Jul 13, 2012
Looking at the two-year anniversary of the unveiling of the new car strategy.
The 75-day task of researching, reviewing and recommending the 2012 chassis/engine strategy seems long ago and far away, ICONIC Advisory Committee member Gil de Ferran says. Often arduous, occasionally contentious, but wholly engaging, the seven-member panel painted the backdrop for the IZOD IndyCar Series’ long-term competition objectives.
The group looked to the attributes of safety, raceability, cost-effectiveness, efficiency, relevant technology, American-made, green and modern look, which were rolled into their recommendation to INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard.
Click it: New car strategy unveil video || Dallara's process || Phillips looks to future
The universal road/oval rolling chassis with an enhanced driver safety cell and an anti-wheel lock design produced by long-time IZOD IndyCar Series partner Dallara Automobili was unveiled July 14, 2010, at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The companion 2012 engine strategy, which was announced six weeks earlier, included turbochargers to be incorporated into consumer-relevant power plants fueled by ethanol.
INDYCAR received proposals from five potential chassis manufacturers – BAT Engineering, Dallara, DeltaWing Racing Cars, Lola and Swift Engineering – and the committee entertained their presentations. At the same time, committee members solicited information and input from IZOD IndyCar Series team owners, fans, current and former open-wheel racing drivers, manufacturer and sponsor stakeholders and internal marketing research.
“It was a big responsibility and one that I took very seriously,” says de Ferran, a former IZOD IndyCar Series team co-owner and the 2003 Indianapolis 500 champion. “It was one of those unique situations where it feels as if the weight of the world is on your shoulders, as we were deciding the future of INDYCAR from a technical perspective. Overall, it was a very interesting process for me, as I saw it, more than choosing a car we chose a strategy and a technology supplier in Dallara.”
Fifteen months later, a prototype car made its on-track debut at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and on March 25 – after INDYCAR, manufacturer and team testing and tweaking – the chassis/engine package participated in its maiden competition on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Two-thirds of the way through the 2012 season on the most diverse set of racetracks in motorsports, the program has received high marks overall.
“It looks as if they produced a highly capable car, as the racing so far has been very exciting,” de Ferran added. “Mostly, I'm proud of the fact that the committee put together a framework that was able to attract manufacturers to the series and the grid remains with a high number of cars."
Said INDYCAR vice president of technology Will Phillips, who came on board in March 2011 to oversee the program: “It’s met objectives of being faster than last year on the road and street events, short oval (Iowa Speedway). The racing’s been good from a show perspective.”
The 2003 Dallara chassis was designed solely for ovals and was burdened by becoming a hybrid in 2005 when INDYCAR added street/road courses to its schedule. Honda, which was the lone supplier from 2005-11 utilizing a 3.5-liter engine, was joined this year by Chevrolet and Lotus in using a 2.2-liter, turbocharged V6 engine fueled by E85.
Other transitions have included steel to Brembo carbon fiber brakes and universal suspension and gearbox used throughout the 15-race season, all of which has helped create an inventory reduction and hence a long-term cost savings for teams. Enhanced cockpit safety measures also were incorporated, as were anti-stall and push to pass systems and four TV camera mounts on the chassis.
“We had to deliver a car for a cost, (which was) tough,” said Andrea Toso, head of research and development for Dallara. “We have to deliver performance, we have to deliver quality, we have to deliver parts that don’t fail, new safety. If you consider all of these – in a short amount of time – you’d say it was impossible. It came out well.”
Randy Bernard set the expedition in motion two months after being named INDYCAR CEO.
"What a lot of people don't know is that in the first two meetings of the ICONIC Advisory Committee the car wasn't even discussed," Bernard said. "They were strictly about understanding our fans. We brought out the highlights of research of who our fans are and what they like. It was very important in the entire process, and the one thing we haven't answered yet is they want to see a differentiation in the cars and that's what the ICONIC Committee had in mind with the aero kits.
"We came up with a process that allowed differentiation, allowed areas to be open for new technology and aerodynamics and to get those different-looking cars on the track. That's the only step we need to follow up on."
Historically, increased competition has meant increased cost to teams. A recent INDYCAR study, however, shows that to be opposite with the new car-engine package.
"I think the owners are wrong; the cost of the car has gone down (from most recent iteration of the Dallara chassis)," Bernard said. "I think (the car) has met its goals in many ways. Kids can identify with this car, they love the looks of it, and that's one of the key areas we tried to reach -- a younger demographic along with the traditionalists. The raceability of the car, we've seen this car being faster than the last year years of the previous car. And we've seen Honda and Chevy in a fantastic duel."
Other committee members included INDYCAR president Brian Barnhart; Tony Cotman, a two-time Indianapolis 500 crew chief who served as vice president of operations for the Champ Car World Series and oversaw its implementation of a new chassis; Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway; Rick Long, longtime developer of high-performance racing engines and co-founder of Speedway Engine Development; Tony Purnell, former technical consultant to the FIA and found of Pi Research; Neil Ressler, former chairman of Jaguar Racing in F1 and principal design engineer for Ford. It was mediated by retired Air Force Gen. William R. Looney III.
"The group came in and immediately had the best interests of the sport moving forward," said Barnhart, president of operations and strategy. "We faced a tremendous challenge. There was no clear mandate on where to go with the series as a whole, but there were a couple of aspects that were important. Safety, raceability and cost-effectiveness were the first three things we looked at."