them to the driver’s ears to make sure they are comfortable,” explained Vikkie Louks, who specializes in making the earpieces for IndyCar. “Next I grind out a place for the speaker and the accelerometers. Using a microscope and a very steady hand, Mark Horton solders the wiring. Drivers usually come to Indianapolis for their annual physical at the beginning of the year, and at that time I make a physical blank, the mold. Drivers receive one set per year. They can save their old set as a backup.”     

These accelerometers are small sensors that measure changes in linear force in three different directions: front to back, side to side, and up and down. The accelerometers put out a measurable voltage, which changes from vibration or movement through the car’s direction and velocity. By using the amplitude of the voltage in the three directions, a formula is used to calculate the total G forces to the head. 

When the Holmatro Safety Team arrives at an incident, they check the cockpit indicator light that flashes red if the driver has suffered an impact of more than 50 G’s, which is considered the threshold for a concussion. The Accident Data Recorder, also known as the black box or crash box, is removed from the race car and brought to Mark Horton at the IndyCar Tech transporter. He downloads the data to a laptop and posts it for the medical staff to review while the driver is at the Medical Center being evaluated.

Scott Dixon suffered a frightening incident at the Indianapolis 500 in May when his car flew more than 50 feet in the air after making contact with Jay Howard’s car and then landed on the inside wall’s SAFER barrier.

“I had three impacts in my crash at Indy,” said Dixon, who escaped without a concussion. “But it was not as bad as Bourdais qualifying crash. My accelerometers measured about 60 – 70 G’s.”

While Dixon’s accident measured over the concussion threshold, Sebastien Bourdais’ crash into the Turn 2 wall SAFER Barrier in Qualifying, resulted in over 100 G’s, twice the concussion threshold. 

“The car did a really good job head-on,” explained Bourdais, who suffered from fractured pelvis, right hip, and ribs, but no concussion reported. “I don’t have any injuries on my feet. I don’t think there are a lot of people who can say they have survived a head-on crash at 227 mph. It’s a pretty good testament (to the safety of the Dallara chassis). When I saw the wall coming, I was like, ‘That’s going to be bad.’ But pretty soon after it was lights out for a couple of seconds. I regained consciousness when the car was on its wheels and coming to rest. When I came out of surgery, and they gave me a rundown of what had been done, I knew there was nothing terrible. It was all going to be fairly easy to recover from.”  

Drivers may tell doctors they are okay when they are not because they don’t want to lose their ride. The earpiece system provides factual data refuting their statements to the physicians.

The earpiece sensor system has been utilized by IndyCar since 2003, with success resulting in inquiries from NASA and the NFL.

While racing is inherently dangerous, data from accelerometers is just one more tool IndyCar uses to continually improve driver safety.

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

IndyCar Open Wheel

Alonso Adapting Well to Indianapolis

Two-time Formula 1 champion, Fernando Alonso, has immersed himself in learning how to drive on the most famous oval in the world, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The incredibly talented Spaniard should be okay – as long as he doesn’t turn right.

For Alonso to compete at the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, something the 35 year-old has had on his bucket list along with the 24 Hours of Le Mans (which he feels will make him a complete driver), some factors had to fall into place.

Bernie Ecclestone (who would likely prevent an F1 driver from switching series), is no longer the head of F1 after Liberty Media recently bought it.

American Zak Brown, now Executive Director of McLaren Technology Group, wants McLaren to return to compete in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Brown was instrumental in finding a ride for Alonso through his connections and is allowing his No. 1 driver to miss F1’s marquee event, the Monaco Grand Prix.

Honda, which has struggled to provide a reliable and competitive engine to McLaren this season, hopes to keep the F1 ace on board during its continued development. For the 500, Alonso is competing with the Honda-powered team of Andretti Autosport, which won the 100th Indianapolis 500 with Alexander Rossi.

In preparation for his first time competing on any oval, Alonso has studied videos of past races and spent time in Honda’s simulator. But there is no substitute to being in the actual race car. Michael Andretti is his race strategist, and Gil de Ferran is acting as his driver coach.

Alonso’s first impression when he saw the Indianapolis track was that it was a lot narrower than he expected. He could not believe that the cars start the race three abreast. The 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway has 50 foot wide straights and 60 foot wide turns. But the Spaniard is in for a big surprise during the race; restarts could be four and five cars wide.

