Was It Worth The Wait?

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Yesterday was IndyCar Media Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The timing was great for me. I live in the south where snow removal equipment is kept to a minimum number. As a result, the few times a decade that we get a significant accumulation of snow and ice – the city is paralyzed. Yesterday was one of those days, as I got an e-mail early yesterday morning saying that our offices were closed. It worked for me – that freed me up to watch the entire media event streamed onto my television through Apple TV, while I laid in bed. God, I love technology.

I watched the press conference with James Hinchcliffe and Graham Rahal, which preceded the obligatory appearances by Mark Miles and Derrick Walker. Not much new came from that, except that Mark Miles reiterated that he was happy with the current mix of ovals and non-ovals, and that Walker was asked (again) about Brian Barnhart. No earth-shattering responses came from either of those two.

But then, it was time for the main event – the unveiling of the Chevrolet aero kits – before other drivers spoke later in the day. It had been widely assumed that Chevy was going to show us our first glimpse at the highly anticipated aero kits yesterday, but it had not been confirmed until Walker mentioned it in one of his comments – about two minutes before Chevy was to take the floor.

We suffered through all of the PR history of Chevrolet, how successful they were in many forms of racing last year and the hard work the designers put into the new kit. All the while, I was already looking at pictures of the new kit.

Oddly enough, pictures of the new kits hit Twitter about ten minutes before Chevy even took the stage – such is the world we live in. Here are pictures (in order) of last year’s DW12, the front view of the 2015 Chevy road course kit, the rear view and then a picture with many of the changes labeled. Altogether, the Chevy kit accounts for 123 new parts for last year’s Dallara. If you haven’t seen them yet, look them over and then I’ll offer my thoughts.

2014_DW12_Illustration_Front_Final

Chevy Front

Chevy Rear

Chevy Changes

As you can imagine, there was no shortage of opinions on social media. Contrary to popular belief by some; Twitter is not for kids. Nor am I a sixty year-old man (I’m 56) that likes to tweet whenever I sit on the couch while eating a sandwich. Instead, I have a Twitter account (@Oilpressureblog) to learn IndyCar news quickly – long before it hits the normal news outlets; as demonstrated by seeing the aero kit photos ten minutes before Chevy unveiled them. As a blogger, I’m also curious to read the reactions of fans on different topics. The reactions don’t sway my opinions, but they give me an indication of how few or how many agree with my take.

As it is many times, my take on the Chevy aero kit is different than most. Opinions were many, varied and at far ends of the spectrum. I saw the words, beautiful, hideous, radical and boring tossed about all day. Sometimes, I wondered if we had all looked at the same car. Many focused on all the winglets and flips that are pasted all over the body-work. The first thing I noticed was the presence of the air box intake that was over the driver’s head. It was my impression that those would be going away. I’ve always considered the air box to be very unsightly and bulky. I had hoped that when turbochargers were reintroduced in 2012, that they would disappear then. Regrettably, they stayed. Now my only hope is that Honda will do away with it when their kit is unveiled at the Barber Motorsports Park Museum, on March 15th – the night before the open test.

If I had to sum up my thoughts in one word about yesterday’s unveiling, it would be – yawn! I didn’t hate it, nor did I love it. I was just very underwhelmed. I’m not sure it was worth the wait.

Keep in mind, I am not a gearhead, and I am certainly not an engineer. I don’t try to be some of the pseudo-engineers floating around that know just enough to be dangerous – and arrogant. I am looking at this new car through the eyes of a casual fan who needs to be able to see a big difference in order to discern between a Honda, a Chevy and last year’s DW12. You and I will be able to tell the difference. But will they? In the nineties, I was always amazed when I heard people say they couldn’t tell the difference between a Lola, a Penske and a Reynard. Obviously, the differences need to be drastic before the casual fan knows the difference.

When I glance at the new Chevy, to me it looks like a normal DW12 with a bunch of winglets stuck on in random places. I tend to look at the front of a car first. The nose of this car looks basically the same, but the front wing has a bunch of junk added to it that makes for a cluttered mess. Afterwards, I see that the rear-end looks a good bit different – not better, but different. The rear “bumper” is bigger with yet another winglet stuck on.

To me, the biggest improvement in the looks of the car is at the back of the sidepod, just ahead of the rear wheel. Gone is the hideous bulbous sidepod of the DW12. Instead, there is a flip-up leading to a much more streamlined looking cone to enclose the wheel and improve airflow. Whether it translates to speed on the track remains to be seen, but it sure does look better.

