IndyCar leaders debate futuristic designs
The IndyCar Series may be going futuristic by 2012.
Drivers could be racing cars that look more like landspeeders
from “Star Wars” or something that looks like it came out of
“Batman” or “Speed Racer.” League officials could opt for
Lola’s more traditional style or they could approve several chassis
designs and let everyone choose their favorite look.
Yes, America’s biggest open-wheel series wants to make
innovation cool again.
“One thing I will say is that the five chassis out there have
created a bit of a buzz and that has helped,” league CEO Randy
Bernard embraces any such talk these days.
After accepting his new job in February, he appointed a
seven-member committee to review the new designs and five
manufacturers are now vying to build the next generation of
IndyCars. A representative from one of the companies involved with
the bidding process told The Associated Press that full
presentations are scheduled for the first week of June. Bernard has
said a decision will be made by June 30.
Though committee members will not discuss specifics about the
bids, citing a confidentiality agreement, there are clear
“The furthest I’ll go is to say I look at safety first and
that’s always the most important thing to me,” said Brian
Barnhart, a committee member who is the series’ president of
competition and racing operations. “After that, it still has to be
a good race car and it has to be cost-efficient.”
Cost is a key factor.
Teams estimate the total cost of today’s full-season package,
chassis and engine, at more than $1 million per car, and series
officials believe lower costs will increase the number of teams and
cars running in the series.
Bernard, the former Professional Bull Riders executive, also
thinks the new designs will radically change the series by bringing
back fans who have migrated to NASCAR or other racing circuits over
the past 15 years.
By emphasizing innovation and speed, Bernard thinks the new cars
will appeal to the old-fashioned IndyCar roots while introducing a
new generation of race fans to a series that looks like it came
straight out of the big screen.
Committee members won’t say whether they’ve been using focus
groups to get fan feedback, but some manufacturers have taken their
sales pitches to the masses.
“We’ve gone through five generations of designs in coming up
with this car because we’ve used social networks such as Facebook
and Twitter to get feedback from fans about the designs,” said Jan
Refsdal, president of Swift Engineering. “Our Facebook account has
gone up to 3,000 in about five weeks because the bottom line is
that this is about the fans.”
They weren’t the only ones taking a peek at the placards showing
the new designs or the new Delta Wing model, which was on display
behind the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last weekend.
Drivers were curious to see the concepts and the fan reactions
“To me it’s not a revolution, it’s an evolution,” said 2007
Indy winner and two-time series champ Dario Franchitti. “Some of
these do look quite radical so I keep asking people who were here
in the ’60s, when the rear engine came here for the first time, if
there was a similar reaction to the Delta Wing. They haven’t been
able to answer that yet.”
Franchitti’s team owner, Chip Ganassi, has been closely involved
with the Delta Wing, which has a thin nose resembling an airplane
fuselage, a tail fin and no wings.
Ben Bowlby, chief technical officer for the company, believes
the total cost of the car and engine would come in at less than
$600,000 because it could use a 4-cylinder engine. Another
advantage is that the fuel tank would be reduced from 24 gallons to
11 to maintain the same number of pit stops, though the car could
hit 235 mph.
“It would be turbocharged, that’s the way you get
higher-efficency,” Bowlby said. “Honda could make the engine,
Ford, GM, VW, it’s the most common powertrain in the world.”
BAT Engineering has produced a chassis that looks more like a
sports car with its rounded lines and wavy wings, coming in at an
estimated $350,000 to $375,000. Bruce Ashmore, chief operating
officer of the engineering firm says the car can hit 230 mph with a
3-cylinder turbocharged engine and could run on road and street
courses as well as ovals.
And like the Delta Wing, Ashmore says the car will be made
entirely in America.
“If we win the bid, every piece of it would be manufactured in
Indiana,” said Ashmore, who has been designing IndyCars since the
Swift Engineering has a different selling point.
The Batmobile comparisons are obvious, but it’s the innovative
“mushroom busting” technology that clears out the dirty air and
allows the cars to run closer together. Swift has already used the
concept successfully in the Formula Nippon Series, and thinks it
will work in IndyCars, too.
“There’s no question innovation has been a part of IndyCar
racing and what put it on the map is that appealed to fans,”
former Indy champ and committee member Gil de Ferran said. “But I
know a little bit about the automotive industry and it had the same
quandary. If you’re not a car engineer or a powerful consumer, most
consumers are limited to what they see today, so it’s hard to know
what excites them.”
Perhaps that’s why Lola has gone with a more traditional look,
while the only manufacturer to currently provide an IndyCar
chassis, Dallara, has made moderate adjustments to get the costs
down to $350,000 to $400,000.
Sam Garrett, the U.S. technical liaison for Dallara, said the
biggest difference between the current chassis and the one on the
drawing board is that teams spend about $350,000 on the chassis and
about another $350,000 to upgrade the parts. The new version would
include 100 percent of the parts.
But Garrett welcomes the competition.
“Personally, I would be quite happy if they announced multiple
manufacturers because it makes my job more interesting,” he said.
“But if it’s a single manufacturer, I want it to be Dallara.”
Lola was the only company of the five that did not respond to
So the biggest question for the committee is this: How radically
do they want to change the look of IndyCar racing?
“We’ve been in the same car for eight or nine years now and
they’ve come up with a design to try something different, which I
think is good,” 2008 Indy winner Scott Dixon said. “I don’t
really care what kind of car I drive as long we’re racing and
And appealing to fans.