Will Phillips joined INDYCAR at the outset of March 2011 as vice president of technology.
With the next-generation car program, which was unveiled July 14, 2010, already in motion, Phillips was charged with overseeing its direction to meet the sanctioning body’s tenants of safety, raceability, cost-effectiveness, efficiency, relevant technology, American-made, green and modern look.
He also oversaw the writing and implementation of the technical rules package. The initial on-track test was last August at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and the new chassis made its competition debut on March 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg.
Phillips, who brought 25 years of design engineering experience to the sanctioning body, continues to work closely with Dallara and the manufacturers to provide exciting racing for spectators, the viewing audience and the competitors. He reflects on the past 18 months and projects what's in store.
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“(Coming on board earlier) would have helped in certain areas, but it wouldn’t have magically changed anything,” Phillips said. “I don’t think we should forget the amount of work (project manager) Tony (Cotman) put into it. With anything, if you knew everything when you started that you knew when you finished you could make a bigger change.
“What didn’t I expect? Not an awful lot. The competition side, the enforcement of the regulations is unpleasant but absolutely necessary from our side. The constant inability to please everyone will never go away. That’s part of what I’ve had to learn. They’re all competitors and they’re all looking out for what’s best for them.
“If you enjoy what you do and get satisfaction out of it, you can’t ask for more than that. Thus far, on balance, I’ve enjoyed it.”
An INDYCAR Engine Committee was set up as a consultative group chaired by Phillips and consisting of representatives from each engine manufacturer, a representative from the sanctioning body plus other invited attendees when appropriate (such as BorgWarner, which is supplying the single and twin turbochargers).
The engine rules will be stable through the 2016 IZOD IndyCar Series season, with any corrections or modifications decided by INDYCAR after consultation with the engine committee. Trevor Knowles was hired as director of engine development.
Phillips also facilitates weekly meetings of the engineering group during which items present and future relating to the car, engine manufacturers, venues and rules are discussed. Overall, Phillips said he’s pleased with the on-track competition and shows for spectators.
“It’s met objectives of being faster than last year on the road and street events, short oval (Iowa),” he said. “The racing’s been good from a show perspective. The performance at Indy was the most concerning; that’s why we did so much work on the car -- for the superspeedway. The biggest concern was would it be fast enough. Dallara worked very hard to address many of those issues.
“One of the things we didn’t get there was that without the manufacturers turning the boost up we wouldn’t have made the speed we needed at Indy. Next year, I think we will. It’s been where we wanted it to be on road and street circuits.
“The manufacturers have ended up on most of the roads and streets using the original suspension and weight distribution, so all the effort that went into that you could question whether we had to do that. But, for the ovals, I would say we would have done it still.”
Looking ahead, additional tweaking will be in order.
“We look at what we think didn’t work on the car,” he said. “It's details now and how can we address them -- whether that’s Indy-specific performance, whether that’s brakes, the push to pass. We’ll start critiquing those details and addressing those details for next year.
“The package wholesale, it’s a new car. There are arguments over the prices, but from our viewpoint it is less expensive than the old car. Now we’re going to be picking on the details and fix the aggravating issues that have annoyed the people using the car.
“If I pick on Indy, what wasn’t right? To me, the rear wing mainplane is too big. We had to run it as negative as we can get it. That doesn’t seem right. (I’d rather) get it to a position of midrange. Put the car back in the drivers’ hands. If the front wing is almost on the edge of stall, we need to address it with being mindful of the cost. We can’t just open up this, this and this. We need to work with the manufacturers on adequate cooling as an example, though we can’t address the performance deficiencies of one over another. We have to be fair above all else.”