A closer inspection shows that there are all sorts of little aero devices all over the place. There seems to be a lot going on, which obviously yields more downforce. Just how much downforce? Jim Campbell, Chevrolet Vice-President of Motorsports, wouldn’t say – it’s a competitive secret. He stressed that they tried to strike a balance of form and function.

There is nothing as useless as a beautiful racecar that is slow – the 1994 Lola comes to mind. Then again, the series wants something to be somewhat aesthetically pleasing to keep the fan base happy. But if a car is fast and racy, the looks are secondary. I always considered the Reynard of the mid-nineties to be one of the ugliest cars out there at the time. But it raced circles around all of its competition that included the Lola, Penske, Swift and Eagle. So much so, that Roger Penske ditched his own chassis in favor of customer Reynards in 2000. That move led to two straight CART championships before Team Penske moved over to the IRL full-time in 2002.

We have heard for the past few months that one of the two aero kits was radically different. I’m going to assume now, that the radical car is the Honda. Some people on Twitter have much different definitions for the word radical. What I saw yesterday did not look radical to me. The Chevy aero kit looked more like a tweak, rather than a radical makeover.

Perhaps my expectations were too high. Maybe Chevy changed all they could within the given parameters. It could be that the rulebook is not nearly as open as we thought. Who knows? This could end up being the radical car – but I don’t think so.

I’m thinking (and hoping) that Honda is the manufacturer that took the bigger risk and came out with a kit that makes the car look drastically different from the DW12. If that’s the case, I hope they are rewarded with a better performing car on the track – no matter how ugly or beautiful it is. The safe thing would have been to stick close to the original DW12 design and tweak it a little with a few winglets here and there. To completely start off with a clean sheet of paper – as much as you could within the rules – would have been the bigger risk.

I admire those that don’t settle for the status quo in racing. Sometimes it pays off, as it did with Roger Penske’s pushrod Mercedes in 1994. Sometimes it backfires, as was the case with Bobby Rahal when he took over the Truesports chassis in 1993, rather than go with the status quo Lola like everyone else. Rahal ended up being the butt of many jokes, but you have to admire his going out on a limb and taking the risk he did. Chip Ganassi wasn’t happy being one of many Lola customers. That’s why he took a chance on Adrian Reynard and his new chassis in 1994. Suddenly, Ganassi’s gamble became the new standard.

That’s what I hope is the case with Honda. Unless some pictures leak out on Twitter, we won’t see the Honda for almost another month. But I’m hoping I’m right and it doesn’t look like the slightly updated Chevy version of the DW12. If it’s dramatically different, I’ll be pulling for the Honda teams because they dared to be different. If not, we’ll all sit and wonder why detractors will continue to call the Verizon IndyCar Series a spec series.

George Phillips

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36 Responses to “Was It Worth The Wait?”

  1. Brian in Florida Says:

    First to vote again … I see so much ugliness and so many parts to break off in accidents.

  2. Very, very cool. I may be in the minority, but I liked the DW12. This version is even better!

  3. Any aero kit is a design compromise between down force and down right drag and should be based on the sum of the known driving conditions or tracks and the number and difficulty of their corners and straightaways. I am no fan of Chevy necessarily but they have clearly put a good deal of thought into not only adding down force but also how to properly direct airflow up and over wheel and tire area and with interior and exterior end plates and flips, over the entire car and in particular the rear wing area. It would also be interesting to see the underside tray and rear diffuser area. Haters are not going to like it because it isn’t pretty, I am betting you are going to see some happy Chevy drivers this year.. On to Honda next…

    • PS… The air box provides two major functions. 1. It helps tie all of the parts a day pieces aft of the cockpit together, incliding the roll hoop and fair it all down to a low drag point at the rear of the car. 2. I will also bet that maintaining the engine air inlet at that point above the drivers head provides a significant amount of additional ram air boost prior to being fed through the turbo.

  4. You can’T make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Looks like it’s made out of LEGO blocks

  5. I wish the bottom half wasn’t painted so dark, so I could see it better. All the little bits and pieces look sorta ugly and fragile, also seems like expenses could rise as they are broken off.

    Love the change in the sidepod. All in all, an improvement–but I guess I (not being an engineer) pictured something sleeker, with more actual body modifications and less of those bits and pieces.