On May 3rd, Alonso had a private test during which time he breezed through his Rookie Orientation program by completing a set number of laps in three increasing speed phases. After Marco Andretti had set the car up for him, Alonso completed 110 circuits with a top speed of 222.548 mph.

“The circuit looks so narrow when you are at that speed,” commented Alonso. “When you watch on television or when you are in the simulator, it seems bigger and easier. When you are in the real car it’s very narrow (the track) so I was trying different lines. 

“I knew that Marco was flat out in Turn 1, so I said, I will do flat out now in Turn 1 because the car is able to do it. So I arrived at Turn 1, and I was convinced 100 percent that I was taking it flat out. But my foot was not flat out. It had its own life and was not connected to my brain. By the second or third lap I was able to do it. It was definitely a very good feeling to be able to feel the respect of this place, the car, and of the speed. It’s something that for any racing driver, it’s just pure adrenaline.

“The Indy car is definitely different to drive. Obviously, if you develop your whole career in Formula One in Europe, you come here to oval racing, the car felt unnatural to drive because the car turns left by itself. That’s a little bit strange when you approach turn one on the first lap. I’ve had good preparation in the simulator and a lot of information from the team.”

What’s so very different about IndyCar racing from F1, is that Alonso has teammates that cooperate by sharing data, compare notes and ideas, and work together as a group to beat the other drivers. And, there are a lot of off-track commitments and fan access to the garages and pit lane that is not allowed in F1.

In addition to navigating four left turns, each different based on wind conditions, Alonso will have to learn how to make adjustments to maintain the balance of the car using his in cockpit controls, weight jackers and sway bars, as the fuel load of over 160 lbs. burns off.

“In this business, at this level, you have to learn by fire,” explained Marco Andretti. “We can only tell him so much. Definitely trusting your butt still sticks out in my mind, especially in places like this. You have to know it’s loose (the car) before it’s loose.”

To be competitive, Alonso will have to figure out how to set up for passes, remember IndyCar procedures such as pit entry rules, and spend three times longer in a pit stop than what he is used to in F1. He cannot practice race restarts and will discover no one has any friends the last 20 laps of the event.

“The most difficult thing will be the race itself,” explained the very methodical Alonso. “All the things that happen in the race such as running in traffic, learning the little tricks to overtake, the place to overtake, how not to lose time in those maneuvers, and how to use the performance of your car in which moment of the race. You feel the car, how it handles behind another car, and how close you can be to the other car in the corners.”

Alonso has been an excellent student methodically learning step by step. But it is possible to have information overload. Landing in the top nine of 33, with a four-lap average (10 miles) in qualifying of 231.300 mph, he placed in the middle of the second row (fifth).

The 2003 Indy 500 winner, Gil de Ferran, who is helping Alonso prepare for his first oval race, had his own lessons to learn when he first competed at Indianapolis.

“It was difficult to really understand, when I first came over (from F1), how complex setting up a car for the oval actually was,” said de Ferran. “I was able to be relatively competitive at the time. But really understanding what I needed out of the car and what changes needed to happen in the car for me to be competitive over a stint (using up the fuel), over a race, and what will happen at the end of the race, was a little more complex. It took me a little bit of time to understand how not to destroy the tires. I’m trying to bring to Alonso awareness of the nuances about what he’s about to encounter so he can think about it ahead of time.”

Alonso is well prepared for this race, but first, he must make it to the final laps without incident to battle for the win.

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

IndyCar Open Wheel

Spotter 101: Breaking Down Their Role

Keeping drivers safe is paramount in motorsports. It is so easy to become numb of the danger faced every time he or she climbs in the cockpit. And that is why there are spotters located in a high vantage point above the track and in radio communication to warn of any hazards.    

The Verizon IndyCar Series mandates spotters for each driver on every oval track during all sessions. At the Phoenix one-mile oval, they are located on top of the grandstands and suites in Turn 1. For the 2.5-mile oval at Indianapolis, two spotters are required, perched at the top of Turn 1 and Turn 3, allowing each to see about half the track.

The driver cannot see outside the car right beside him, or what’s happening behind, even with rearview mirrors. Sitting low in the car, they cannot see who is overtaking them until that driver is ahead of their cockpit. Quite often you will hear on the radio, “inside,” “outside,” “clear,” “looking,” and “coming to you.” Those commands depict when a car is setting up for a pass, which side the pass is on, and when they are no longer close enough to be a concern.

