In a grand unveiling at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the Verizon IndyCar Series pulled out all the stops they had in an effort to market their 2018 universal aero kit. The new bodywork, set to debut officially in the Streets of St. Petersburg in March, has been met with rave reviews from fans, drivers and series executives alike.
On hand for the festivities included racing legend Mario Andretti, Team Penske owner Roger Penske, IndyCar president of competition Jay Frye, Hulman and Co. president and CEO Mark Miles, General Motors president Mark Reuss, American Honda Motor Inc. senior vice president Henio Arcangeli Jr., and the defending IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden.
While the press conference began with Miles giving a small state of IndyCar-like address, it was the informative presentation that Newgarden conducted that drew the attention and excitement of those watching at the auto show and online at IndyCar’s various streaming platforms.
Oozing enthusiasm for the new IndyCar configuration, Newgarden explained the nuances of this new aero kit that will allow for closer, better racing than the manufacturer aero kit era produced.
As part of the newly designed IndyCar, the entire chassis has been lowered from the previous aero kit era. This will allow the underside of the car to produce more downforce that cannot be affected by racing in traffic – a critical issue with the manufacturer aero kits.
Newgarden explains, “We’ve actually lowered the car in speedway configuration, so we’ve reconfigured the floor of the car – or the underwing we’ll call it – so that we can get the car lowered. It actually makes 6 percent more downforce from the underwing.”
While fans have been excited to eliminate the rear wheel pods that made for a very gaudy back end of the car, a few supporters of IndyCar continue to lament the wheel ramps that have remained in place just before those rear tires.
During the discussion, Newgarden noted that these wheel ramps serve a very important purpose in generating crucial amounts of downforce. Their presence is necessary as IndyCar has stripped much of the top-side downforce away from the car.
“The tire ramp is really critical, actually. We’ve got to keep the drag low on this car if we want to meet our qualifying speed targets at Indianapolis,” said the Tennessee native. “If you want to do speeds of 240, 245 miles per hour, you’ve got to have a low drag configuration. You’ve got to have a coefficient that works to get you those numbers.
“This tire ramp is a little bit leaner, it’s a little sleeker looking, but it’s still going to give us those drag numbers we’re looking for to get the qualifying speeds at Indianapolis.”
In reviewing other parts of the car, Newgarden noted that with the removal of those rear pods as well as beam wickers in the speedway configuration, the car has shed nearly 35 pounds of weight.
The weight distribution and center of gravity has been moved forward, which again, will help drivers follow each other more closely when racing in tight quarters.
As a result of the drastic downforce reconfiguration, Newgarden added that the new aero kit will force teams to start fresh on setup notebooks – primarily on street courses.
“Any development that (teams) had setup-wise on street courses I think is going to be thrown out the window,” Newgarden stated.
“I think we’re all going to have to work really hard to figure out what this car wants. Essentially the car is more lively. It slides around a lot more. You have to be comfortable with it moving underneath you, particularly on corner entry. Drivers are going to struggle to find their footing on their braking and getting into the corner. The rear is really wanting to come around on you.”
In video footage from testing last week at Sebring International Raceway, the images standby that statement. Newgarden continued on that narrative by making note of tire management, and how crucial conserving those Firestone skins will be for the 2018 season and beyond.
“It’s really going to be about managing tires over stints – I think that will be difficult, which is a good thing,” said Newgarden. “It’s really going to make it hard on the driver to last through the entire race stints.”
In closing, the reigning series champion reiterated that this was a unanimous voice in the paddock looking for change.
“The drivers definitely got what they asked for. We wanted a car that was more difficult to drive, that really put it more into our control,” Newgarden said. “That makes us valuable. I mean, teams pay us to drive these cars at the limit, and we want to showcase our worth to the team.
“I enjoy driving it on the limit, and I think there’s a lot of good drivers in the field that are going to appreciate that aspect from the car.”
It isn’t often that you see a defending series champion lobbying for change, or to be excited about it. To have Josef Newgarden excited about a new car and separating himself from the field even more, is a dangerous combination. The rest of the field will be on high alert for Team Penske’s No. 1 entry in 2018.
Listed below is the full presentation from IndyCar’s universal aero kit unveiling at the North American International Auto Show.
Images and video courtesy of IndyCar.