The Chassis I Would Pick

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It’s more than a little pretentious and presumptuous of me to even discuss what chassis I would pick for the 2012 Izod IndyCar Series. It’s not as if it really matters what I think, but it’s my site so I guess it’s my prerogative. I swore to myself that I would leave the great chassis debate alone for a few days. How much more was there to say? There had been so much bloviating about the virtues and evils of each chassis; my brain had become tired of the whole discussion. If I had grown weary of it, I was pretty sure most others had too. Then Lola released the pictures of their proposed chassis, and everything started over again. At least, now we knew that we had everything in hand to complete the discussion. Well…almost everything. I think everyone, myself included, would like a more concrete explanation of the entire DeltaWing concept and how it can be utilized by other manufacturers.

Based strictly on the looks of the four concepts that have been released over the last ten days or so, I don’t think my taste coincides with most people. While even most supporters of the DeltaWing concept believe the car we saw last week to be completely hideous, opinions seem mixed on most of the other cars we saw. It seems most people are fans of the Swift chassis. I don’t put myself in that camp.

I know I’m older and more conservative  than most. There are  some things I liked about the Swift, but I can’t get past the partially exposed engine. I’m not completely married to the past, though. When the  designers started completely covering the engines with the cowling in the late seventies and early eighties, I thought it made the cars look so much sleeker. I’m certainly no aero dynamist, but that semi-exposed engine treatment does not look streamlined at all.

The three Dallara concepts were panned by most, but I think it is because they had the name Dallara  attached to them. I really thought the first Dallara concept was a much better looking car than the current Dallara, but it looked too much like a CART chassis from the nineties for most people’s tastes. The second Dallara was attractive also and it seemed like a nice evolution. I think had it been labeled a Swift, Reynard or Panoz it would have been better received, but the name Dallara has gotten a well-received bad name among fans and team owners. I thought the red concept from Dallara looked like a bad Roy Hobbson leisure suit, until I saw the DeltaWing. Suddenly it looked like a fashionably safe choice.

But if I had to choose ONE chassis manufacturer for the 2012 Izod IndyCar chassis, my choice would be Lola. I know most people don’t agree with me but hear me out. I don’t think it is the best looking or sexiest car design submitted, but there are other components to it that appeal to me. Like DeltaWing and Dallara, Lola has pledged to build the car in central Indiana. Swift is based in California and apparently plans to build the car on the west coast. I think it’s important for the chassis manufacturer to be near where most of the teams are located.

The Lola also seems to offer a variety of subtle and not so subtlelola1 aerodynamic choices, putting some decisions back in the hands of the teams and engineers. But the most unique part of the Lola package, which I think pushes the deal to the top, is making the tub and nose inter-changeable for running in both the Firestone Indy Lights and the Izod IndyCar Series. This is big for several reasons. It will make the Firestone Indy Lights Series more relevant than ever and it will become a true training ground for the top series. Making the FIL car look and sound like the IICS car should help promote the series among casual fans. Most casual fans in NASCAR cannot tell the difference between a Nationwide car and a Sprint Cup car, which probably helps the Nationwide series. I think this same logic could transfer to the IRL.

It will also make it easier and cheaper for aspiring FIL teams to move up to the IICS as well. Not lost in all of this is the ability to make it easier to field cars for the Indianapolis 500, just in the odd chance that filling it is a challenge some years.

Lola is a company with a rich tradition of building different types of racing cars. Their connection to the Indianapolis 500 dates back to 1965 when Al Unser drove a Lola in his rookie year as a teammate to AJ Foyt who was driving a Lotus. Unser finished ninth in the Lola’s debut. The following year, Graham Hill drove his Lola to Victory Lane in the crash marred 1966 Indy 500. Although Lola was by far the dominant chassis in the early nineties, it won only once at Indy in that time frame when Arie Luyendyk was a surprise winner in 1990. In other Indy appearances, it was upstaged by the Penske chassis or the obscure Galmer in 1992. Then when The Reynard surfaced, Lola was loosing its stronghold on the CART series. This also happened to be the time that Bruce Ashmore left Lola as Chief Designer (in 1993) and was replaced ironically by Ben Bowlby who has now penned the DeltaWing concept.

Bowlby oversaw some of the low points in Lola’s open-wheel history. His controversial 1997 design was disastrous, as teams struggled to get a grip on the setup. This also coincided with Lola’s failed attempt at Formula One and ultimately financial disaster. The company went into receivership and the Lola name was salvaged when Martin Birrane acquired the company in 1998. Their fortunes turned around at the beginning of this century when Bowlby designed a new Lola and the company regained its place atop CART/Champ Car until the Panoz DP-01 replaced the Lola for the 2007 season.