“The spotter’s job is to let the driver know what’s going on around him,” said Rick Mears, who serves as Helio Castroneves’ spotter. “But a spotter is your backup, not your eyes. A good driver can get into spots where he judges quickly to avoid something and can’t always wait for the spotter. The original purpose of having a spotter was to tell the driver what was ahead. It’s important to have spotters who can warn a driver if something happens because the closing rate is so fast. But the driver should not rely 100% on his spotter.”

Spotters are also instrumental in warning a driver when there is an incident on the track. The driver should see that the caution light is on and immediately slow down; but he may not know where on the track the incident has taken place. That’s when the spotter lets the driver know what is happening, and can recommend which direction to go to avoid being caught up in the crash.

The driver still needs to steer the car and make decisions even without guidance. One track that is challenging for the spotters to keep their driver in view is at Pocono’s Tricky Triangle, the 2.5-mile tri-oval. With only three turns, the straightaway between Turns 1 and 2, that binoculars can be needed to distinguish the cars.

“Pocono is very challenging,” explained Graham Rahal’s spotter, Steve Turner. “The backstretch is one mile away so binoculars would be a huge help there. But then you lose your peripheral vision. It can take a few seconds to pick up a driver. So you really can’t do a good job of spotting with binoculars. You lose depth of field and aren’t always able to tell if a driver is moving to the inside or outside. When the cars are coming towards you or are going away from you, you lose depth perception.”

Turner unintentionally made a lot of points with Rahal’s sponsor, Steak ‘N Shake, when the TV broadcast aired his radio transmission congratulating the 2015 Auto Club Speedway winner when he said, “Steak burgers for everyone!”

Although not required, spotters can also be instrumental at road courses and can warm their driver at certain turns that are known to be trouble spots. Usually they have experience behind the wheel – whether now retired, or upcoming from another series.

And when two drivers have a misunderstanding on the track, they can pass a message through their spotters. If a competitor suddenly slows down in front, it could upset whoever is following. By spotters speaking to each other on the stand, they can clarify what happened, such as an electrical issue, to avoid conflict. That can keep tempers from escalating and prevent retaliation.

“I always trust my spotter,” stated Rahal. “His eyes are peeled on my exhaust. He is in constant communication. I’m thankful for those guys. They keep us safe.”


The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

IndyCar Open Wheel

Battle of the Manufacturers in the Hands of the Teams

Since 2012, when the Verizon IndyCar Series changed to a 2.2L, V-6, twin-turbocharged engine, Chevrolet has dominated over its sole competitor Honda, by winning five consecutive Manufacturer Titles. Its success can be partially attributed to how the American car company shares information and supports its teams.

When everyone ran the same Dallara chassis, Honda had four wins to Chevy’s 11 in 2012, nine wins in 2013 to Chevy’s ten, and six wins to Chevy’s 12 in 2014. Then the aero kits were introduced in 2015 – body work for five areas on the car (front and rear wings, side pods, and engine cover), which each engine manufacturer designed. Honda won six races to Chevy’s ten in 2015, but last year Honda earned only two victories to Chevy’s 14. That may just have been a wake-up call to the Honda camp.

IndyCar has frozen the aero kits, so there has been no development since the 2016 season began. For 2017, the areas of engine development are limited to pistons, valves, connecting rods, exhaust, spark plugs, and air filters. That does not leave a lot of options for Honda to improve its engine.

The changes Honda was allowed to make before the 2016 season began, allowed both engine and aero kit development, which included a unique opportunity for Honda to match the performance of the 2015 Chevy aero kit. Honda chose to focus most of those options on winning the Indianapolis 500. They succeeded with a package that was strong on the superspeedways, including good fuel mileage, but lacked a little in performance against the Chevies on the short ovals and road courses.

Asked mid-January if Honda shares information among its teams, Andretti Autosport driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay, answered, “No, just very basic stuff. There’s not a whole lot of data sharing. The big-ticket items that we can find power gains, on power application – especially on street circuits, and maybe aero (are shared). But when you’re fine-tuning the car, the aero or power plant, those are usually kept to the individual team.”

The Chevy teams have worked a lot better together with more support and shared information so that they all succeed. Chevy also managed to sign up the top teams (when they entered the series in 2012) like Penske and Ganassi, leaving Honda with its long-term relationship with Andretti Autosport.

