F1 and the Indycar revolution
The FIA will have a keen eye on the IndyCar series this year as the sport’s US governing body will shortly confirm what type of car the championship will use in 2012 and beyond. Last year the Indy Racing League announced that it will introduce the next generation of IndyCar chassis in 2012 and invited manufacturers to bid for its supply. Any manufacturer submitting a proposal had to ensure their design was cheaper, more efficient, and would allow for closer racing than the current IndyCar chassis, and would also represent the future of open-wheel racing in the USA.
In effect, the IRL gave designers a blank sheet of paper to invent the racecar of the future.
The result is that five different companies have created radical design proposals for the 2012 IndyCar series. The FIA will be interested in the design concepts, and the features within them, as the F1 technical regulations are also set to change dramatically in 2013.
Formula One has an opportunity to learn from the IRL.
Each company that has submitted a 2012 IndyCar concept for consideration has sufficient reason to believe their proposal will be successful.
Current IndyCar constructor, Dallara, has created a design that makes use of their knowledge of the existing machinery. As well as being more aerodynamically efficient than the current car, Dallara’s proposed chassis also requires fewer spare parts, and fewer alterations between oval and road course configurations, which represents a significant saving in cost for the teams.
If their bid is successful, Dallara will build the cars in a new facility in Indiana to help boost the American automotive industry.
BAT Engineering has also confirmed their car will be built in Indiana if successful. The team of former March and Lola staff at BAT are highly experienced and have a total of 11 Indianapolis 500 victories and 13 CART/Indy titles between them. One of the key features of their design is safety which is an important issue for the IndyCar series where many cars flip or roll after contact. The BAT design allows drivers to race closely without fear of being pitched into the air.
Not to be outdone, Lola has come up with a unique concept in order to boost the chances of their submission being successful. They have designed a car with two different configurations of bodywork that offer the exact same level of performance. The idea is that teams can choose which of the designs they want in an effort to make the cars look a little different from each other. The other clever feature of the Lola is that the car would be the same one used by the Indy Lights series, which not only saves costs, but ensures that a huge grid would be possible for the Indianapolis 500 each year.
Swift Engineering has also come up with a few innovative features that, interestingly, could one day make their way into Formula One.
One of those features is the exposed engine detail. Swift’s designers wanted fans to see the moving parts of their car and since the engine cover is one of the least important aerodynamic pieces, they simply got rid of it. The idea is a real throwback to the open-wheel racing cars of the sixties.
They also came up with the notion of displaying the cars telemetry on its bodywork through a series of lights. A strip of colour would indicate the current level of fuel in the car’s tank and other bright coloured lights on the sidepods would indicate when the drivers were braking or accelerating.
Whilst F1 might look at similar ideas in the future, the FIA would be most interested in Swift’s design thanks to the ‘mushroom buster’ wing they have pioneered. Essentially, this wing sits at the bottom of the car at the very back, near where you would find a diffuser on an F1 chassis, and cleans up the airflow behind the car to make it easier for others to follow. It’s called a ‘mushroom buster’ due to the effect it has on the shape of the car’s rearward airflow. Swift have already introduced this wing into the Formula Nippon cars they build and have said it has been successful in allowing drivers to race closer together. Such a design would have a big impact on Formula One, especially at the moment with teams looking at ways to make overtaking easier.
Despite its innovative features, the car designed by Swift Engineering is not the most radical proposal that has been put forward to the IRL.
The most amazing Indycar design for 2012, and possibly the favourite to emerge successful from the bidding process, is the car created by DeltaWing LLC. Their work on the concept is fairly advanced and they have already constructed a full scale prototype that has been run through a windtunnel.
The car that DeltaWing have created resembles no other race car in history. It looks like a cross between the Batmobile and a fighter jet, and would totally revolutionise open-wheel racing around the world. The car is shaped like a dart and has the front wheels recessed into its long narrow nose. The design looks bizarre but is based on practical science.
The car’s shape reduces drag by almost 50% on the current chassis and also weighs a lot less. This means the car does not require as much horsepower to reach full speed and can therefore use a more efficient engine. DeltaWing also believe their car is pretty handy on street circuits since most of the weight and grip is behind the driver, which supposedly makes it more stable under braking and acceleration. The downforce is generated by ground effect aerodynamics near the back of the car, and in theory this should make it easy for two cars to follow each other closely.
Another interesting feature of the car is that it features long flat sides. This was incorporated into the design to provide excellent advertising space for sponsors.
If the DeltaWing concept is successful and implemented for the 2012 season, it will totally change the way engineers think about the shape and mechanical dynamics of open-wheel race cars.
The lessons learnt from the IndyCar series could have flow-on effect into Formula One design.
It’s highly unlikely the FIA will introduce anything like a Batmobile shaped car for the 2013 F1 season, but if the new IRL designs are successful and popular, the FIA may be forced to react. Formula One has always been the pinnacle of motor sport technology so there may be changes in the future to ensure F1 defends that title against a single spec series from the USA.