Am I guilty of reaching to the recent past by leaning towards the Lola? Perhaps, but I also like the concept of utilizing the same chassis for both the Firestone Indy Lights and the Izod IndyCar Series. To me, that is a point that sets this concept apart from the rest. So if it were up to me to pick ONLY one chassis, and I thank God that it is not – I would pick the Lola. I pity the poor soul who has to pick one and then thanks the other companies for their time.

Of course, I’m like most fans that clamor for multiple chassis. I know the desired business model supposedly doesn’t allow for that, but I hope against hope that someone can come up with a solution where it is financially feasible. Those that claim to understand the full concept behind the DeltaWing swear that that is the main advantage. If it is, I’m willing to take a closer look at it…if only it weren’t so ugly.

George Phillips

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25 Responses to “The Chassis I Would Pick”

  1. oilpressure Says:

    I think some DeltaWing zealots are trying to stuff the ballot box. There is a disproportionately high number of votes for 6:00 am, yet the normal amount of traffic for this time. C’mon y’all…it’s not like this is official or anything. – GP

  2. George, maybe you should be flattered by the high number of DW votes. It could mean that Robin Miller and Marshall Pruett set the alarm clock to get up early to check out your blog ;-)

    OK, now on to business. I thought the Lola concept to have the FIL and ICS chassis share a common base design was a wonderful idea. However, I think that it overstates things a bit when people make the claim that it will make the FIL a true feeder series. Maybe I’m off base, but the problem for drivers moving up from FIL to ICS is not due to the jump in technology, but due to a lack of seats and $$$ in ICS. Heck, even proven top level talent is having problems getting a seat, when owners have to turn to ride buyers to pay the bills.

    The more I have seen of all the designs and mulled them over, the more I have come to the begrudging conclusion, that with the exception of the current tricycle design of the DW, I could live with any of them provided they reduce the cost of competing to a point that owners can get away from ride buyers and start hiring the best talent out there. Ultimately it is the Drivers that will save IndyCar, not the chassis. The DP-01 was a nice design, but it couldn’t save Champ Car. Sure, diehards like us get into the tech side of the sport, but 90% of the casual fans couldn’t tell you the difference between the Lola-Swift-Dallara designs above, other than that they look “kinda different.”

    As you have said before, Indy began to lose it’s luster when the Foyt-Andretti-Unser generation began to retire. Since that time (early 90’s) the connection between American sports fans and Indy has declined precipitously. It was the rivalries of these household, American drivers that made the sport intriguing for the bulk of the fans. Not the chassis they drove. Just like it was the Yarborough vs. Allison fight in the 79′ Daytona 500 that put NASCAR on the map.

    NASCAR got into the same funk that Indy did, and in the last 10 years since the death of Dale Sr., forgot that it was the drivers that people were tuning in to see. After watching their ratings decline, they seem to have figured it out and are at least acknowledging that they need to let the personalities express themselves in the hope that folks will tune in to either root for their hero, or root against their “villain”

    Indy is going to need to fix that aspect of the sport if it is going to survive. Reducing the cost of racing, and opening up the option to put the best talent in the seats is the first step to making that happen. If the chassis (or “concept”) they choose accomplishes that, it will be successful.

  3. Reminds me of a political regime, having totalitarian aspirations. I(Ideologically based on a relationship between business and the centralized government, business-and-government control of the market place, repression of criticism or opposition, a leader cult and exalting the state above individual rights.) Originally only applied (usually capitalized) to Benito Mussolini’s Italy. Down with fascism in America!

    I also like the Lola…just saw it yesterday. Since IRL is a series beginning with young drivers, this car ( kart – open wheel) is obviously the best choice. Jenson Button has many advertisements for Swift in UK; from kart parks for the public to access amateur racing to the pro-track, Swift is available today!
    Lola got my vote, though!

    LOL when I read the aero-space would be involved in Delta WIng. Very presumptious. Also it takes many engineers (like at a Penslke-Saturn) to make a vehicle that is safe and road ready. University competitions are usually the beginning of a concept, not the result. Racing the production of a Kit Car is really not Indy…\

    Kit- car racing might be fun for the nerdy college kids that are already highly involved in experiments. The Indy crowd, not so much.

  4. Andy Bernstein Says:

    My dog Blovi woke me up this morning, so I stopped in to vote.

    When I checked to see why that old hound had been causing such a fuss, I noticed my goldfish was missing.