With only two victories last season, Honda appears to have changed their philosophy and is now sharing much more information among its teams. During the offseason, the Ganassi team switched from Chevy to Honda power, and their engineers methodically went through every part in the Honda aero kit to determine its performance. The results can be seen in the first race of the season at St. Petersburg where not only did a Honda-powered driver win the race, but seven Honda’s finished in the top ten. And in qualifying, three Honda-powered teams made it to the Fast Six Shootout, Ganassi, Schmidt Peterson, and Andretti.

An indication of just how well the Honda teams are working together this season were the radio communications during the St. Pete race asking for courtesy from other Honda-powered drivers not to hold up the Honda-powered leader, Sebastien Bourdais. 

“We are always pushing and always trying to improve,” explained James Hinchcliffe, a Honda-powered driver at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. “Whenever you add good teams and good drivers to the stable, it’s going to elevate everybody. No doubt having Chip Ganassi Racing join the (Honda) stable helps elevate everybody. You’ve got four great drivers and a tremendously successful and resourceful team to kind of help push everybody forward. Huge credit to those guys for everything they have brought to the table. We’re all bearing the fruit from that now. Honda wouldn’t tell us if that’s where it came from; they’d probably just say we figured this out.”

Although both engine manufacturers have limited options for engine development for 2017, Honda certainly seems to have advanced their program. The noticeable improvement can be credited in part to its teams working much closer together. 

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

IndyCar Open Wheel

No Vacation Spent as Teams Work Through Off Season

With the current schedule, the Verizon IndyCar Series runs from mid-March to mid-September, therefore leaving half a year is without competition. So what happens during the off-season?

While it may appear that they’ve taken a six-month vacation, teams are still hard at work trying to find an edge over their competitors. 

Teams methodically go back through all the information they’ve collected during the racing season, analyze and dissect it, trying to discover how they can be better. Race weekends offer little chance to make corrections other than small tweaks for a given track. If the car rolls off the transporter with the wrong set up, there is little track time to make corrections and still fine tune the car. 

“During the off season, teams typically take the car apart trying to get it back to its minimum weight,” explained Bill Pappas, IndyCar’s VP of Competition – Race Engineering, a former team engineer. “Every time something is added, such as a safety feature, it causes the car to gain weight. As the team tries to rebalance the car, they look at the drive line components, the shafts and joints. While they can’t change the gear box, they may improve performance with coatings and by polishing parts. Teams also work on their uprights (wheel assembly) to have the lowest drag as possible for ovals.”

The off season can actually be very busy as teams bench test as much as possible and take advantage of computer-aided simulations. Making use of these tools is at a premium since IndyCar has limited private team testing to only four days (from the Sonoma finale to mid-April) due to the aero kit development freeze (body work consisting of front and rear wings, side pods, and engine cover).

“This is the first year we are using the same aero (kits),” said Kyle Moyer, Team Penske’s Competition Director. “In the past, we had to learn how to run the new car. Sometimes we test using the seven poster rig or use a wind tunnel. The car isn’t changing for 2017 so we still have that data. IndyCar has opened up some rules that allow us to make refinements such as changes to the roll bars (driver cockpit adjustment).

“Everyone is changing over to Performance Friction Corporation (PFC) brakes. We’ve only had one day to try them out. You have to learn their characteristics as the PFC brakes are different than the previous brakes we’ve used (Brembo). They run at different temperatures and the brake bias is different. We can now modify the brake pedal with the rules opening up with a mixation system, which hasn’t been allowed since 2012.

“We have spent the off season at Team Penske expanding to a fifth entry for the Indianapolis 500 (for driver Juan Pablo Montoya). Both Tim (Cindric) and Roger (Penske) have told us that effort needs to have everything the other four cars have, including pit equipment and fuel tanks.”

Some teams are better at figuring out which aero kit parts to use and in what combination for a particular track. It’s not until the fastest driver demonstrates what is achievable that a team can know that they haven’t succeeded in finding the optimum performance.  

“Our mechanical package really suited the DW12 (2012 chassis with universal body work),” said Andretti Autosport driver and 2013 IndyCar champion, Ryan Hunter-Reay. “We figured it out, we nailed it, and we were fast on street courses. With the new aero load, the different package with the aero kits, it rendered some of our street course set ups useless. We had to start reinventing the wheel all over again. That’s been a process where we’ve been a few steps behind.”

