Which Aero Kit Won The Eye Test?
Last month, Chevrolet fired the first salvo in the battle of the new aero kits for the Verizon IndyCar Series. In my opinion, it landed with a giant thud. As I wrote the following day; the reactions by most ranged from loving it to hating it. My reaction to the Chevy was basically “This is what we waited all this time to see?”
I thought the Chevy looked like the regular DW12 with a few winglets glued on in odd places, with a new boxy rear-bumper.
We had heard through the grapevine that one of the kits was much more radical than the other. After the letdown of seeing a Chevy, it was natural to assume that it would be the Honda that would be radical – but I still wasn’t sure. Those that liked the Chevy kit surmised that there was only so much they could do, given the limitations of the rulebook. They said only a foolish optimist would expect the Honda to look much different than what Chevy offered.
My hope was dimmed over the last couple of weeks, but not extinguished. The little kid inside of me still hoped against hope that Honda would come up with something radically different. I didn’t even care if it looked good, there’s only so much you can do when trying to make a DW12 good-looking. I just wanted to be able to tell a difference in the two cars from a distance. Hopefully, it would be dramatic enough so that even the most casual fan could tell the difference, but I knew not to set my sights too high.
Monday night, almost three weeks after Chevy showed us their aero kit – Honda unveiled theirs. My reaction? Overall, I like it. Is it the most beautiful car I’ve ever seen? Far from it.
First the negative – Although it was within the rules to do so, I was disappointed that neither manufacturer saw fit to get rid of the airbox over the driver’s head. I’ve had people explain to me that the roll-hoop is encased in there. I realize that, but they could have still done away with it and have the roll-hoop similar to what CART had in the nineties. That would have made for a car much sleeker in appearance.
In that regard, the Chevy kit actually looks better. They at least cleaned up the back of the engine cowling as it tapers from the airbox. The Honda treatment looks bulky and very angular. Worst yet, they added a nineties-style dorsal fin onto the back of it.
Aside from a few attempts in the fifties, the first time we saw dorsal fins appear on cars was when Marlboro Team Penske debuted fins on their three cars as Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser, Jr. covered the field in the second race of the 1994 season at Phoenix. By the time the month of May rolled around, practically every team in the paddock was sporting varying sizes of dorsal fins on their cars. The logic was that they offered lateral stability in turns. Skeptics claimed they were nothing more than another place to put sponsor’s logos. The unsightly fins became a mainstay in CART through the remainder of the decade on most cars.
By 1998, the IRL cars sprouted dorsal wings from the back of their bulbous airboxes and it made for an even more unattractive look. Being blocked by the giant airbox, it was hard to see how they served any purpose at all. By 2000, the fins suddenly and mercifully disappeared from the cars in both series.
But Honda has resurrected the dorsal fin to some extent. I never liked the look in the nineties, and I don’t like it now. On the positive side – that’s the most negative thing I can say about the Honda aero kit, if that makes any sense.
But I can say a lot of things positive about the approach Honda took, compared to the Chevy kit. As I said earlier, the Chevy kit looks like the basic DW12 with some winglets placed in very curious spots all over the car. This was more what I was looking for. Honda looks like they started from scratch to redesign everything they could within the rules. The Honda looks unconventional, yet much sleeker than the Chevy version. And yes, I would call this radical – at least, as radical as the rules would allow.
Please keep I mind – I am not an engineer nor do I pretend to know anything about aerodynamics. I am going strictly on looks. The Chevy may run circles around the Honda on the track, but the Honda sure looks racier when sitting still.
I thought that Honda was smarter in their presentation of the new kits, as well. Both manufacturers presented computer-generated models; but Honda’s was trimmed in light gray, allowing all of the new aero pieces to be very visible. It seemed that Chevy hid all their new pieces in dark blue, making them very hard to see. Honda did something else that was smart – they also had Ryan Hunter-Reay’s real car in actual livery for us to see how the car would look on track.
As far as I know, no one has seen a Chevy aero kit in actual livery. That might help to show us how it will look. Meanwhile, we are left with an imaginary Chevy car trimmed in dark blue Chevy livery that we will never see on track.
Neither car will ever be called classically beautiful race cars by anyone. Both manufacturers have added excessive bulk to what was already an ugly rear-end of a car. The multiple layers of front wings on the Honda are interesting and look like they could produce enough downforce to flatten the tires. It looks like the Honda will be glued to the turns of road and street courses, but may be a hindrance on a straightaway. But then, isn’t that the give and take that every race engineer faces? I’m assuming that teams will have the ability to tinker with these levels. How much, I’m not sure.
The wing layers created a lot of funny comments on social media. There were remarks that it should be sponsored by the Gillett Mach 5, Lafayette Venetian Blinds or Ronco’s Veg-O-Matic. Those blessed with photoshop skills also had a field day; and there was much speculation as to where Honda got their inspiration.
Selfishly, I got my wish. How anyone couldn’t tell the difference between these two cars is beyond me, but I know there are many that won’t. So long as they have four wheels, wings and an open cockpit – some people simply won’t be able to tell them apart. But we will, and that’s what counts. I’m tired of doing everything in the name of nabbing the casual fan. Every now and then, the series needs to try and please the hard-core fans. They are the ones that have been sustaining it during these lean years. The aero kits serve that purpose.
So the next task is to see how each kit performs on the track. After all, a beautiful race car that can’t perform is about as ugly as they come. Some teams will be at NOLA this weekend before everyone heads to Barber for open testing next week. Will sandbagging occur? Probably, to some extent. But I also think we’ll at least get some idea about which manufacturer nailed it and which one will be left scratching their head in a couple of weeks at St. Petersburg. But for now, I’d say Honda won the first round – the unveiling.