Why the 2012 Indy Car could suck

At the recent Sao Paulo Indy 300 race, we heard that INDYCAR team owners had voted to delay the introduction of differenciated Aero Kits until 2013 (meaning a delay to their introduction – since they are currently due to be introduced at 2012’s Indy 500).

INDYCAR’s CEO Randy Bernard is now apparently trying to decide what to do, whilst Tony Cotman, responsible for introduction of the new cars, appears less than happy at the development, as he explains in this comprehensive and frank Q&A session.

Let’s remember what we’re dealing with for next season. The current identical or ‘spec’ Honda Powered Dallaras will be replaced with a new ‘Dallara Safety Cell’ rolling chassis, which will be combined with engines from Honda, Chevy, and others, and which will also accept standardised ‘Aero kits’ (essentially front and rear wings, sidepods and airbox fairings)

The idea is that teams, engine companies and third parties will all be able to design their own aero kits.

As Cotman explains, the rules required to regulate and scrutineer custom designed aero are much more complicated than rules for a Spec design. A spec series rule book can say ‘the wing has to be like this’ whereas an open design must set limits (just look at the F1 rules defining various dimension limits relative to various planes and points on the car) It’s all very complex, and way more involved that the current approach.

There’s another problem with aero kits, whilst most of people around INDYCAR are very excited about how they’ll all look different ‘for the fans’, the real difficulty is that different LOOKING aero kits will have different performance levels. Put simply, only one kit will be the best kit. The same goes for engines – only one engine can be the best.

If you are a team owner and you have the best engine, you’d be a fool not to put the best performing aero kit on the car too.

There’s another slight problem – signs are that the 2012 INDYCAR just isn’t going to be very good. Dallara designed and built the slowest F1 car on the grid for 2010 (the Hispania Racing Car) and Nick Wirth (who is apparently designing an Aero Kit for Honda) has used his expertise in Computational Fluid Dynamics to design the second slowest car on the F1 grid (the Virgin Racing Car).

Then there’s the look. Read the Cotman Q&A and I think the subtext is ‘the cars look stupid’ – the promo images have done nothing to dispel this concern for me. They’re not even ‘mickey mouse’, they’re ‘donald duck’. The 2012 INDYCAR artist impressions are like a small child’s idea of what a jet fighter on wheels would look like, but not in a good way.

We’re already well into 2011, I’d expect extensive on-road testing of the car by now, but maybe I’m naive. I am starting to fear a scenario where the new cars are unreliable, slow, stupid looking, and where the performance differential between the front and the pack is even bigger than now.

In short – none of the benefits of Spec racing, with all the pitfalls.

I hope I’m wrong.

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