With Chip Ganassi Racing changing from Chevy to Honda power this season, their engineering staff has carefully studied the performance of every Honda aero kit part.

“You can pick up on things quite quickly using segment times and overlays, looking at statistics and the data you have every weekend at these tracks,” described Scott Dixon, four-time IndyCar champion (2003, 2008, 2013, 2015). “You discover exactly where the deficits are. Over the winter, we’ve found some good gains. Whether it’s enough at some places, or maybe not, we know where the weaknesses are.”

Moving to Dale Coyne Racing for 2017, Sebastien Bourdais recalls how far behind his 2016 season effort was after losing all his team members during the off season. Only his engineer returned at KVSH Racing. That uncertainty alone would reduce driver confidence. Bourdais cited that his right front tire man had never changed a tire before the first race.

“You just can’t go backwards for five months out of the year,” explained four- time Champ Car titlist (2004 – 2007), Bourdais. “You are only as good as the team and the team is only as good as its people. Dale (Coyne) has an effort that runs from January 1 to Dec. 31. While the resources and personnel are limited, it’s not all about the means but more about the consistency.”

With aero kits frozen for 2017, results will depend on engine performance and how well teams fine-tune their use of available parts to suit each track after their off season homework.

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

IndyCar Open Wheel

Engineer Swaps Could Be Key to Success

When the 2016 Verizon IndyCar season ended everyone was on notice that Team Penske would be the team to beat. With its four drivers, Simon Pagenaud (5 wins and the 2016 Championship), Will Power (4), Juan Pablo Montoya (1), and Helio Castroneves (0), the team racked up ten victories in sixteen events. Maybe not a surprise as Team Penske is known for its ultra professionalism and its name is synonymous with success.

This Chevrolet-powered team greatly contributed to the domination of Honda, the other engine manufacturer in the series. Scott Dixon (2 wins) driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, Sebastien Bourdais (1) for KVSH Racing, and Josef Newgarden (1) for Ed Carpenter Racing gave Chevy its other four victories. Honda, however, did win the most coveted event, the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, with rookie Alexander Rossi driving for Andretti Autosport. Also winning for Honda was Graham Rahal (driving for his father’s team – Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), by stealing a victory at Texas from fellow Honda driver, James Hinchcliffe (driving for Schmidt Peterson Racing). 

Making it even harder for teams to get to Winner’s Circle this year is the freeze on the development of aero kits that both Chevy and Honda designed (kits consisting of front and rear wings, side pods, and engine cover). And, while Honda seemed to be stronger than Chevy on superspeedways, Chevy won all the road, street course, and short oval events. So if an engine manufacturer didn’t have the optimal design as the 2015 season ended, the rules prohibit changes.

One of the ways to obtain ideas on how to improve your effort is to hire people away from winning teams. And, with the majority of the IndyCar team shops located in the Indianapolis area, it makes it very easy for personnel to change employers. 

RLLR hired Tom German who was Rossi’s engineer last season at Andretti and before that had over ten years at Team Penske.

“We brought on Tom German to help out on the engineering front with specialty projects, particularly because Indianapolis was such a struggle,” explained Rahal. “German brought with him a wealth of knowledge. German implemented some of the processes that say a Penske does in areas that we weren’t that strong. Even areas we actually thought we were, and he looked at and suggested a whole bunch of stuff, At Iowa I struggled with massive tire vibration issues the last couple years; I had no hope. Yet, he’s cured me of that. On the preparation side of things, German has already pinpointed things we need to do.

“My hope, as a Honda guy through and through, is that the engine can continue to improve and overcome what the aero kit lacks. There is no doubt that there are aero kit inefficiencies. It is a little bit tough going into a season knowing we’re going to have the same uphill battle we’ve had for the last couple years. I actually believe that Honda on the engine side is pretty strong and will continue to develop. Horsepower can overcome anything!”

Newgarden won on the shortest oval in 2016, the Iowa race. His engineer at ECR, Jeremy Milless (pictured), was recently hired to fill the vacancy at AA as Rossi’s engineer. Certainly, Ryan Hunter-Reay will appreciate his expertise after his struggles at Iowa last season.

“Eric Bretzman has been brought over from Ganassi’s NASCAR program (formerly Dixon’s IndyCar engineer) as Technical Director (of Andretti Autosport),” said Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2012 IndyCar champion. “He asked what our biggest complaint was and why we weren’t addressing it.

