IndyCar is different from Formula One in one particular aspect. All the cars are built by Dallara and all the bodywork is manufactured to specifications dictated by the racing series. In Formula One, each team builds their own chassis and designs its own bodywork. In Formula One, the car with the best aerodynamic package leads from start to finish. Often, the race winner can be predicted weeks or even months in advance. The IndyCar approach makes for exciting racing with multiple lead changes from beginning to end. It also makes the cost of fielding a competitive race team a fraction of what Formula One teams spend.
IndyCar does have different aero packages for road courses and oval tracks, but the basic look of the cars has been the same since 1997. The first major change in bodywork since then will debut at the start of the 2018 racing season. The new design will be used for a minimum of three seasons. Underneath will be the same proven Dallara DW12 chassis and the teams will still have a choice of 2.2 liter V-6 twin turbo engines supplied by either Honda or Chevrolet.
Spurred on by IndyCar president of competition Jay Frye, new body work designed by head of aerodynamic development Tino Belli will mark a complete departure from the look of the cars for the past two decades. Gone is the air intake over the driver’s head. Air for the engines will now be supplied by two air intakes integrated into the sidepods. “The whole [overhead] airbox thing is really left over from a normally aspirated engine, which we had had for so long,” Belli says.
The new body style will shift the aerodynamic emphasis from high mounted wings above the chassis to a new airfoil design for the underside of the cars. The series is seeking to make the cars look more like the race cars from the early 90’s. “We’ve taken photos of the Indy cars from the last couple of decades, done side-by-side comparisons on what we like and don’t like, and then we’ve taken some of those ideas to our partners, our manufacturers, and gotten their feedback on what might work on that [retro-modern] theme,” says Belli. A sleek new engine cover will complete the package.
“We want the low engine cover just because we want the car to look more like a traditional Indy car from the ’90s,” he says. “That will also make the plumbing shorter. So right now you take the air and you’ve got the pipe down in there – and then it goes back up and there’s a lot of pipework and complexity where they are going to put the turbo inlets in the side pods. [We’re] making it shorter, lighter and lower. But the advantage of that, it makes the engine cover look a lot more sleek. We want a sleek, low, wide look.”
“This process really started last April and we’re vetting a lot of different looks and possibilities,” Frye told RACER. “We’ve given a list of criteria of the cosmetic looks of the car we want and the performance criteria. We’ll be modeling those versions and working on a timeline to start track testing the car before we go race it in 2018. We want to move most of the downforce to the bottom, get rid of a lot of the topside parts and pieces, and we’re looking to maybe get rid of the rear wheel pods.”
The new body work will alter the aerodynamic balance of the cars, something the drivers will need to adapt to. But it should keep the racing as close as ever and give fans a better visual experience. Way back when, drivers and teams used to compete in both Formula One in Europe and American open wheel racing. It would be fabulous to see that global competition happen once again.
But standardized parts and reasonable budgets are anathema to the Formula One fraternity. If Chase Carey, the new chairman of Formula One’s commercial rights group, is really serious about pumping up fan interest in open wheel racing in America, he could do worse than pushing for more cooperation between the two series, which have long considered each other to be slightly toxic distant cousins.
Call me, Chase. We need to talk.