It’s January 19th, one day after Honda and Chevrolet submitted their final designs for their spiffy 2015 aerokits; a glorious day for sure. But here we sit with no images or anything really too concrete regarding what we may be in store for once the green falls in St. Petersburg.
I’m totally OK with this.
My excitement for the 2015 season, the introduction of aerokits and the new look of the IndyCar schedule has me very excited about the coming season; more so than any season in recent memory.
When was the last time we had a true development war in IndyCar? Possibly ahead of the 2005 season when we saw Dallara and Panoz contesting the championship on the chassis side and Chevy, Toyota and Honda on the engine side. That wide ocean of development was pared down to only Dallara and Honda contesting the entire 2006 season; quite the change in only one year.
The situation was even more dire on the CART/Champ Car side following the 2002 season. Honda and Toyota had departed for the IRL and Reynard Motorsport was not saved from bankruptcy.
A handful of teams soldiered on with the undeveloped Reynard chassis for two more years before finally being mothballed in favor of the Lola. And like that, CART/Champ Car’s backbone became spec equipment.
Competitive open-wheel development has been at a standstill for more year’s than many of the highly coveted new fans have been watching. And that is a tough pill to swallow. Indycar racing, in one form or another, has been built upon development and we are on the brink of seeing the next iteration of that century old knife fight.
Needless to say, I am truly looking forward to what 2015 has to offer. But while reading the flurry of excellent development articles coming from various sources, I began to wonder exactly how the DW12 was designed.
The supposed word on the street regarding the initial Dallara aerokit was that it was designed solely as a show kit ahead of the 2012 season. The intention being that other manufacturers would come on board and autoclave some new clothes for the DW12 safety cell.
As we well know, that did not happen. With no kit manufacturers on board, IndyCar and Dallara were left scrambling to push the show kit into production with minimal wind tunnel or CFD development. I do not blame either party for this decision; why develop something that would only see service for a year?
Remember back to initial Indy testing of the shiny new Dallara kit. Speeds were down… way down… 215-ish top speed down. Dallara was emphatic their chassis hit all the items on the IndyCar checklist, and a Dallara manufacturing engineer here in Indianapolis planted the blame squarely on the overweight engines being supplied.
Of course, Chevy and Honda held the line and pushed blame to Dallara. I have always wondered if the current turd of an aerokit was more to blame than chassis design or engine weight. It’s much cheaper to fix an imbalance problem by changing a-arm geometry than developing a new aerokit.
But the teams, drivers and the series marched on and developed that sorry aerokit until it could turn blistering times at nearly every facility visited.
Now enter 2015 manufacturer testing.
IndyCar and Dallara anticipated a huge increase of downforce from the new kits and proactively made downforce decreases to the existing under tray in testing as early as fall of 2014. And rightfully so, IndyCar and Dallara both knew how sloppy the existing kit was and how much potential there was to be found in the chassis.
Even with the new, less efficient floor, Honda and Chevy maxed out the suspension strength as early as October of 2014; a concerning mark to hit so soon in development. The response? IndyCar axed even more downforce by making the tunnels and diffuser more inefficient. Not the way we want the chassis to be developed in concert with these new aerokits.
I wasn’t thrilled about the initial floor change, but the need is understandable as Dallara has clearly improved the base design slowly over the past three years. But this second round of technical de-evolution is concerning.
What exactly was Dallara thinking when they OKed the suspension ahead of the 2012 season? Did they not ever expect downforce increases over the life of the chassis? Were there no actual plans to introduce manufacturer aerokits?
This malarky makes me believe that the idea of an “aerokit” was a red herring fed to us by Randy Bernard. Yet another big check written by the-starry-eyed-every-fans-best-friend that IndyCar and Dallara would be unable to cash once push came to shove.
Remember proud Randy standing in front of us with the amazing revelation to move downforce from the wings to the under tray? It did wonders for competition, but sent the wrong message regarding the evolution of the DW12.
Should I be concerned about nose to tail racing now that the downforce has moved from the floor to the wings? During the years leading up to the sweeping rules changes ahead of the 2009 Formula One season, we saw just how bad the racing can be when you continue to take away downforce from the floor and force teams to claw it back with the wings.
This is not how chassis and aero development is supposed to go. Chevy and Honda have gone above and beyond the call. They fight tooth and nail on the engine side by bringing updates as quickly as possible and utilizing the rules in an attempt to strangle the series. The inability of either to complete this task is proof positive that both manufacturers are leaving nothing on the engine development table.
The reports that both manufacturers have maxed out the stock DW12 suspension is even more credence to their commitment to winning in IndyCar. Honda and Chevy are clearly pushing the limits of what they can do within the rules and finding huge gains to complete the IndyCar choke hold.
I’ve long been a supporter of Dallara, but such poor planning and design cannot be overlooked. Neither can the memory of Randy Bernard constantly selling us on things he would ultimately fail to deliver.
Did Dallara deliver exactly what was asked within the monetary design constraints? Did Randy know he was selling a Ferrari on a Fiat budget? Did he assume there would never be aerokits, as witnessed by the DW12 design compromises, only to sell fans something he assumed would never be delivered?
I really believe the answer is ‘yes’ across the board. Randy was not a stupid man. He knew what the fans wanted and was able to sell us hope instead of giving us truth. I also believe Dallara delivered the promised chassis, but was not able to developed the flexibility needed to handle dynamic aerokits due to obvious time and budgetary concerns.
Considering how volatile the IndyCar fan base is (Myself included along with everyone reading this post) fudging the numbers may not have been the worst short-term solution. A short-term solution because he knew his time was limited and he was already tired of the noise?
Black helicopter territory now.
This racer article put the final pieces in the fishy Dallara/Bernard/IndyCar puzzle that has been rattling around for a while. I always felt Randy was a better salesman than a leader, but I was never able to clearly pinpoint the root of my concern.
Regardless of what happened years ago, the idea that we have Skunk Works level secrecy taking place in our tiny slice of motorsport heaven is almost too exciting. Honda and Chevy are primed for an epic battle and they clearly do not care if IndyCar or Dallara is there to help.
Add the renewed commitment of Firestone to increase development in 2015, we are primed for an excellent year of technical warfare the likes of which we haven’t seen in nearly a decade.
Roll on Brazilia!