“We also have Jeremy from ECR. One track really threw us for a loop last year. We’ve always been very, very strong at Iowa. It just completely turned on its head for us last year. In the past, I knew exactly where to put the car, what I could do with the wheel over the bumps – what I could get away with, and the car would be forgiving. This past race every bump I went over was trying to turn the car around. It was almost terrifying to drive because it was only a matter of time before something bad would happen. I can’t say I was overly disappointed when the engine expired.

“We know the areas we need to improve in and we’ve been focusing on that this off-season. There’s no reason why we can’t win four or five races.”

Justin Taylor, coming from the Audi factory LMP1 sports car program, joined ECR as JR Hildebrand’s engineer. And, AJ Foyt Racing, switching to Chevy power, added Will Phillips, who previously served as IndyCar’s VP of Technology, to be Carlos Munoz’s engineer.

With testing limited to only four days, teams look for any means to become more competitive. Hiring engineers from other teams is one way to cross-pollinate the lessons learned and bring in new ideas. And, that’s what makes the IndyCar series so enjoyable to watch with its stiff competition and versatility challenge for both drivers and teams having to adapt to ovals – short and superspeedways, and the road and street courses.

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.


Revealing the Secrets of Building an IndyCar

Ever wonder how a race car is made? It’s a delicate balance between appearance, driver safety, and speed efficiency. It takes brilliant engineers to design the car and skilled technicians to make the parts. Once fitted together, the theory of a competitive chassis can then be put to its final test.

In 2012, the Verizon IndyCar Series switched to a more relevant engine formula, from a normally aspirated V8 to a turbocharged V6. A new chassis was required for all competitors. Five constructors submitted competitive bids: BAT, Dallara, Delta Wing, Lola, and Swift Engineering. Dallara Automobili of Italy, a constructor for eleven different racing series worldwide and supplier of 350 cars a year, was chosen to make the new Indy car. That chassis is still in use at IndyCar for next season.

For 2017, IndyCar has frozen the aero kits, which are the body parts that make up the front and rear wings, the sidepods, and engine covers. The two engine manufacturers, Chevrolet and Honda, made their own aero kits to fit the Dallara chassis in 2015 and were allowed limited modifications for 2016. 

Starting in 2018 for the next three years, there will be one design again for all competitors. IndyCar has made this move in the hopes of attracting a third engine manufacturer to the series by eliminating the expensive process of also creating the aerodynamic parts. And, IndyCar wants the new car to excite the fans. So there could be some noticeable appearance changes to the current chassis. 

At Dallara’s headquarters in Varano de’ Melegari (Italy), the prototype is created and assembled. The next cars are made using a network of suppliers who also assemble the cars at their nearby location because, although Dallara has the capability, they don’t have the capacity. For the Indy cars, the parts are shipped to Dallara’s facility in Speedway, IN, where they are assembled.

Based on the engineers’ design plan, carbon fiber sheets are layered in a mold similar to paper mache. Then the part is placed in an autoclave at high temperature and pressure. This process hardens the piece and removes the excess resin incorporated into the sheets of carbon, making the part extremely light weight yet very strong.

“At the end of the day, making carbon fiber components is like making lasagna. The layers are the noodles, the glue is the Ragu, and we cook it in the autoclave”, explained Alberto Bassi,  Director of Communications and Marketing at Dallara.

“When you have a brand new car, it takes nine months to produce. Eight months are for the design and one month is for the production of the components and the assembly of the car. The eighth month of the design ends with a document that is called the Ply Book, a special computerized instruction manual documenting every component of the car.”

“Each component of the car is made of carbon fiber. We use that material because of its three main characteristics, lightness, stiffness, and the capability of absorbing energy in case of impact. If we make a race car that is only stiff, maybe it would be the quickest car on the racetrack but it will not be a safe car. So we design everything to collapse. The main goal of the carbon fiber is to destroy itself, dissipating the energy generated by the impact. The only part that must resist this impact is the safety cell where the driver sits, which is the only part of the car that cannot collapse.”

Supporting the composite department is the carpentry shop consisting of CNC machines to make the corresponding metal parts. Also, Dallara has seven 3-D printers that can make prototype parts out of plastic, which can then be tested in their wind tunnel on site. Dallara’s rolling tunnel can produce the wind equivalent of 1,000 hp and accept models up to 75% scale.