    Blovi ate her.

  5. It just seems like the Delta Wing idea is still in development and is several years away. And one thing the series doesn’t need is to work out potential problems with a chassis in public and on a race course.

    I like the yellow Dallara. And it just seems like the best course at this time would be to stick with Dallara. They’ve said they’ll build in Indy, they’ve had years to work out safety issues, and they’ve said they can build them cheaper. I know it’s the conservative choice and if the sponsors, television money and fans were flocking to the series, maybe I’d think more outside the box.

    • I the delta wing idea is still in development then what do you call the other three?

      Delta wing has a fully designed prototype including a six axis cut foam model that has already seen the wind tunnel and components already out for manufacture with the expectation of not just a rolling chassis, but a fully functional car capable of 200mph by august

      Meanwhile Lola hired chip foose to sketch a car with random bits that are unidentifiable and a PR guy who declared that their design will create “gladiatorially close racing”. (which is code for lots of drag and not too much horsepower so nobody can get away. AKA the Dallara plan)

      Bowlby can tell you how much his car will weigh within 20 pounds. The others are busy saying “what do you want your car to look like?” and you think that the risk of working out the chassis problems in public lies with the Deltawing?

      Nevermjnd the fact that unless the deltawing engine concept is adopted and turbo 4’s are used then there is NO NEW ENGINE for the Lola, Swift or Dallara because we are past the Honda deadline for having any alternative to the existing lease for 2012. That means costs aren’t actually coming down and the series will not become a financially viabe business.

      Using crayons to draw a car that includes a sponsor thar is no longer on board for a full season does not change that.

      • I assumed Dallara would use past experience from having developed and built the old chassis and therefore the learning curve on a new chassis would be shortened. And I assumed the DW would need a lot more track time as it never existed anywhere before except on a computer. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the DW concept, I’m not anti-DW.

  6. loose_lugnut Says:

    One thing about the DW concept, is that the business model has shown to be right. While the folks at Swift have shown their chassis to be very expenive and needing another large engine to get it up to speed. While I really like the Lola design, I’m a businessman, and business wise the DW concept, while really ugly, is a very beatiful price. And while fans demands may be a very “cool” design, more than likely, economics will be the order of the day.

  7. I do have questions about the DW–sorry to post again so quickly. But I’ve heard it would be considerably cheaper than the other tubs–how would that be considering all the R&D that would have to be done?

    And also–would the DW still use the 6 cyl. Honda engine? Because–and I could be so wrong on this–I thought I read that Honda would be the sole supplier still and that they only want to make the 6 cyl. And I thought the DW used a 4-cyl. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    • The idea with the DW is that the engine would be non-stressed, which means that the rear bulkhead and rear suspension mounting points would be designed so that they don’t bolt directly to the engine. This would allow people do build any number of adapters to mount any number of engines (provided they phisically fit) in the DW. Presumably, they would design the base design of the car so that a 2-liter 4-cylinder turbo unit or a Honda V6 unit, or anything similar to those two layouts would be able to fit. You probably wouldn’t be able to fit the current Honda engine or an old 2.65-liter turbo V8, but those are the sorts of engines that the entire world is going away from.

      Anyway, my point is that with the DW, we could see up to or maybe even more than a half-dozen types and/or makes of engines in cars.

  8. From a business perspective, “the profits” would just line the pockets of the Delta Wing Owners…Some of them should go back to the playboy mansion and chill out while the other block of voters get a real chance to examine the business model. Forget the racing model, that is still laughable, although the guards a doing a good job of keeping their concept in the forefront. Silencing the fans is one way but if the fans stop buying the products of the sponsors (like in NASCAR) then they will have to listen. The owners only get one vote. then the CEO, then Brian Barnhardt (who already said he likes Dallara-for their generous offer and for the fact that you don’t have to break what is not yet fully broken. Aero- Space engineers are not really paid enough as it is and parts manufacturing is very expensive….

  9. What’s more surprising to me than Lola leading (at this time), is Delta THING being in second place! The Lola is OK, but Delta THING in second place? Must be a lot of people smoking crack, voting, and stuffing the ballot box.

    Swift is the only way to go. It looks like the future of IndyCar without being ridiculous.

    Bottom line: I’d be happy with any one of the proposals, EXCEPT Delta THING.

  10. Swift to me has the best design, but I voted for Lola for the same reasons George mentioned. The fact that they are willing to build the chassis in Indianapolis and essentially make cars for both IndyCar and Indy Lights would be the deal-clincher for me.

