Dallara shows off new chassis potential
11 May 2011
IZOD IndyCar series chassis suppliers Dallara Automobili have publicly launched the new specification chassis that the teams will be provided with from 2012.
All teams will be required to use the same IndyCar Safety Cell chassis. However, at the unveiling at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Tuesday, Dallara were emphasising the customisation possibilities that will be available to the teams via the introduction of aero kits that will "dress" the basic chassis.
The unveiling saw two cars, both using the same basic Dallara 2012 chassis, but the cars looking strikingly different with one outfitted for ovals and the other for street tracks.
"The display cars are mock-ups of some of the things we could be doing," said Dallara's quality control leader in the US, Sam Garrett.
"So will these be exactly what Dallara's kits are going to look like on road courses and ovals next year? No," added Tony Cotman, project leader for the new specification cars. "The idea behind these is to show two totally different-looking vehicles that underneath are the same chassis ... That's what this platform is about: allowing people the freedom to design as they wish, dream as they wish and come up with a superior product than others."
The chassis development project itself is said to be on schedule, with 95% of the parts in production and the new car set to commence testing in August. "We have a plan and it's all coming together", said Garrett. "By August, we'll already have to be into the production run for the first 30 or 40 cars." Eventually assembly of the chassis will move into a new purpose-built facility just a few hundred yards away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Although long planned, the unveiling of the two cars this week - where they will be on display at IMS throughout the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 on May 29 - comes at a sensitive time, just days after car owners voted unanimously to delay the introduction of the crucial aero kits until 2013.
Car owners say that they are concerned about the cost of bespoke aero kits, which will be supplied by the series 2012 engine suppliers Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus.
Although each aero kit's price is set at $75,000, which is relatively inexpensive for IndyCar teams, the owners are concerned about how this might build up if there is a need for separate kits for street and oval tracks, and for each car in a multiple-car team, plus costs for back-ups, spares and replacements following on-track damage.
In addition, the new aero kits would not come in until next year's Indianapolis 500, and owners are concerned that this also leaves them paying out for the default Dallara aero kit as well for the earlier races of the season. Consequently, car owners worry that they may be looking at a first year outlay of over half a million dollars if aero kits are introduced in 2012.
However, Dallara are keen to point out the estimated savings of $349,000 to the teams in the purchase of the initial new-spec chassis compared with the old model, which includes everything but the seat and steering wheel, and that teams will no longer need sperate suspension packages for ovals and street courses. Additionally, "with only one set of suspension and uprights, that's a lot less spares that you have to carry," added Garrett.
A further concern among car owners is that Honda may have too much of a head start in designing and testing possible aero kits and will enjoy a huge advantage over Chevrolet and Lotus equivalents. With car owners assuming that it won't be an "open market" for aero kits - either for political, practical or technical reasons - and that they will be obliged to purchase the kits from their own engine supplier, teams who have signed deals with other engine manufacturers feel that they might be at too great a disadvantage in the 2012 season.
If the aero kits are delayed, then Dallara may be forced to reconsider their own plans for the 'default' kit that would be provided out of the box with the cars. A 'default' kit is one thing, but it's another matter altogether if it were to be seen on every car for a full season rather than just one alternative among many. The prototype aero components are currently being finalised through wind tunnel testing at the company's headquarters in Parma, Italy.
IndyCar chief executive officer Randy Bernard is yet to make a decision about the possible delay of introducing the aero kits. "I'll listen to our owners. I want and respect their opinions, but I want more feedback from the manufacturers and the fans."
Last week he was quoted as saying that "I respect the fact they have to spend a lot of money for new cars and engines and we are here for the long term. But I don't think [delaying the introduction of aero kits] is the right thing to do."
IndyCar technical development has essentially been frozen for a number of years - the current specification car was first introduced in 2003 where from the start it was a compromise for the Speedway, high-speed and short-ovals even before the series embraced street and road courses following the unification with ChampCar at the start of 2008.
There is no question that the current chassis and engine specification is now very dated, with new arrivals into the series expressing surprise at how heavy and cumbersome they are compared with racing cars in other US and international motor sports series. The identikit/"all cars look the same" current status quo is undoubtedly frustrating both team technical developers, and IndyCar fans around the world.
"I want bodywork kits. I don't care what it takes," Target/Chip Ganassi Racing general manager Mike Hull told SPEED.com last week. "I'm tired of racing [identical-]spec cars."