Crash.Net IndyCar News
Drivers get to grips with DW12 at Sebring
19 January 2012
With only a little over two months to go before the first race of the new season, teams and drivers from the IZOD IndyCar Series have been at Sebring International Raceway this week for their first real on-track road course experience of the new 2012 car, the DW12 IndyCar Safety Cell chassis.
Ryan Briscoe, Will Power, Helio Castroneves, JR Hildebrand, Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal, Tony Kanaan, EJ Viso, Marco Andretti, Simon Pagenaud and Simona de Silvestro were all in action this week on the 1.8-mile, 10-turn short road course in the heart of Florida state.
“This car is a bit of a handful!” was Will Power's opinion via Twitter as he got his first proper extended taste of the DW12 on Tuesday.
This was also the first genuine opportunity that the teams have really been able to test the car from their own perspective, after previous tests that have mainly been focused on pure engine development.
“The first impression was pretty nice, better than expected. For a first day test, we were right there with performance on the old car" said Power's Penske team mate Ryan Briscoe, who got his chance to run the day before.
His track time was curtailed on Monday by a persistent engine misfire in the Chevrolet engine and he was only able to post four or five timed laps, but he got in much more time on the Tuesday once the glitches were sorted out
"It was a slow test to start off, but picked up after that," Briscoe told reporters. "We had some teething problems in my car: nothing major, mostly electronics stuff we're getting used to. Some of that's expected at this stage."
No official times were released, but observers estimated laps to be in the low 53s range, with Scott Dixon believed to be fastest in the Ganassi Honda-powered cars and the Penske trio currently some half a second further back with their Chevrolet engines. Those times would be about a second off the best available comparison times for the DW12's predecessor, the long-serving IR07.
"Everyone is in the first stages of figuring the car out, so it's not like we all know the cars and what makes them tick - that's gonna take some time," said Ganassi driver Graham Rahal, who described the car as "fun as hell" to drive. "It's pretty wicked: it clearly has a lot of potential on road courses and has plenty of grip."
"The DW12 Chevy is fun to drive,” echoed Marco Andretti. "We were able to check off a lot of boxes and got a lot of answers both good and bad."
"It's a different animal, the turbo makes a big difference when you're driving," contributed EJ Viso, saying that the teams still had a huge amount to do to optimise the performance. "I think it's the same for everybody ... The drivers also need more seat time, too."
For Helio Castroneves, the biggest challenge could well be trying to remember which foot to brake with: after an entire racing career with right-foot braking, he's having to get used to using his left foot this year in the DW12.
"It will take some time to adapt, but that's why we're out here testing,"he said. "Actually, it's kind of fun - like go-karts. The only [left-foot braking] car I drove was in a F1 test in 2002."
The new DW12 chassis also reduces the number of foot pedals from three to two, with the moving of the clutch to the paddle shift system in the steering wheel; and the car also features new carbon brakes for the drivers to get used to.
"Getting a handle on the carbon brakes is definitely a task," admitted JR Hildebrand. “In the end, the braking performance will be better."
"The brakes are awesome!” enthused Graham Rahal. "They have a serious amount of grip - by far the best braking system I've had on an IndyCar!
"The car also has a ton of downforce, that's something you also feel right away," Rahal continued, after an "awesome" day of testing. "It's nice to drive and for once I fit comfortably and safely!"
After recent concerns about the handling of the DW12 through banked oval corners, the drivers seemed much happier with how the car performed on road courses.
“With the old car, you had chronic understeer everywhere you went,” explained Hildebrand. "With this car, the weight distribution almost helps the car turn through the corner a lot better," adding that he was also happy with the way that Chevrolet had all-but eliminated the lag in how the turbo power is fed in out of the turns. “It kicks in more heavily out of the corner, all at once."
In separate wind tunnel testing work over at the Windshear facility in North Carolina, IndyCar officials were optimistic that the teething problems with the DW12's performance on ovals were close to being ironed out.
Last May, the old chassis had achieved speeds of over 227mph in qualifying trim at Indianapolis Motor Speedway; but tests of the new car at the 2.5-mile venue in November achieved an average lap speed of 215.6mph and exposed problems with both the weight distribution and the aerodynamics of the DW12 prototype on ovals.