    Agree with those who say it’s not really about looks, it’s about performance. I doubt non-fans will see much difference, so unless Honda is much different I doubt this will (by itself) attract new fans, if that was ever the hope.

    Aerokits are better than no aerokits.

  6. I like the DW12 and I like the “tweak” from Chevrolet. This is pretty much what I expected so I am not disappointed. Obviously, it is racy and I hear that the Penske boys enjoy the added speed. Also, I don’t think fans who are not devout like those of us who read blogs, will even notice.

  7. Doug Gardner Says:

    Pretty much what I expected. A few more widgets and winglets. They key will be that Honda gets theirs right regardless of the appearance. If one manufacturer is way ahead of the other the competitive balance that has been the bell cow for Indycar will disappear. However, If Honda is the one superior fans may like it because it edges out the Big guys of Ganassi and Penske

  8. I like it and am excited to see how both kits perform.

  9. “Mark Miles reiterated that he was happy with the current mix of ovals and non-ovals”

    Terrible news and it overshadowed everything else in your blog. Indycar management remains clueless.

    Earrings on a Pig. The car is hideous already, especially with the bumpers on the rear wheels. Can’t say the aerokits made it look any better, but could they have anyway? Lets hope they improve the cars performance.

    • I too just shook my head about Miles and his happiness with the current mix of track types. I am surprised he didn’t pat himself on the back again about stopping by Labor Day. He really is out of his league.

      As for the aero, let’s see this car run. I am holding out my opinion until I see it in action. Also let’s hope that Honda has something radical (can’t imagine that though).

  10. It looks better than the old one to me. However, those things on the front wing labeled ‘Upper’ appear to be custom made tire slicers.

  11. The Lapper Says:

    What did you expect?! Not at any time did I think it was going to be as radical as turning an old VW Beetle into a Dune Buggy. From initial reports the car is faster and I think that has been the major complaint.

  12. billytheskink Says:

    I would definitely want to be a front wing upper salesman at Toronto and Detroit.

    Open wheel road racing cars have been moving in this goofy, over-winged direction for years, so the Chevy aerokit was not a big surprise. I don’t think it is especially attractive, but the prettiest race car I ever saw was the 2000 Swift that Gerry Forsythe parked after a couple of test sessions, so pretty doesn’t really mean much. This aerokit is, however, interesting, because it is different form what we have seen in the past and will be different than its Honda opposition. I expect that the oval aerokits will be more conventional, and probably more attractive. Will they be more interesting?

    My biggest concern, aside from the inevitable lakes of front wing parts collecting in the turns of street courses, is what sponsors will think of the car. Not that they will find it ugly, but that they will struggle with having less uninterrupted carbon fiber to put their logo on. Notice the size and location of the Chevy bowtie on the sidepods of the old and new cars, that is typically where you would expect sponsor logos to go (in before comments about how no one has a sponsor…). Chevy even added another “sponsor blocker” behind the current sponsor blocker.

  13. 123 examples of function over form. The new Indy Lights car looks light years better. As so many contributors to the Racer.com Indy 2018 series have suggested: Make the cars harder to drive. More horsepower, less aero. This looks like one of those goofy transformer things with mumps. I am not disappointed simply because with IndyCar these days one learns to not have expectations.

  14. If it’s all about speed, you’ll get stuff that looks like the F1 cars, complete with penis noses. There’s always been the tension between aesthetics and performance. Always will be. As I’ve said many times, to the non-emotional eye, winged sprint cars are seriously ugly machines, but I love to watch them race.

  15. No, it was not worth the wait. It took three years to design this? The people at Ferrari could have designed this overnight. The lack of a thrill in my opinion dates all the way back to the drawing board of the DW -12. I wish the iconic committee would have taken more of a risk. They played it really safe. What’s too bad too is this current IndyCar is probably the ugliest chassis the Dallara line-op and it just keeps getting uglier. Another pet peeve of mine is people using the term “radical” in these current days. That was used to describe this new body kit before it hit our eyeballs. Seriously, radical? Come on . Honestly I was not surprised at all, I was afraid it was gonna be uglier and it is. It’s that feeling of disappointment when you see it that’s become all too familiar with the IndyCar series. If it’s faster that will help the overall perception I think. If the car is just bullet fast through the corners more like F1 cars it will make this much easier to swallow. I just can’t remember the last time I was wowed by IndyCar. That’s a problem because I’m old. I just can’t believe I’ve been waiting three years for this. Hopefully Honda will be a little more radical. Don’t get me started on the air box.

