Thursday, February 4, 2010

Indy Racing League explores options on new chassis

(by Nate Ryan 2-4-10)

Indy Racing League president Brian Barnhart says the IndyCar series is considering designs by manufacturers Dallara, Lola, Swift and DeltaWing for a new chassis scheduled for a 2012 rollout.
Barnhart says the chassis are on parallel paths: An evolutionary approach by traditional IndyCar players Dallara, Lola and Swift, and the revolutionary option offered by DeltaWing, which will unveil its blueprint Feb. 10 at the Chicago Auto Show.

"At this point they're all concepts," Barnhart said Wednesday. "There's more questions around the radical car, but until they become realities, we can't be in position to pick one until they're off the computer screen and on the track.

"The proposals are exciting and unique, and yet they're all very similar from the business side. It's really coming down to making a decision on which is the best direction for the future of IndyCar."

Barnhart says the IRL must settle on a design within the next three months to have it ready for 2012. While the IRL would welcome competing chassis manufacturers, it seems likely only one might be chosen.

"The hard part is it's somewhat of an economical equation," Barnhart says. "Most of them are more inclined to be in an exclusive supply situation. They don't want to lose volume, and they're looking at maximizing the parts they're building."

Barnhart also says IndyCar's length of schedule and its diversity (running on street courses, road courses and ovals) also could make multiple chassis options a cost-prohibitive problem for teams.

"If you find one car is better on a speedway than a road course and then a third car is better on 1.5-mile ovals, suddenly you find yourself needing two to three chassis to give yourself the best shot at a championship," Barnhart says. "That just raises costs of racing."

Reducing costs is a prime objective of the new chassis. Barnhart says the IRL wants to reduce the cost of a fully equipped chassis (currently about $700,000) by 40-50%.

The proposed design by Dallara (which supplies virtually all the teams with the chassis that's been in use since 2003) would cost $385,000. Dallara's new chassis would feature narrower tires, less horsepower (a drop from 630 to 570) and a lighter design (1,390 pounds vs. the current model's 1,530 pounds). The reduction in power, weight and tire width would increase fuel efficiency.

The IRL also wants the new chassis to enhance competition (particularly after a season that featured some lackluster oval races) and prefers the car is built in America. IRL technical director Les Mactaggart says the chassis also will be designed to improve fuel efficiency and reduce horsepower while maintaining 225-mph speeds with a lighter, sleeker car.

"The principal thing is to improve efficiency," he said. "By making it lighter and less aerodynamically 'draggy' and effectively reducing the power, it'll make the car more efficient and reduce the amount of fuel being used. We need to have the car more raceable and less sensitive aerodynamically, so drivers have a greater ability to overtake and are less affected by the aerodynamics of the car in front."

Safety also remains a high priority, and Mactaggart said IndyCar had found new ways to reduce frontal lift that would be incorporated into the chassis, along with changing the positioning of the sidepods to reduce the likelihood of wheel-to-wheel interlocking.

Barnhart says two engine manufacturers also have expressed interest in the IndyCar series, but "the challenge is both are looking to replace Honda as the exclusive supplier; they don't have interest and energy in competing against Honda. We're trying to find solutions, maybe by restricting spending."

Honda, which has indicated an interest in competition, is signed with the IRL for the next two seasons.

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