DETROIT — Last year, the future was shared in the form of sketch drawings.
Today at the North American International Auto Show, the Verizon IndyCar Series pronounced “The Future Starts Now” with its unveiling of a sleek, new 2018 race car at Cobo Center.
“I feel guilty standing between you and it because we think it's gorgeous,” Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, the parent company of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, told assembled media as he stood in front of an Indy car equipped with the universal aero kit to be used by all competitors beginning this season.
“We think it has really excited our fan base. This may be the public premiere, but there's been a lot of talk, and we're having trouble finding a critic.”
Check out the sizzling new "The Future Starts Now" video here.
Following six months of testing controlled by INDYCAR and engine manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda, Verizon IndyCar Series teams recently commenced with testing the new car, which has a reshaped design that decreases the level of downforce and shifts the weight balance more toward the front of the car.
Reigning series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske reviewed some of the changes to the “Coke bottle-shaped” red-and-black car displayed — with an appropriate No. 18 signifying the year of its birth — which among other things includes less reliance on the front wing, moving the sidepods forward for increased driver protection and lowering the floor while removing about 35 pounds from the rear.
Miles, Newgarden and a panel including legendary owner Roger Penske asserted the result should provide more entertaining racing in safer machines. Penske was quick to mention how the car will help teams contain costs.
“We can take our existing chassis and put this aero kit on it and, instead of spending $400,000 or $500,000 for a car, these kits are somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000, and it gives us the ability to go to the next step,” Penske said. “I know all the drivers that have tested it, both on the Honda side and the Chevy side, are giving us great reviews, so from a cost perspective, a competitive perspective and I think the look of the car, it's going to be a home run.”
Penske also credited Miles and Jay Frye, INDYCAR’s president of competition and operations, for keeping the schedule at a manageable 17 races compared to Penske’s NASCAR operation that faces a slate more than twice as heavy.
“Another thing is that the (Verizon IndyCar) Series isn't 36 races,” Penske said. “We can go racing with a reasonable budget and we can do it for obviously much less, and I think that's tremendous, and I would hope that Jay listens to me today. Let's keep it at this number so we can keep costs down, you got it?”
“I always listen,” a smiling Frye replied.
Newgarden and other drivers have been suggesting car design changes for years. The new design shows INDYCAR listened to them, too.
“INDYCAR is really looking to deliver on big promises,” Newgarden (shown above) said. “As you can see, it's bolder, it's more daring and, really, we believe it has improved aerodynamics that are going to help the racing product tremendously, so I'm looking forward to that probably the most.
"There's quite a bit of engineering that's gone into the car. To me, it looks more like an Indy car should. You think about the '80s and '90s, the ‘heyday’ of INDYCAR racing, this is what you want to see from the product. We believe it's going to be faster. We believe it's going to be safer. It's going to provide better racing like we've talked about.”
Miles reiterated the new car is another example of continual growth for INDYCAR, which includes a 38 percent boost in its TV audience since 2013 as well as attendance gains at several tracks.
“We had a way of thinking about it a few years ago, which was taking back the heart of racing, and I think we're making great strides in doing that, and we get a lot of feedback from our fans indicating that that's the case,” Miles said.
The new car and aero kit plan — which Frye said runs through 2020 with an option year in 2021 — is also conducive to attracting other engine manufacturers. Honda and Chevrolet have been in engine competition since 2012, and each took on the added expense of competitive aero kit development the past three years before INDYCAR opted to move toward the universal kit for 2018.
“We’d like to thank Chevrolet and Honda for all their support; it's phenomenal,” Frye said. “The winter of 2015, we started talking about the aero kits and the future and where we wanted to go collectively as a group. Simultaneously, we started talking to some other (engine manufacturer) prospects, and based on all those conversations we really got to this point, so in March of '16 we came up with a vision of what it could look like.
“The vision was through collaboration of our (engine manufacturer) partners, our teams, our paddock and the fans, so we're quite proud of where we ended up. I think this will be the centerpiece of this five-year plan that we have in going forward.”
Legendary driver Mario Andretti, now 77, took a look at the car and suggested he wanted to come out of retirement and drive competitively again.
“I certainly don't lack enthusiasm,” Andretti said, “and I hear a lot of positives. If there is a negative in all this, it’s I don't have a ride yet.”
To which Penske responded, “I'll have a seat for you tomorrow, OK?”
Team testing is permitted until shortly before the 2018 season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11. A series-wide open test is scheduled for Feb. 9-10 at ISM Raceway near Phoenix.