    • Graham Rahal said on Trackside last week that what he’s seen of the Honda kit looks “radical”. I think we’ve got something a bit more interesting yet to see.

      • I hope so. I heard that too. What if Chevrolet gets upstaged when Honda comes out. It would just up the ante. I will say thank you aero kits for brewing up a little competition.

  16. I think aero kits could be an interesting idea, but obviously my main concern is whether it improves the racing, keeps it the same, or makes it worse. So if the Honda’s radically different than that’s great, but only if it stays competitive with Chevy. I was under the impression Chevy had the more radical kit than Honda, but I could easily be wrong. My main worry about competitiveness is the ovals. Texas hasn’t been good with the new car, but Fontana and Indy were great (most years, except 2014 Fontana). I really don’t want to see an Indy 500 where half the field has absolutely no chance of staying on the lead lap, and I worry with radical kits, that’s what’s going to happen.

  17. I just don’t know what people were expecting. The same tub with boxes of allowed freedoms was always going to look something like this. It looks like a mess but that’s physics for you. I just hope it works – the racing will certainly suffer because of it.

  18. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    Again, we’re talking about road course trim here so winglets and strakes and flip-ups are ‘de rigueur’.

    As I noted on twitter: It’s only ugly if it doesn’t win. Remember that folks.

  19. I still have a hard time seeing how this provides a better base for sponsor logos. I assume those louvers on the rear uprights will force the car numbers to be moved down onto the karbashian, and the winglets aft of the fuel port block a large part of the sidepod. Or maybe this allows those teams who cannot get a decent primary to sell a lot more “special spots” to associates?

    To me it looks as if there’s just way too much going on with this kit, but it may well be that there’s not enough advantage to using all of what’s shown for all twisty events. At least I hope that’s the case, as if it’s not, those “uppers” in front are destined to be strewn all over St. Pete, Long Beach, Detroit, and Toronto. And the single most negative aspect of TV broadcasts of street races in the past few years is the ridiculous amount of FCY time–the series cannot afford for that to go up.

  20. It looks purposeful, to me (purpose: “go faster”). Therefore, I like it.

  21. Chris Lukens Says:

    Put me in the unimpressed category. Although as I think about it, I think I was expecting too much. I was hoping for an open wheel race car that actually had wheels out in the open.

  22. It is now clear to me why no one would want to use the original Dallara kit. It would be brutally slow in comparison.

    The two chasis is the same so I am not sure comparing this to the sifferent chasis of the 90s is fair.

    When do we get to see the supersoeedway package?
    Is there a third package for the smaller ovals?

    • I think this aerokit is for twisties and small ovals. The other kit (yet to be revealed) is for big ovals…or The Big Oval.

  23. I agree with Ron Ford in that the Racer IndyCar2018 comments in general have suggested that the cars should be made harder to drive. In my opinion, IndyCar has missed the boat entirely by bringing in more technology through aerodynamics which tends to even more lessen the importance of the the driver in the equation. More HP, fewer aero aids and maybe even a reduction in tire width would require that the driver would have to “drive” the cars more. I would like to see flat-out corners disappear and make braking necessary for turns. That would put more of the driver input/skill back into the equation.

    • Have a look at a video taken last year at Sonoma, with a camera mounted to Simon Pagenaud’s helmet visor. Then let me know how easy the cars are to drive.

      Or, better yet, here’s one of the bumps, curbs and walls of Belle Isle, from the same perspective:

      I get what you’re saying (the cars would be harder yet with less downforce and more power, except that more power equals more dollars spent and another set of problems), but anybody who thinks these cars are “easy” to drive is horribly deluded.

      • Thank you for posting that footage speed geek. If this does not get a person excited they are dead. It also shows the physicality of these cars. Can you send this to Donovan McNab and some of the many other naysayers that pose athletes do not exist in IndyCar? Its also like 120 degrees in there. Maybe with some narration from Willy T. Ribbs accounting his recent foray in IndyLights at age 56 in 2011 in the Baltimore Grand Prix would be nice.

  24. It’s going to be interesting which one of the two aero kits is going to be the better one. Yet, I’m afraid that the Chevy teams might need to make more pit stops early in the races for nosecone changes because those winglets on top of the front wing’s ends look pretty fragile – and you all know how crowded a 1st lap can become out there on track. If that turns out to be the case, they surely will want to change it to make it more robust. But I guess we’ll wait and see.

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