    However, I also agree with what Tom G. wrote. The average fan can’t tell the difference between a Dallara, a Lola, or a Swift-they certainly can with the Delta Wing-but it’s really about the drivers and the marketing. The chassis is important, but the driver even more so.

    • Hear, hear! I also prefer for Lola for the same reasons — proven manufacturer, proven technology, proven (conventional) appearance and FIL/IICS commonality which provides for more sales of chassis and greater economy of scale (and lower prices, I’d hope). And yes, if it’s a spec-car series, the drivers are the stars and ought to be promoted by the Series, teams’ sponsors and drivers’ sponsors. Let’s see and hear about rivalries and heroes and villans.

  11. Gurney Eagle Says:

    My untrained eye sees little difference among the designs of the three conventional builders. One thing in Dallara’s favor is that its current model is unquestionably safe. If Lola and Swift can prove that they can match Dallara’s safety record then I don’t care which one is chosen. Otherwise stick with Dallara.

  12. Some funny debates on here. As far as the “business” perspective goes, it doesn’t matter how little it costs if you can’t sell it. That is lesson 1. Revenue vs cost drives business decisions, not costs alone. I think the DW was engineered to be an elegant engineering solution but one very important aspect of design, which is often overlooked by engineers, is aesthetics. U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi.

    Absent actual competition among chassis builders, I prefer the Lola for the exact reasons that George posted above. It may not be the prettiest but they are all similar (I think the Swift is prettiest). It looks like they have considered safety and they give choice among chassis. I especially like the idea of the Lights guys using the same chassis/nosecone. The guys over at TracksideOnline had a great suggestion to let Lola supply that chassis/nosecone combo and safety parts, and then let teams “finish” the car. I think that’d be cool.

  13. The Dallara concepts were LAME. Had nothing to do with the name Dallara being attached as the Lights car is a Dallara (& I like it). Dallara also makes interesting race cars through out the world.

    The maroon colored Dallara was a cleaned up version of the current car :idea: The Yellow one was the current car with no air box & a DP01 inspired side pod. The bright red Dallara was no more than “copying” your classmates DW homework :!:

    The Lola looks like a 2008 era F1 car (without the airbox) Too many aero bits hanging off it & some half-a$$ed attempt to prevent wheel to wheel contact :roll: IMO all this will lead to is cut tires & ruined races. I do like the Lola’s focus on a common tub for the Lights teams.

    The Swift is still my favorite, but I do fear it will still use a high HP motor & not attract a variety of engines. The exposed engine concept is also interesting as it would showcase the mechanical bits (including the engine). Love the exposed look on Moto GP style motorcycles so why not on the new Indycars :?:

  14. More important than which chassis design wins a cutsie competition (on account of there being something else that will come along, and none of these will ever be produced) is whether or not the Izod Indy Car Series will still be the Izod Indy Car Series, or will it be the Office Depot Indy Car Series or maybe the Van der Molen Refuse Collection Indy Car Series, or better yet, the Jugs Catering Indy Car Series with festivities held at the American Scatological Society Pagoda!

  15. The reason multiple chassis are a bad idea is the cost of the competition is just too high. IRL inst F1. Its not a global sport except for maybe the 500. There isn’t a budget to constantly develop a chassis to be better than the guy at the front of the grid. By only selecting one maker that eliminates that spending. Worry about the series surviving before you worry about more than one chassis constructor.

    Lola first
    Swift second
    Dallara design 2 third

    Delta wing–ugly as sin. Concept behind it might be fine but it doesn’t matter if it looks like that. The guy helped run Lola to the ground you said? I cannot imagine why.

  16. Swift #32. BAM! Right there. It’s the first racecar I’ve ever looked at and let out a reflexive, quite audible “whoa.” (I think that car popped my gearhead cherry. So there.)

  17. George: Re-reading your article, is it really fair to tag Ben Bowlby with all of Lola’s disasters :?: The Lola F1 effort doesn’t seem to have ONE credited designer & previous F1 Lolas had served their customers well (considering the $$$ invested compared to the top teams)

    Yes, the 1997 Lola was disappointing but Reynard had most of CART’s top teams using their chassis & really were on a roll. Again was Bowlby credited as the main designer/ engineer of the ’97 Lola Indycar :?: The same year saw the introduction of the Lola Indy Lights car… a HUGE improvement over the aging March “Wildcat” chassis.

    Bowlby’s other Lola efforts seemed to draw praise & IMO the Lola that got replaced by the DP01 was better in looks & performance than the Panoz

  18. Luca

    The Chassis I Would Pick | Oilpressure

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