Even though it is almost universally disliked by drivers, team members and fans for its looks, when the Car of Tomorrow makes its bow there will be no denying the improvements in safety that NASCAR's new creation will bring.
The Chevrolet Impala CoT will, of course, employ all of NASCAR's new safety features and as the countdown to its race debut (at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 25th) less than two months away, GM Racing lifted the lid on many of the new cars features.
"GM Racing worked in conjunction with NASCAR to develop an even safer race car that will continue to provide competitive and entertaining racing on the Nextel Cup circuit," said Pat Suhy, GM Racing NASCAR group manager. "The improvements, many of which GM helped develop using data from previous production and race car testing, will better protect not only our Impala SS drivers but all Nextel Cup competitors. We shared some, but not all of the aerodynamic information we generated in an effort to help NASCAR come up with an aerodynamics package that all of our teams could be comfortable with. Naturally, we'll help them make the Impala SS race car even better once it hits the track.
"Unlike the aerodynamics area, where some secrecy is necessary, we feel that safety developments and information is an area we must share fully with NASCAR in order to provide the safest possible environment for drivers and spectators."
The Car of Tomorrow racecar concept, to which all manufacturers must conform, was designed with several new safety features. Inside the Impala SS the driver has been moved four inches to the right to be closer to the centre of the vehicle while the roof is two inches higher and the cockpit is four inches wider. Double roll bars have been added to the driver's side and outside roll bars are steel plated to help prevent intrusion to the Impala SS upon impact. Other improvements include a mandatory steel floorboard underneath the driver, energy management materials installed in door panels to reduce impact and an enclosed 360-degree steel containment tunnel for the driveshaft to prevent the possibility of flying metal if disengaged.
New developments to the aerodynamics of the Impala SS Car of Tomorrow include the addition of a rear wing, the installation of a front splitter and the lowering of the back bumper by three inches. Other advancements consist of reduced offsets in the Impala SS body, less front overhang and a higher, wider, blunter body shape. When applied to the Impala SS these modifications result in up to 30 to 40 percent less downforce, more drag and less side force, which NASCAR believes will ultimately produce, improved competition on the racetrack.
In addition to aerodynamic and safety benefits, the Car of Tomorrow promises to decrease costs. The Car of Tomorrow will be easier to build and will eventually be tunable for all the tracks on the Nextel Cup circuit, thereby eliminating the need for specialised cars for different tracks.
GM Racing engineers have played an integral role in the creation of the Car
of Tomorrow since the early stages of its development. Working closely with NASCAR, GM Racing engineers assisted with the safety and aerodynamic changes as well as recommendations on the wing and splitter based on findings from extensive wind tunnel and on-track testing. GM also enlisted the help of its design studio, which allowed for greater input on design cues so that the Impala SS on the racetrack more closely resembles the Impala SS production vehicle.
The Impala nameplate is no stranger to NASCAR competition or racing success. Chevrolet introduced the Impala in 1957 as a 1958 model and drivers immediately took to the big car, racing it first on the beach at Daytona, then at Daytona International Speedway in 1959. Redesigned that year, Bob Welborn scored a victory with the new model for the qualifying race of the 1959 Daytona 500, the first 500 at the Speedway. Success continued for Impala with consecutive NASCAR championship titles in 1960 (Rex White) and again in 1961 (Ned Jarrett). In 1963, stock-car legend Junior Johnson ran 32 races of the 55-race schedule in the famous white #3 Impala owned by Ray Fox and collected seven wins, 12 top-fives, 13 top-tens and nine poles.
"The Impala is a name associated with performance, from the earliest models which raced on the sands and Speedway at Daytona to the newest SS sedan," Suhy added. "The Impala has been extremely successful in the marketplace (best-selling domestic car of 2005) and we look forward to aligning that success with additional accomplishments on the race track."