Anxiously Awaiting IndyCar 2018

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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.

Galmer

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.

98 Penske

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.

Swift - Hearn

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.

George Phillips

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10 Responses to “Anxiously Awaiting IndyCar 2018”

  1. Ron Ford Says:

    The look and sound of a race car (the zoomyness factor if you will) is absolutely important to race fans. Thanks to George I have already seen a photo of the 2017 Emma Dixon chassis. Awesome!

  2. I like the look of the DW12, however, I have always liked the “no-Box” look and the sleek look of the Lola and Reynard.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    I’m optimistic about the look of the new common aerokit, but cautiously so. I recall being told by some members of the racing media that fans were going to like the look of the Delta Wing too. I did like much of what was in the sketches that were released last month, though I thought a lot of those concepts were a bit short on the uninterrupted carbon fiber that sponsors surely crave.

    I am looking forward to the removal of the air box above all else. Indycars will always be confused for Formula 1 cars by some folks, but I think the removal of the air box will help lessen that confusion. It certainly provides me with an easy way to tell others how to tell the cars apart.

  4. Did Indycar ever do a study on the efficiency of the rear bumpers? Because the question of keeping them would seem to depend less on esthetics and more on if they actually worked or didn’t work.

    I’m disappointed that the car kit idea never caught on because I liked the idea of different looking cars. Unfortunately, the two chassis were too similar and the costs were too prohibitive, so the idea failed. I hope, whatever Indycar is doing for the future, that they always consider economy, along with performance and safety, so more owners could participate in the series.

  5. S0CSeven Says:

    Forget the bumper being used to protect against launching, the real benefit of the bumper has been to eliminate the old cheating habit of using your front wing endplate to slice the rear tire of the guy in front of you.

    Can’t pass him? Just cut his tire down. End of problem.

    So I’ll take the bumper (or some form of it) until a sufficient penalty comes along to prevent it guys from doing it.

  6. I’ve been ready to lose the bumpers for awhile now. I hated them at first, but decided to give them a chance. My stance hasn’t changed. I love being able to see the big rear tires, and it gives the cars a much sleeker look, IMO. I think there will be many great changes, Jay and his crew have been doing an incredible job. Really looking forward to everything this season, including what is to come in 2018.

  7. SkipinSC Says:

    As one of the few who suggested that the key to the new design is the windscreen, my question becomes what the effect of the windscreen will be on airflow over the car. IF, as I suspect, it reduces buffeting in the cockpit, it might be the best change they could make.

    I’m no engineer, nor am I a kineseologist, but if you reduce the buffeting to which the head and neck can be subjected by “smoothing out” the airflow over the driver, won’t you reduce the muscle stress and fatigue to which they are subjected?

    True, the HANS device helps that some, but it is more for impact protection than stress reduction. Granted, this won’t have much (if any) effect on road or street courses, but over the grind of the 500 mile races (plus Texas) I think this small piece of clear plastic could be a factor.

    Or maybe I’m just overthinking….

  8. Chris Lukens Says:

    As long as Indycars are safe, fast and a beast to drive I am happy, which is why I have always been 100% ambivalent about the airbox. But I always enjoyed the high dundgeon it produced with the CART-OWRS- Champcar crowd.
    I agree with most every body here, we should lose the rear bumpers this year and not wait a year.
    My last thought is I hope the powers that be decide to suck in the side pods, lose the sponsor blockers and reduce the width of the front wing. Then we can have an open wheel race car that has, you know, wheels that are actually out in the open.

  9. I’ll play devil’s advocate and stick up for the rear wheel guards. I compared cautions per race at tracks where both the IR07 and the DW12 had been raced at least twice between 2008 and 2015. For dry road races, there were 1.15 fewer cautions per race with the DW12 than with the IR07. For ovals, there were 1.6 fewer cautions per race with the DW12 than with the IR07. Once 2016 data is included, the difference between the IR07 and DW12 increases even more. These numbers include all of the debris cautions caused by the fragile aero-kits.

    I’m not saying that the entire reduction in cautions was caused by the rear wheel guards, but they were a contributing factor. RWGs may not be pretty, but the numbers don’t seem to support the idea that they caused a bunch of extra cautions.

    George is right that the RWGs weren’t 100% effective, as the Rahal-Andretti crash at Long Beach showed. However, the Rossi-Castroneves crash at Pocono was caused by contact between the front tires of Rossi and Charlie Kimball, not the rear tires.

    The last point I’ll make in favor of the RWGs is that they allowed cars to continue after receiving contact. First and foremost is Juan Pablo Montoya at the 2015 Indy 500. JPM was hit under caution, damaging a portion of JPM’s RWG. Had this hit occurred in an IR07, JPM would have spun as his right rear tire lost pressure, and probably ended his race in the wall. Instead, he pitted, replaced the rear wing, and won the race. Jack Hawksworth hit Luca Filippi at Turn 1 on lap 1 of the 2015 Grand Prix of Indianapolis, but Filippi continued. Without RWGs, Filippi might have had to retire with rear end damage. It’s frustrating for a driver to have to pit to fix a damaged RWG, but I think it’s better that the driver has a chance to complete the race instead of retiring.

  10. The Dallara DW-12 is arguably the ugliest IndyCar of modern times.Anything would be an improvement.

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