Note: I have created a development timeline for the new chassis and engine package. The link is in the navigation menu up top, check back throughout the off season for updates.
Ah yes, installment number two in a series of unknown length about my take on the new Dallara IR12 Indy Safety Cell. Since the last time we chatted about the new chassis, Bryan Herta Autosport have tested the chassis at Barber Motorsports Park and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. I have a strong suspicion that the next test will be at the 1.5 mile oval of Texas Motor Speedway. However, the way the weather has been recently here in Indianapolis, if they don’t get on the big oval soon, they may run out of time in 2011. As all of my predictions this year have been the farthest thing from correct, the testing circus could unload anywhere and I would not be surprised. It would make sense to head to an oval next; after three road tests, it’s time to bolt on the speedway configuration and see what this chassis can do. From the scarce reports that have been made about testing results, it seems everything is right on track. Many laps of trouble free running seems to be the basic report from the media following track testing.
Footwell – A small area of concern in the 2012 chassis is the design and regulations of the footwell and pedal mounting locations. From what I understand of the rules so far, the petal position is a regulated area. The pedal mounting locations are specified by Dallara and they cannot be moved. Although on the surface this doesn’t seem to be a huge issue, what about the right foot brakers? The pedals will most likely be positioned for a left foot braking position. The gas and brake will be equally positioned from the center line of the chassis. This makes complete sense for a lefty, but a righty needs the brake pedal almost directly on the center line to minimize the transition time from gas to brake and back. Dictating petal position will put one or the other type of driver at a supreme disadvantage.
The footwell will, by the accounts I have heard, lack a dead pedal. This is the raised floor area on the far left of the foot well, used to rest your left foot while driving. The right foot braker needs a dead pedal to comfortably take his left leg out of the driving equation, without it a driver of this type would physically suffer. Remember the drivers legs are almost straight in a formula car, there is no floor to rest a tired leg or foot on. Both types of drivers use a dead pedal to brace themselves when ripping around corners that don’t require braking, it seems just plain mean to take away this creature comfort from any of the drivers if they wish to use one.
The Sound – We have two engine configurations to look forward too. Although the rules state a relatively open formula; turbo, maximum of six cylinders, 2.2 liter maximum displacement, the manufacturers have all decided to make V-6 engines at the full 2.2 liter displacement. The difference is in the turbo layouts. Honda had opted to design a single turbo engine, allowing use of a larger diameter unit. Chevy and Lotus have opted to go with a twin turbo layout, two smaller turbos, one on each bank of the engine.
This slight difference will lead to a large amount of piping and ducting options for the manufacturers. The Honda single turbo layout could theoretically run a single, enormous exhaust pipe as there is no need to split the exhaust into two pipes after the single turbo. The twin turbo setup would most likely use smaller pipes due to the decreased airflow produced from three cylinders and a small turbo verse six and a large turbo. The exhaust is not the only consideration to sound. Ducting to the purported standard single intercooler, regardless of engine layout, and whether the manufacturers use a diverter valve or a pop off valve will absolutely have an effect on the sound blasting from the exhaust tips.
Shark Fin Engine Cover – I know I am going to hear it for this, but I think the car should have one of those trick shark fin engine covers. In my eyes, this is a recent innovation showing a clear demarcation for the “next era” of the open wheel race car. The Formula 1 paddock has embraced this design, but for reasons beyond aesthetics. A tall, flat vertical fin down the middle of the car creates side force. This is something you hear about in NASCAR quite often and it serves the same purpose in both series’. When the car slides sideways, the outside edge of the car is exposed to wind that should be flowing over the nose. The side of the car, or shark fin engine cover, will act as a sail of sorts and push the rear of the car back in line, allowing for more aggressive corner exits. Although not always pleasing to the eye, the shark fin is a nice little aero piece that can really change the dynamics of the car. Maybe we will see one when customer aerokits are released in 2013.
Where are they going next? – I believe a test at Texas would be the next logical step in the process. The turns are wide open and there is enough banking to hold the car to the track, while not demanding the supreme mechanical grip and handling that is needed at a place like Iowa Speedway. Texas would give the new chassis the ability to stretch its wings, while leaving a little wiggle room to work through an ill handling racecar before finding a baseline setup. With the possibility of super speedway-esque events being ubiquitous for the 2012 season; Fontana, Texas, Kentucky, Las Vegas, possibly Chicagoland and the its-possible-but-a-huge-stretch of Charlotte, getting good laps under the belt is a must to insure the chassis is ready to assault these adrenaline fueled tracks in 2012.
The more I think about the new chassis and engine, the more exited I get. It has been a very long time since American open wheel fans have had new technology to look forward to. When the new car hits the track in late March of next year during the St. Petersburg Grand Prix, it will be two weeks shy of five years since the DP01 took to the streets of Las Vegas. If Lotus doesn’t end up making it to the game, Honda and Chevy have some sort of safety net in the works. Even considering the loss of Lotus and the delay of aerokits, there is still an amazing amount of new technology on the horizon for the INDYCAR series. With the good weather days quickly coming to an end in the north, it will be very interesting to see how the chassis development and team testing plays out throughout the fall and into the winter.