Anxiously Awaiting IndyCar 2018
Exactly one week from today, practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will officially begin. On the eve of the beginning of another season for the Verizon IndyCar Series, it’s not too soon to start talking about 2018.
We learned a couple of things regarding how the car will look one year from now. We already knew that with the common body kit run by all teams next year, regardless of manufacturer, that the DW12 would look far different from the way it looks today. But it now sounds like there is a good chance that we will see a final rendering of what we can expect for 2018 before next weekend’s race.
We had learned that the airbox that sat above the driver’s head on every IRL/IndyCar chassis since 1997 would be mercifully disappearing for next year. Personally, I always despised the look of the airbox and the resulting bulky engine cowling. I much preferred the look of the roll-hoop and sleek cowling that tapered gracefully back to the rear wing. The difference in the looks between the cars that ran in CART and those of the IRL was one of the many reasons I sided with CART in the early days of The Split.
Some say the looks or aesthetics of a car are unimportant. They reason that as long as a car performs and is safe, the actual look of the car does not matter. I disagree.
I think with the series trying to take advantage in what appears to be an uptick in national interest, IndyCar needs to be doing everything it can to appeal to the non-fans or casual fans. Call it superficial, but looks matter – especially when trying to draw in new fans.
Being the open-wheel purist that I am, my ears perked up when I heard Curt Cavin on Trackside the other night. He has already seen what the car will look like and says we will like it. Kevin Lee asked if it had the “rear-bumper” on it as has every other version of the DW12. Curt said his new position with IndyCar would not allow him to answer the question. Kevin pushed him by reminding him that most fans did not care for the bumpers on the current car. Curt’s response was a purposely vague “I think fans are really going to like the looks of the new car”.
My interpretation of that was that the bumpers will no longer be hanging off of the back of the DW12. I’m hoping that’s the case. Being the old traditionalist that I am, I never cared for the look of the bumpers. They were added to reduce the chance of a car being launched by running over the rear wheels of another car. There are many examples of how ineffective the bumpers were in doing that. I remember Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti getting together at Long Beach, shortly after the car’s debut. I forget who launched whom, but one of those two went flying over the other one.
A more recent example is Alexander Rossi being launched by Charlie Kimball in pit lane at Pocono last August. Not only was the car of Rossi airborne, his rear wheel barely missed the head of Helio Castroneves, who was an innocent bystander just leaving his pit. Without siting many other examples out there, suffice it to say that the bumpers failed to do what they were designed to do. What they did manage to do was to cause a lot of debris on the track when they were struck and cause a lot of extra pit stops to change the entire rear-wing assembly due to a floppy bumper dangling from behind.
Detractors of this move will say that we have no idea how many cars stayed on the ground due to the bumpers being on the car. That’s true, but my guess is that it is a negligible number compared to an interruption in a lot of good racing because an unnecessary appendage was now hanging off of the car due to light contact. Many strong races by a lot of good drivers were ruined by getting their back bumper touched from behind.
Those that care nothing of how a car looks have been pretty much the same bunch leading the charge for enclosed cockpits. My view on this subject has been clear over the years – I’m not opposed to driver safety. I am opposed to knee-jerk reactions in response to a tragedy, without thinking things through. Sometimes unintended consequences end up with a far worse outcome because someone acted too hastily.
Specifically, I was opposed to putting canopies on cockpits. I would be lying if I said the resulting look would not matter to me, but that was not my issue. I felt to put a canopy over a cockpit had the potential to prevent or greatly hinder a driver’s ability to get out of a burning car. I think back to Simona de Silvestro in 2011 practicing for the Indianapolis 500. Her car came to a rest upside down and on fire. With an open cockpit, getting her out quickly was very difficult. How much time would have been added had the rescue workers had to deal with a canopy? I shudder at the thought of watching a driver fight to get out of jammed canopy while being engulfed in flames.
I’m all for some type of device that will protect a driver and minimize the chances of a driver being struck in the head or chest by debris. I just want it to be practical and not hamper a driver’s ability to see or get out of the car quickly in case of an emergency.
On Tuesday, Marshall Pruett reported on Racer.com that IndyCar has made a final decision to go with a single windscreen that will be on the car for all races for the 2018 season. Windscreens are nothing new to Indy cars. Most chassis had some form of Plexiglas windscreen until the mid-nineties. The Galmer in 1992 was the first car I can remember that had no windscreen. I thought it looked odd at the time not having anything.
As it usually is in racing, when one car does something unique and somewhat radical – it doesn’t take long for the look to spread to all cars. By 1995, the windscreen was absent on the Reynard. Lola adopted the look in 1997 and by 1998, so had the Penske. The Swift of 1999 had no windscreen. When Dan Gurney’s Eagle chassis ceased to exist after the 1999 season, so did the windscreen. In 2018, Indy cars will race with a windscreen for the first time in this millennium.
Jay Frye is quoted as saying that it is so discreet, most people won’t notice it. That is what I wanted to hear – a safety item that is not even noticeable. That sounds like something I can live with.
The same crew that was grandstanding for cockpits a few years ago, immediately took to Twitter to wonder aloud about objects falling straight from the sky. While the Justin Wilson accident was tragic, it was also very fluky. No matter how hard they try, the designers cannot take every conceivable and potential accident into account. The only way to fully prevent death or catastrophic accidents in racing is to outlaw racing altogether. You look at what has happened and could happen and make your best judgment. It sounds like Jay Frye and his team have done that.
With no airbox and a sleek engine cowling, no rear-bumpers and a relatively unnoticeable windscreen – it sounds like IndyCar is going to have one good-looking car in 2018. Between the IR-03 which ran from 2003 to 2011 and the DW12 which started its current run in 2012, it’s been a while since we’ve said that about an IndyCar. In fact, the last truly good-looking Indy car I can recall is the Swift in the late nineties. Some will cite the DP-01 which debuted for one full year in 2007, but it doesn’t hold the candle to the Swift.
So stay tuned to Jay Frye and IndyCar as they begin to unveil what the future of the Verizon IndyCar Series will look like starting next year. As if the anticipation of a new season being just a week away wasn’t enough; I’m anxiously awaiting each announcement as well.