A New Look For An Old Friend
I really don’t hate all change. I much prefer the iPhone, when you compare it to the old bag phone of the early nineties (remember those?) or to the rotary dial phones that I grew up with in the sixties. I cannot imagine ditching my beautiful flat-screen HD 4K for an old Sony Trinitron of the seventies, although that was pretty much state of the art in its day.
But when something changes back to the old way, that tells you its what a lot of people wanted. How many remember New Coke? It was such a sicky-sweet Pepsi knock-off that long-time Coke drinkers like me were scrambling for anything resembling our old standard. For a short time, I became an RC drinker. It wasn’t like Coke, but it was a lot better than Pepsi and a lot better than the abomination known as New Coke. Fortunately, common sense prevailed. They brought back the original Coke and named it Coca-Cola Classic. They then re-branded New Coke as Coke II. which lasted about as long as PJ Chesson’s Indianapolis 500 career.
This past Tuesday, Marshall Pruett of Racer.com posted an article that announced that the new universal body kit for 2018 will scrap the air box over the driver’s head and feature a sleek streamlined cowling, similar to the look of CART’s Indy cars in the nineties or the DP-01 of Champ Car of a decade ago.
I was ecstatic to read the news. When the new cars for the IRL were unveiled prior to the 1997 season, I cringed. I had long-despised the humpback look of the Indy Light cars powered by Buick of the nineties. They looked a lot like the Formula One cars of the day, which I also thought were ugly. When the IRL announced their normally aspirated engines would have the air box, it gave me another reason to lean towards CART in those days. That was before I had ever heard the atrocious drone of the IRL cars of that era.
The lack of an air box over the driver always made the turbocharged Indy cars look a lot more sleek than any other open-wheel cars of the day. When the smaller Ford-Cosworth XB was introduced to the CART PPG Indy Car World Series in 1992, Lola had a design separate for the Ford that featured a much lower cowling than the bulky Chevy-A engine.
The Chevy-B engine was smaller than the Chevy-A, but it was available only to Marlboro Team Penske, which built their PC-21 around the smaller power-plant. The biggest question was; which was the bigger dog – the PC-21 or the Chevy-B? 1992 was not a banner year for Team Penske.
Lola even built a third cowling for the Buick engine at Indianapolis. It was not as sleek as the Ford-Cosworth, but it was shorter than the Chevy-A. It was obvious that Bruce Ashmore, Lola’s chief designer at the time, recognized the importance of a very tight design of the rear cowling. By 1993, the smaller Chevy-C engine was readily available to all Chevy teams and Lola had only one cowling design for all Lolas, which had a low and sleek look to them. The 1993 Lola won the CART championship that year.
The 1994 Lola had problems and was very hard to hit the setup across the paddock. In short, it was a pig. Not only did Team Penske have their superior chassis, but the Reynard had come onto the scene – winning in its very first race at Surfer’s Paradise. When the season was done, the Lola had won only one race – the Marlboro 500 at Michigan. It was a low-point for Lola. Their car was a sled, but I thought that appearance-wise – it had some of the most graceful lines I had ever seen on a race car.
The lines were simple and practically symmetrical from front to back – meaning the lines from the cockpit to the front were almost identical to the lines from the cockpit to the rear. The first time I saw the car in person, I was struck by how beautiful it was. It was a shame it was such a dog – further proof that when race cars are concerned; it’s better to be good than to look good.
As my allegiance began to shift from CART to IndyCar around 2003, I learned to get used to the air box over the driver, but that didn’t mean that I liked it. I longed for the days of the Lola, Swift and even the not-so-graceful Reynard instead of the Dallara and Panoz chassis of IndyCar that I was now following. I had some old die-cast Indy cars from the nineties around the house. They reminded me what a proper race car should look like. But watching races showed cars that just didn’t have a lot of sex-appeal.
By this time, my allegiance had completely shifted to IndyCar and I barely followed Champ Car at all. The writing was on the wall and it was time to move on. In 2007, Champ Car had come out with their first new chassis since the 2001 Lola they were all using. Champ Car enthusiasts hailed the DP-01 as one of the most beautiful race cars ever. I saw it as OK looking, at best – but I never understood the affection that many had for the car that lasted only one season before it was made obsolete with reunification in 2008.
Year after year, the 2003 Dallara got longer in the tooth. Finally, it was announced that 2011 would be its last year and it would be replaced in 2012. IndyCar and its ICONIC committee took bids from Lola, Swift, BAT, Dallara and perhaps one or two more. The thought was that there may be more than one chassis manufacturer. It had also been decided that the normally-aspirated V-8 engine would be replaced by a turbocharged V-6.
At last, I thought – with a turbocharged engine, this would be the opportunity to get rid of the air box that I had grown accustomed to but never liked. But when the 2012 car was unveiled at Indianapolis in May of 2011, there was the dreaded air box. When aero kits came to the scene in 2015, I was hoping that one or both manufacturers would scrap the air box for something more aerodynamic. Alas, the rules said that portion of the DW12 could not be touched.
But out of nowhere, we learned this week that starting in 2018 – and Indy car will once again look like an Indy car. Not only will the air box give way to a low-slung cowling, but there will be fewer aerodynamic winglets all over the car. Instead, the majority of the downforce will come from a larger undertray while the forced air will come from ducts directed from inside the sidepods.
Better yet, the guards meant to prevent wheels from interlocking will also be gone. Instead, the sidepods will extend to the back wheels creating a more natural looking protection.
It sounds as if the aesthetics are suddenly important when it comes to the DW12. While it may be known for its great racing, the DW12 never seemed destined to be known for its great looks. But from what we’re hearing, it is sounding like the 2018 version of the DW12, which is expected to last through the 2020 season, may finally become sexy in its old age. This change is not going backwards. It’s doing what’s right. The mid-nineties are finally here.