Dallara offers a unique ability due to its strategic location in Italy’s Motor Valley, a 150 km circle centered in Bologna that includes Ducati, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and the Toro Rosso Formula One team. Because Dallara makes so many chassis (excluding the engine and gear boxes) for different series, it uses a network of suppliers in this area. Dallara utilizes a production plant in nearby Collecchio with 150 dedicated employees. The entire company currently employs 600.

All supplier parts are quality controlled by Dallara. If compliant, Dallara issues a serial number for each part to keep track of its life cycle, determining when it needs to be replaced to ensure the driver’s protection.

As a successful constructor, Dallara has met the unique challenge of the IndyCar series by creating a very safe race car for competition, not only on road and street courses but also on the oval tracks. 

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

IndyCar Open Wheel

The Art of Creating Just the Right Tire

Ever wonder how a tire company goes about designing just the right tire for a particular race track? Tire specifications are not the same for all tracks. So for such diverse racing as in the Verizon IndyCar Series with its permanent road courses, temporary street courses, short ovals, and superspeedways, one tire type certainly does not fit all circumstances.

Firestone has been the sole tire supplier of IndyCar since 2002. In fact, Firestone tires were on the winning car at the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911. The manufacturer has won 67 of 100 events held there (absent 1975 to 1994). Several years ago, when IndyCar’s tire supplier contract ended and competing bids were obtained, team owners joined together and asked IndyCar to renew Firestone’s contract because of their confidence and experience with such a dependable and safe product.

How does Firestone go about choosing the right tire for a particular track? They test. They have input from the drivers and analyze the data they collect. From that, and based on what car specifications IndyCar tells them will be in effect, they make their best decision. Producing tires requires at least a month of lead time ahead of an event.

The Gateway race is an excellent example of the challenge presented to Firestone to create the right tire for its return on the IndyCar schedule in 2017. IndyCar previously competed there for two seasons.

“A new track is a bit of an engineering challenge,” Cara Adams, Chief Engineer, Bridgestone Americas Motorsports and Manager, Race Tire Development (Bridgestone is Firestone’s parent company), told POPULAR SPEED. “We are fortunate to have some data from the last time we ran there in 2002 and 2003. First, we looked at the loads and speeds from the data we had. We went back in Oct. 2015 with one car when IndyCar held a test there just to make sure the track was suitable.”

“Looking at that data, we compared it to the current tracks and decided Gateway was pretty similar to Phoenix. It’s a 1.25-mile oval compared to 1-mile and the banking is pretty similar to Phoenix. We started with a short oval specification and built tires around those loads and speeds.”

“We work with IndyCar up front. We try to make our best guess of what specifications we are going to have for the race, whether it is engine, power, or aerodynamic package. We were also able to work with Honda and Chevy, asking them if they had any simulations and vehicle data based on the track and the current vehicles.”

After collecting all the data, Firestone was able to determine their specifications for their control tire. From that, they created a number of variations which they brought to Gateway for the test held mid-October.

“At Gateway, we had two compounds and five constructions,” continued Adams. “We were able to go through those in short runs. Then decide from those short runs what long runs we needed to have. A short run was about 10 laps where we could evaluate a large number of tires. We had two or three long runs where we thought we had the best combination of tires. We were able to come up with what we think is a pretty good set of specifications for the event.”

Tracks with new pavement always have the most grip. Over time that grip diminishes. And, most challenging are the temporary street courses, which usually have a patchwork effect of slick cement sections and asphalt of varying age. Teams can create mechanical grip by adjusting the car’s shocks and springs. Aerodynamic grip is generated from the body work and the speeds produced.

“At every race, an ovals especially, the construction is very different,” stated Adams. “At ovals you are always turning left so you have weight transfer to the outside tires through downforce and centrifical loads. You need the outside tire to have a more durable construction and durable compound. You have to balance that with the tire not wearing out too quickly and insure you still have enough grip. Making the grip relatively consistent over the stint is the engineering challenge.”

After the tire test, there is still a lot of work to do. All the tires are brought back and analyzed in the lab before a final decision is made. The specifications chosen are then submitted to Firestone’s production facility in Akron, OH. Making a tire takes about a month. The green tire is cured when pressed into a mold and heated so that vulcanization of the rubber can occur. Once through production the tires still go through a quality testing process before they are ready to run at a track.

Firestone races because what it learns from its motorsports program helps make its consumer tires better.