I guess it's no surprise the vast majority of questions I get regarding the 2012 car are about the aero kits. So, let's start this by talking about those.
For 2012, IndyCar wishes to again attract technical competition, not just with different engine manufacturers, but also on the chassis. To avoid the pitfalls of typical chassis competition, aero kits will be restricted to the visible bodywork. This allows diversity for the fans due to renewed technical engagement from commercial entities, yet within a sensible cost envelope.
2012 Indy cars will be known simply by the name given by the bodywork developer, permitting exploitation of one its most valuable assets – the car name itself. Outside the bodywork, the car is absolutely identical for all competitors so that a contained cost platform is established.
This provides an opportunity for technical and automotive companies to take part at a fraction of previous costs when entry demanded a complete car. IndyCar has the ability to balance the appearance of the vehicle along with creating new challenges every couple of years or as demand dictates, but still fitting the same base chassis.
The difficulty from IndyCar's perspective, as regulators, is how do you regulate aero kits?
In a perfect world, we'd like to see four or five different aero kits. But when you try to quantify what the knock-on effects will be to the series and teams, you get into a whole matrix of questions. A team's questions are selfishly (and rightly so) oriented around the team aspect – the competition, level playing fields, what happens if they pick the wrong kits, etc. I think our job is to go through and answer these questions and work those answers into the draft of the aero kit regulations that we're currently formulating and come out with a conclusion that's best for all. From the series' point of view, those team issues are taken into account but we're also asking how we can provide more opportunities for sponsorship revenue for the race teams.
There may be opportunities for teams to work with an aero kit manufacturer and thus reduce their costs. Naturally, the fewer the choices of aero kits, the more kits one company may have to supply. If there are several aero kit options, the supply criteria may be reduced.
There is an argument that everyone's going to migrate to the same kit – which is true if rules allow it but, as I said before, IndyCar needs to be creative and continue to develop the rules. We need to provide a set of regs that gives teams the opportunity to catch up at certain points during the season, and encourages aero kit suppliers to stay involved within the series.
All kits will be homologated with manufacturers having to provide drawings, surfaces, dimensions etc., and, once a design is homologated, it can't change until the approved time frame. The difficulty, from a series perspective, will be enforcing the regs but I'm confident we're on the right track. We'll provide a set of parameters that include the spirit of the rules along with punishments made public if rules are broken, and I'm comfortable we can do that.
Next we must consider how these aero kits will affect the racing. As a series, we have to make these calculations, and my feeling is that the racing is going to change.
We've been stuck in an environment where everything's been equal – the same chassis, same engine, same tires and a mandated set of parameters. Yet you notice two teams are still whipping everybody else. It follows that any time you have rules which invite multiple manufacturers to participate – with engines, tires, or in this case, aero kits – no one will come out the other end exactly the same.
There will always be good and bad decisions. In the past, when you decided which chassis supplier you were going to use, if you picked the wrong one, you either lived with it or got out of it at some point, but it was a $600,000 decision! Other than cost, I don't see the decision-making process being much different – there are going to be good and bad decisions. I still think that the good teams will rise to the top for many other reasons – they hire quality personnel, they run good programs and they employ talented drivers.
So how do we provide opportunities for the smaller teams to get it right? We give them a choice of multiple aero kits.
Teams are going to have to make a decision based on the knowledge they have, and what makes racing good is people making wrong decisions or acts of randomness that come into play. It's like racing in the rain: it's good because people can't calculate for it, so it's exciting! The fans are going to want to see that. We must provide a base vehicle that is really good on every type of circuit and can entice close racing – good for drafting, minimal wake. It's an intricate process and our job is to consider everyone's input as we make a decision best for IndyCar's future.Another intricate process is ensuring the cars are awe-inspiring. With only 550hp for the ovals, it's important the cars are as fast as the current ones yet more demanding to drive. (We're shooting for up to 700hp on the road courses, so that will look after itself.) I think we'll find that with a larger underwing on the car creating most of the downforce, the wings will be used more as tuning devices. The 2012 car will be far more efficient than the current car, so it will take far less energy to propel it. Whether it's through engine, transmission, drivetrain or just the overall aerodynamic efficiency of the vehicle in its shape and design, the 2012 car will far outperform the current vehicle.
Engine-wise, we're still actively seeking additional manufacturer participation beyond Honda. The rules are pretty much set and we're continuing to do what we can to entice others. The window of opportunity for 2012 is closing pretty quickly. The vehicle design can accommodate either an I4 or V6 configuration.
This month, we're asking drivers of different heights to come to Italy and be fitted in Dallara's mock-up monocoque. A newly regulated 3in. padding is to be behind the driver's back and under their butt, so we need to look at comfort and pedal positions, sight-lines, headrests, steering wheel positions, how upright they have to sit compared to each other, whether there's enough leg room, what happens in an accident, how quickly they can get out (that's something we've really worked on) and so on.
I'm pleased we've had a lot of constructive input from drivers. Most of their comments are about how they fit in the current car, what they'd like to see different in the new car and what they'd like to see different in terms of technology. Drivers want all the gadgets but obviously safety is the number one priority, and if we're going to aim for slightly higher average lap speeds, safety will inevitably come up all the time. So from the drivers there has been a wide variety of ideas – and it's usually not just about them but also about things they'd like to see in the series. To be honest, they've had some of the best ideas.
When it comes to consulting the teams, there are a couple of different levels we need to attend to. We need to constantly communicate with the owners and I've really been trying to do that, keeping them up to date with our progress and vendor selections. However, regarding technical parameters we're really dealing with the team managers. I've gotten a lot of feedback, not only on costs but also on vendors – who do they like, who is the best – and discovered what things are different between each team. It's important, whether it's a piece of suspension or a brake component, to really understand the budgets these guys are working with.
To date, the feedback from the teams has been outstanding, and I appreciate everyone being pretty upfront in supplying information because without that, it would make it more difficult to achieve our aim of containing operating costs. There is quite a spread across the board when it comes to pricing, that's part of the IndyCar Series' job – defining what are reasonable costs and where we think they should be, what's going to benefit all entities long term.
One device that comes up for discussion when dealing with a new car is an on-board starter. There are huge benefits on road and street courses, because you don't want the safety team called out every time someone has a harmless spin and stall. However, starters won't be on the new cars.
Reliability of operation and weight are two key factors. OK, there are lighter systems but they're cost-prohibitive. So, as an alternative, we will work on an anti-stall mechanism because there are too many instances right now where a driver stalls the car after a spin. (We'll go to a two-pedal system with a hand-operated clutch on the steering wheel.) That should help cut down on 30-40 percent of the yellow flags.
The anti-stall mechanism will also be part of our plan to make the vehicle capable of standing starts. Whether the series chooses to utilize that ability is down to them. I'd love to see it on the roads and streets – I think it adds an element of excitement and this series boasts that it's the most versatile series in the world, so having to master standing starts as well as rolling starts on ovals works. But that's merely my opinion. There are a lot of fans who think we should have rolling starts because that's the American way. Still, my job is to make sure the car is capable of doing all it can should the need arise. From there, fans can voice their thoughts.
Well, that's my update for now. Thanks for reading.