Dan Wheldon and Bryan Herta Autosport have been handed the job of testing the new-specification Dallara chassis and driver safety cell that will be the basis of all IndyCar race cars from 2012.
The chassis was unveiled
at the start of May, and examples of what the new chassis could look like when 'dressed' in an aero kit to be provided by Dallara or one of the series' engine manufacturers from 2012 (Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus) were put on show at Indianapolis during the Indy 500 for fans to view.
Now IndyCar has confirmed that Wheldon and Bryan Herta Autosport - who together sensationally won this year's centennial running of the Indy 500 - have been appointed by the series organisers to test the chassis out on the track.
"Dan, Bryan and Steve Newey have extensive experience in testing and development programs so we know our prototypes will be in the best hands as we finalize the chassis aspect of the program," said IndyCar Series executive Tony Cotman, who is running the 2012 new car program. "This verification testing furthers our commitment to ensure that our new car meets all the performance criteria promised to our drivers, teams and fans."
The chassis - featuring the new driver safety cell that will be standard for all cars in the series from 2012 - will be tested by Wheldon and the team in August and September, with delivery of the finished product to the teams planned for mid-December. It's not been confirmed how many tracks the testing will be held on, or which tracks these might be, but there will have to be a mix of street and road courses with ovals of different lengths - including the 2.5 mile 'rectangular oval' Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus will also be able to purchase an early chassis in mid-August so that they can get underway preparing their respective aero kit offerings, although car owners voted unanimously last month to defer the purchase and deployment of the bespoke aero kits until 2013 amid concerns of cost and competitiveness.
"Obviously I am very excited to continue with everyone that formed the Indianapolis 500 winning team at Bryan Herta Autosport," said Wheldon, who was disappointed not to get back into a full-time racing seat after his Indy 500 victory at the end of May. However, Bryan Herta and his team co-owner Steve Newey remained committed to their decision not to be rushed into racing again by their Indy 500 success and to stick to their long-term program for getting back into full-time competition which included being top of the list from early on to be chosen to handle the testing program.
"This is something that we are going to take very seriously and approach in a very professional manner. It is very important for the growth of the series that the testing is done in a way that will create an even better product at the start of 2012," said Wheldon. "For me to not be racing is obviously something that I am disappointed about, but being able to do the testing program will put me in a fantastic position for the future and I am thankful to the IndyCar Series, Honda and Firestone for the opportunity."
"We plan to put the chassis through its paces with a rigorous program to prepare for the various types of tracks the series visits and a variety of conditions," added Herta, who like Wheldon has spent a significant amount of time acting as a test driver for current series engine provider Honda in the past. "I've always had an interest in the technical side of the sport and the process of constantly improving the car so I'm looking forward to this opportunity to have our team test the new chassis."
The testing experience with the new car certainly raises the possibility of Wheldon and the team gaining a significant advantage in terms of getting familiar with the new hardware that other teams will not have the opportunity to do until well into the first months of 2012.
Already, muttering in the paddock is asking whether this is a fair situation from which to start next year's series, but no one can deny Herta and Wheldon's respective pedigrees or the soundness (not to mention the PR value) of having the Indy 500 champions lead the testing, especially since they don't have 2011 competition distractions at the same time.