How I Saw It… 2012 Super Review Part 1: Nuts and Bolts Edition

2012 will be remembered for close racing and an entirely new chassis/engine package that revolutionized the on-track product in the INDYCAR series. Not revolutionized, no, it was more of a renaissance of sorts. A return to a more historically correct version of what many people see as big-time open-wheel racing in the US. People don’t notice these sorts of things overnight, and if there as a more perfect way to start the true road to recovery, I think we are finally headed down a path with some semblance of sense and quality decision making. The new equipment quickly quieted the nay-sayers as it delivered some of the hottest racing in 2012.

Engines – 2012 saw the introduction of both a freshly designed chassis as well as a new engine formula. The 2.2 liter direct injected turbo engines were extolled as the saviors of the series and the first tangible link to the turbocharged past that American open-wheel racing has been angling to return to. What we received was a bit more muted than we all expected. Admittedly, no one was expecting the 900 horsepower fire breathing monsters of years past, however I still cannot shake the feeling of being somewhat underwhelmed by final product.

At 12,000 rpm, these are the highest revving direct injected engines in the world. Impressive, and technologically distinct in the motorsports world, but they don’t have that sound. You shouldn’t need to see the track to know cars are whipping around; you should be able to feel it. The exhaust-muting turbochargers don’t even give that distinctive whine heard in years past. As a visceral experience, the new engine formula never totally enveloped me when I witnessed them in the flesh. But hearing those turbos dump their boost onto the hot exhaust tips made up for quite a bit of sustained volume.

All of that is forgivable, and I hope Honda and Chevy can find some more power with the seven months of development that is the offseason. I don’t think it is totally ridiculous to ask these engines to make 600 to 650 horsepower in speedway trim and 800 for road and street courses and short ovals. Over 20 years ago, 1.5 liter turbo engines that made nearly 1000 horses in race trim were the winning formula in F1. Let’s see how far we can go with direct-injected technology; we definitely are headed down a good road with the engine formula. An indycar is supposes to be scary because of its power, not from the handling.

Chassis – What started development as an absolute pig at the Speedway, ended its maiden season proving it could attack any type of racing environment with composure and repeatability. The DW12 more than overcame the expected growing pains experienced early on. Dallara proved they were committed to the series, and the fans, by continually developing the chassis until it became the fearsome competitor seen carrying drivers to the 15 checkered flags seen this year.

Throughout the entire year, we were treated to action not seen in many other forms of motorsports, let alone our little open-wheeled haven. Barber was one of the best road races I have even seen in terms of action throughout the field. All of the ovals were true tests of driver skill, team communication and engineering acumen again, not seen in the series in quite a while. From what we were expecting when the green flag fell in St Petersburg, to what we witnessed take the checkers in Fontana, I can definitively say the car accomplished more than what I ever could have imagined Dallara could have provided.

Is it beautiful? Maybe, maybe not, but in racing form usually follows function, and I can forgive any complaints about the looks if we continue to have racing like this. Honestly, it really doesn’t look too terribly awful after watching a partial season of F1 side-by-side a full season of indycar racing. Aerokits for next year? I’m so back and forth on the subject that I don’t know if I’m totally sold on the idea we need them if it would help the entities that make up indycar help revitalize the sport in other ways. But the manufacturers have been asking for them and I doubt they haven’t already spent some cash looking into their feasibility and possible initial design concepts.

Throw a moderate horsepower increase and a hair more downforce in relation to added power onto this thing and we could have a modern day classic in the makes right before our very eyes. The chassis has proven it could use a kick in the pants and the drivers seem to think it could as well. Now, to get those pesky engine manufacturers on board…

Track Selection – Although a true 50/50 split between ovals and twisties would be ideal, the thirds method of scheduling that thrust CART into the limelight was nearly replicated in 2012. I have given my opinions as to why the thirds scheduling is not the worst idea in the world, but we are not quite there. With only three natural terrain road courses: Barber, Mid-Ohio and Sonoma, there is a very obvious hole in the “most diverse series in the world” claim. I would love more ovals on the championship trail, but balance needs to be found in other areas as well. Natural terrain road courses are often negatively lumped into the same hate-filled pile at street courses. This is unfair, and with the amount of historic and high quality road courses in North America, one would think this would be a good route to take in schedule expansion, yet we haven’t caught wind of a single one looking to be added next year. Maybe the at-the-track business model is in a bit more trouble than we thought.

All in all, the nuts and bolts of 2012 were pretty well in place. If we ignore the farce that was the China round and glaze over the three week hole in the schedule created by it, the racing was fantastic and the equipment proved to be up to snuff in this initial development year. Power showed that even though the schedule is twistie heavy, you have to be on your game no matter how successful you are in one of the disciplines. Exploding engines didn’t become a factor in the championship story and they more than adequately powered the DW12 into the history books as possibly one of the raciest chassis ever to be created for indycar racing.

Next Wednesday I will dive into the people and “soft” aspects of the 2012 season as well a few final thoughts about what the heck we witnessed this year. From then throughout the off-season you can expect a single weekly post on Wednesday until the run into the 2013 campaign next March. And as always, thank you for reading!

Eric Hall

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