"We then compared the production car [in the wind tunnel], which is slightly different from the prototype in terms of different mirrors, different rear wheel fairings, subtle differences in chassis construction and better integration of the Zylon [side intrusion] panels," explained IndyCar's vice president of technology Will Phillips. "Basically, by optimizing the aero set-up, re-balancing the car and then putting on some aero development parts, it showed that using a nominal assumed horsepower of 575 the car is capable of 225mph.
“Same test at same venue using an '11 car and '12 car, and that's the only data we're using to compare,” added Phillips. “It's about as clean as we can make it for a two-day test.”
Phillips pointed out that the production car was "more slippery" though the air than the prototype and that bespoke aero kits due to be phased in for 2013 will likely improve the car's speed still further given time.
"But it's not always about aerodynamics," he insisted. "You have to mechanically set the car up to drive it, so it's always a balance. Aerodynamically, we've proven that it can happen but we haven't proven mechanically that we can set the car up to go that speed yet.”
Back in Florida, the two days of road course testing at Sebring had also been distinguished by the first time that a Lotus-powered car had lined up on track alongside their Honda and Chevrolet counterparts, with Simona de Silvestro at the wheel of the HVM Racing car.
Having completed a two-day shakedown in private testing at Palm Beach International Raceway the previous week, HVM notched up a total distance of 870 miles over the combined four days of running in all. Unlike the Honda and Chevrolet teams, HVM is still primarily in engine development mode this week as a result of Lotus being the last engine manufacturer to sign up to enter IndyCar.
"I think it was really a good four days," said de Silvestro. "We ran a lot of miles. We did a lot of laps. I've never spent so much time in a race car."
HVM team boss Keith Wiggins appeared delighted with the progress that the team and engine supplier had made in the last week. “The engine ran flawlessly the whole time and it was everything you'd hope would happen for a first test. We're not up to full power and full boost, as you can understand. The engine went back to Lotus right after the test, they'll inspect it and then we'll get it back to test."
Lotus' head of IndyCar operations, Olivier Picquenot, was equally pleased with the initial testing. "This was the most successful test I have ever participated in," he said. "We achieved more than I expected. The quality of the engine is perfect. We're very pleased from a technical aspect ... Hopefully the rest of the tests will be as successful."
De Silvestro said that the team had even managed to push on a little from pure engine runs. "We started tweaking on the race car just to see what it was like. It was a really positive test," she added. "I learned so many things right there ... We worked really well together, which was really cool. I can't wait to get back in the car again."
Lotus will next be back in action on the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course on January 23-24, with Alex Tagliani (Bryan Herta Autosports) expected in the car for his more experienced feedback on how the development was going, and Dreyer & Reinbold's new signing Oriol Servia is also expected to contribute to testing in February.
Full-scale testing at Sebring resumes on January 30 with James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport), Tony Kanaan (KV Racing Technology), JR Hildebrand (Panther Racing) and the three Penske cars who will join de Silvestro once more for further track time.
New AJ Foyt Racing driver Mike Conway and Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing's Charlie Kimball will also finally get their chance of some on-track time from January 31 to February 1, while Ryan Briscoe plans to be among those spending the two dates at Sonoma's Infineon Raceway in California.
Teams also announced that they would return to Sebring at the start of March for full open testing. Due the size of the facilities at the circuit, teams had to be split into two separate two-day tests, with Andretti Autosport, Dale Coyne Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Dragon Racing, HVM Racing, Team Penske and Sam Schmidt Motorsports all scheduled to test on March 5-6.
Then AJ Foyt Racing, Bryan Herta Autosport, Ed Carpenter Racing, Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing, Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing, KV Racing Technology, Panther Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Michael Shank Racing Indy will test on March 8-9. Firestone Indy Lights teams will also be testing at Sebring during the same week, on Wednesday March 7.
Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and Conquest Racing are not yet included in the Sebring line-up, while Ed Carpenter Racing and Dale Coyne Racing are yet to confirm their respective engine suppliers.
The 2012 IndyCar season starts on the streets of St Petersburg on March 25.