Opinion: IndyCar taking it slow, doing it right with 2018 car
Last Wednesday the Verizon IndyCar Series released the newest renderings showcasing their 2018 universal chassis, and to generally rave reviews. Long-time supporters praised the car for its throwback to traditional IndyCar roots, while modern-era fans appreciated the sleeker body style and those found in the middle seem either unimpressed or uninterested. What does all this mean? Let’s break it down.
For years there has been a group of open-wheel racing fans (IndyCar and Formula One alike) pining for the days of old: cars with flowing body lines, no overhead air boxes and classic, elegant rear wings that simply add to car performance instead of distracting from it. I have no problem with these opinions, and even support the concepts previously mentioned. With that being said, IndyCar needs to take the reins on this design process and move the series into the next decade with a car that has more curb appeal.
I say this as NASCAR continues to lose ratings and attendance numbers with uninspiring cars and rules packages, while Formula One seems to stand still with cars that are admittedly innovative, but cluttered with bits and shark fins that makes a car look too busy. Sound familiar IndyCar fans?
It is imperative that the series takes this opportunity and runs with it by creating a car that pleases the traditional crowd but also teases the imagination of the new generation. Build the race car that “wows” a kid, not something that makes him take one look and then move on to the next race on Forza. So far, it feels like the sanctioning body is on the right track.
In the differences found between the current DW-12 car and the chassis displayed in IndyCar’s newest drawings, there is a lot to like. The engine cover has been slimmed down to a more refined shape, matching the car style seen in the CART days. Additionally, the rear wheel guards that were implemented as a safety measure preventing tire-to-tire contact on the DW-12 have been eliminated in the artwork and seem to be a thing of the past. This, coupled with a lower-profile rear wing not only alters the weight balance of the race car from a performance standpoint, but also makes it much easier on the eyes than what we currently see on the circuit.
Those alterations I am in support of, but I’m not sold just yet that IndyCar can do what it has been promoting the most: moving the reliance on downforce from the top side to the underside of the car. Throughout this process the series has been adamant that the number one priority is to create a car that is not only visually appealing, but one that creates compelling and exciting racing. All too often in today’s open-wheel racing do you hear that it is more difficult to pass a leading car than catch said car due to clean air being taken from the front wing of the trailing driver. IndyCar is trying to solve this problem by generating more downforce from the chassis’ floor and reducing the importance of clean air on the top side of the race car.
On the surface this is great news, and something fans should be looking forward to. Though in reality, that is not the easiest of changes to implement as it relates to designing a new car. When the DW-12 was in its developmental stages we heard similar aspirations of manufacturing close racing with a brand new chassis that cut down the dependence on aerodynamics. What we as fans received in the end was a car that by its own merit has created entertaining racing, which the series has benefitted from with increasing television ratings and event attendance. At the same time, we have been stuck with a chassis that is loaded with bulky side pods, oversized rear wing assemblies and a general feeling that the car is just plain clumsy in appearance.
This is not me ragging on the Verizon IndyCar Series by any means, because they have been taking the best steps to move forward lately and American open-wheel racing owns the best momentum it has had since the dreaded split. What I am saying is that it is going to be very difficult for IndyCar to “have it both ways” by designing a beautiful car and in turn producing a car that races well, so it wouldn’t hurt to temper expectations just a tad.
To put a bow on this conversation I have a couple other thoughts not answered by the renderings IndyCar released in the past week: To begin with, what will happen to the LED position indicators previously located on the engine cover? With that region of the car being shrunk dramatically, the LED’s have been included in the newest renderings of the car where they were excluded in the original teaser photos. At last year’s Indianapolis 500 I was impressed at how well the positional read outs performed in mid-day sunlight and as a spectator on the grounds they did help keep track of drivers’ lap-by-lap position. My hope is that the LED markers make it to the final build and are included into the finished product.
Additionally, what effect will shortening the nose and reducing the rear end weight of the car have on the chassis’ center of gravity? Through the DW-12’s lifespan it’s been noted that the current-generation IndyCar is too heavy in the rear and that has adversely affected the car’s ability to race. With a more balanced race car that would allow drivers to be much more aggressive on the throttle as they exit corners on road and street circuits, which could create some tight battles (and passing opportunities) down the next straightaway.
While the process is still in its infant stages (an actual track test with the car won’t come until June at the earliest), you have to give IndyCar a small pat on the back. They have boasted some big changes, and to this point have followed through with a car that looks to be an improvement over the current product. With the toughest stages of development rapidly approaching, I feel IndyCar has earned the right for us as fans to shut up and let them do their job.
There will be enough time for critiquing next season when the car debuts, so for now let’s move forward with a small dose of optimism and get ready for another race weekend at Long Beach.