This year’s Indianapolis 500 will mark the 100th anniversary of the first 500-mile race at the Brickyard. A lot has changed since the race’s inception, but the governing body of the Izod IndyCar series is still under pressure to keep things fresh and interesting for fans.
Present tense The key for the IndyCar Series this year will be to keep fans engaged during what amounts to a lame-duck year for technology. Officials have tweaked some competition rules, an effort to make the racing more interesting, and they continue to improve on the safety front.
For example, when the race restarts after a caution, cars will line up two by two instead of single file. Officials predict this will increase the chances for challengers to overtake frontrunners and for the lead to change hands more often during the race. Other minor rule changes have also been made to help teams make strategic use of pit stops.
Pit stops should be safer, too, with a refueling safety interlock introduced this year by Honda Performance Development (HPD), Santa Clarita, Calif. The device stops drivers from leaving the pit with refueling equipment still attached, a leading cause of pit fires and injuries.
A photoelectric sensor in the car’s fuel port detects the fuel nozzle and communicates with the engine and gearbox controls. The driver can’t use the car’s paddle shifter to engage first gear while the refueling hose is still attached. If the car is still in gear, the engine controller signals the gearbox to put the transmission in neutral.
HPD started developing the interlock in 2009 after an accident left several people injured at a 2008 American Le Mans Series race. The company has given the sensor to every team in the IndyCar Series, and its use has been successful so far this season.
2012 engines and chassis
A lot of fan and industry interest surrounds the major- league changes on the horizon for next year. That’s when the league will roll out new chassis, engines, and aero kits.
Next year’s chassis were designed by Dallara, Parma, Italy. They cost 45% less and weigh 12% less than the curtorent Dallara-built IndyCar chassis. The company will produce the new models at its new $12 million factory in Speedway, Ind., 450 yd from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The factory is projected to be up and running in August and deliver chassis to teams in December.
In addition to making the chassis, which includes everything but drivers’ seats, tires, engines, and selected aerodynamic elements, the complex will be visitor friendly with a restaurant, gift shop, meeting area, and interactive features including a driving simulator, car design and assembly exhibits, and the option to drive a two-seat race car at the Brickyard.
Dallara and other suppliers will also offer aerodynamic kits for the front and rear wings, sidepods, and engine covers. Teams can choose the kits they think will give their car the best performance.
This is also the last year for the 3.5-liter, normally aspirated V8 engines, which have been supplied by HPD since 2006. Next year, teams will be able to choose a powerplant from HPD, Chevrolet, or the British Lotus Group.
All engines will be at most 2.2 liters; four to six cylinders are permitted, as are turbochargers. The engines will put out 550 to 750 hp, and rules will dictate how power is restricted, depending on the race venue.
hevy’s teaming with Ilmor Engineering, Plymouth, Mich., to build a twin-turbo, direct-injected V6. The aluminum- block engine with aluminum cylinder heads will support the gearbox and rear suspension.
Honda has also announced plans for a twin-turbo V6. Lotus’ design is still in development.
So far, only one IndyCar Series team has declared its engine preference. Cars for Team Penske — home to three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves and IndyCar superstars Will Power and Ryan Briscoe — will be powered by Chevy in 2012.
Re-tire-ing? With all the changes due for 2012, it comes as a relief to many teams that, when the rubber meets the road, some things will be staying the same. The IndyCar Series’ tire supply was in question when, in early March, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC, Nashville, announced its Firestone business unit would end its involvement with IndyCar after the end of this season.
When team owners learned of the decision, they pressured IndyCar officials to go back to the negotiating table. A week later, Firestone agreed to continue supplying tires through the 2013 season. However, the company’s sponsorship of the Firestone IndyLights developmental series will still end after this season.
A new technology leader for IndyCar
Veteran race-car engineer Will Phillips joined Izod IndyCar as its new vice president for technology this March. Phillips has been a senior engineer at de Ferran Motorsports, PacWest Racing, Herdez Competition, and Rocketsports. He’s also worked as a race engineer with several IndyCar drivers.
Phillips is tasked with developing and deploying the rules for next year’s IndyCar Series car. He will also chair the Engine Committee, a group of enginemanufacturer representatives that will monitor emerging technologies and develop a road map for the future. He recently shared some of his thoughts with Machine Design.
MD: Have you seen any of the engine or aero-package designs for 2012? Do you think fans will see a real difference between them or will all three companies come up with similar solutions?
WP: I have seen what Dallara has planned for its aero package, but no others have yet got to that point. Fans should be able to see differences if the potential opportunities are exploited. From the engine packages, it will be harder to “see,” obviously, but there could be some major differences in some choices the manufacturers make, like the number of turbos.
MD: What do you think are the biggest challenges to rolling out new engine designs in 2012?
WP: The biggest challenge for IndyCar will be providing an equal platform and opportunity for participating manufacturers. The challenge for manufacturers is providing the best engine in terms of power, drivability, reliability, and efficiency.
MD: What rule changes do you expect to make along with the switch to the new engines and aero packages?
WP: There will have to be a number of rule changes. For example, we’ll need smaller fuel tanks on oval tracks because the new car’s better fuel efficiency and lower drag could otherwise make full-tank runs too long for the tires to handle. There will have to be regulations that control the use of the aero kits, such as how many each team can have and when or if they can be changed during a race.
MD: One of the goals for changing chassis and engines was to keep costs down. Do you think that will happen? How much do you expect teams to spend on their cars, including testing and development for 2012?
WP: The cost of the cars has come down, but the changes do force everyone to buy a new car. But the cost of spare parts will be lower and strictly controlled to reduce costs. The fact that teams will have to run a lot more specified parts will reduce development expenses. Teams will continue to spend what they can looking for an advantage, so for me to put a number on what they might spend would imply I know their budgets.
MD: With lower costs projected, do you see more teams interested in qualifying for races? Are existing teams fielding more drivers?
WP: Lower costs might attract new teams to come in, but the fact that the new car levels the playing field is probably a bigger enticement to those thinking about coming in. The cost reduction should also give some teams the opportunity to increase their size by fielding more drivers.
MD: Do you see IndyCar doing more to showcase green technology? Would you consider allowing electric vehicles or fuels other than E85? How about a limit on teams’ fuel consumption (similar to the limited sets of tires they now have) or energy reclamation like the kinetic-energy recovery systems (KERS) in Formula 1?
WP: The door is being left open to all sorts of technology for fuels, energy recovery, and power sources. The introduction of several different engines and aero kits is a big step. It’s generating a lot of interest and will give us a good platform to work from.
MD: Will tire supply be open to more than one manufacturer once Bridgestone’s current agreement to supply Firestone tires runs out in 2013? What would be the pros and cons of using several tire companies?
WP: The confirmation of Firestone’s continuation is good for the series. Safety is of paramount importance, and their tires have excellent reputations. The introduction of new tire manufacturers will require a significant amount of testing and cost, but there are certainly interested parties out there, and it will be looked at for the future. The pros of using several tire suppliers are competition, improved performance, and more manufacturer participation; negatives are primarily increased cost and the potential domination of one tire at the expense of others.