IndyCar Chooses Dallara Chassis, 'Aero Kits' for New Car Design
Amid a sparkling lighting display usually reserved for a rock concert Wednesday at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard announced Dallara as the new chassis manufacturer for the open-wheel series along with a "Safety Cell" concept that will allow other manufacturers to provide changeable aero kits.
"This car puts everything all of our stakeholders want on the racetrack: safety, competition on and off the track, diversity, efficiency and more," Bernard said, standing in front of a video representation of the new Dallara. "The new car is also is a cost-effective package that positions the series for tremendous growth and enhances the series' relevancy to future automotive technology."
The new car choice was the brainchild of IndyCar's ICONIC (Innovative, Competitive, Open-Wheel, New, Industry-Relevant, Cost-Effective) Advisory Committee -- an eight-member team led by a retired U.S. Air Force general that included engineers, a track promoter and former Indianapolis 500 champion Gil de Ferran.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told the standing-room-only audience that Dallara will build the chassis for initial use at the start of the 2012 season at a new factory to be built just outside the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- an announcement that was followed by a loud applause.
Each complete chassis will include the full transmission and suspension -- teams will no longer build suspensions -- and will cost a fixed $385,000 and will be designed for use on all tracks that the series competes on. The series will limit the aero kits to a maximum cost of $70,000.
The aero kits, which will feature extremely noticeable visual differences, according to mockups presented at the announcement, include the front wing, both side pods, the engine cover and the rear wing. Dallara will provide every other chassis component except for the seat.
"Come on Ford, GM, Lotus, Ferrari," said ICONIC advisory committee member Tony Purnelli, the founder of Pi Research and a former technical advisor to FIA. "Come on Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Electric. Come on you engineers working in your garage or in small shops.
"We've done our best to provide a framework for all of you to showcase your technical prowess without a need for a major raid on your piggy banks."
Each team will be permitted to campaign up to two separate aero kits during the course of a racing season, preventing larger budget teams from purchasing multiple packages that may have more suitable applications for some tracks than others.
Together with a new engine combination based on a six-cylinder, 2.4-liter engine, the entire package will put the cost of each race car under $1 million. Daniels, the Indiana governor, also announced that the first 28 cars purchased by Indiana-based teams will receive a $150,000 discount.
Dallara's new contract with IndyCar is relatively short. After taking effect in 2012, it will run until the end of the 2015 season.
Four other designs from BAT Engineering, DeltaWing, Lola and Swift Engineering were considered, and the DeltaWing gained the most notoriety due to its unusual design.
"DeltaWing was a radical car," Purnelli said, tip-toeing around why the car wasn't chosen. "As a holistic decision, Dallara was the best bet."
With the 2012 season roughly 20 months away, the series will face some tight deadlines in getting the Dallara factory built and operational in Speedway, Ind., testing the new car with the new aero kits, and then building enough cars to race. The current Dallara chassis, nearing a decade old, will not be grandfathered in.
"We're well within the windows for the manufacturers," said Brian Barnhart, IndyCar's president of competition and racing operations.
The new engine platform, though, may take a little longer and will mean Honda will stay as the sole supplier with their eight cylinder models into the 2012 season.
"I think we have to be realistic and not set our expectations too high," Bernard said. "We think its going to be pretty darn hard to see (multiple or new) engine manufacturers by 2012."
Several drivers were on hand at the announcement including J.R. Hildebrand, Sarah Fisher, Will Power, and Tomas Scheckter, while Dario Franchitti's Indianapolis 500-winning car sat on the orchestra pit stage of the theater before being lowered when the new chassis was announced.
"I'm very excited," said Power, one of three Penske Racing drivers. "The car is going to be lighter, faster."
Indeed, the new car will have a targeted minimum weight of 1,380 pounds -- 200 pounds lighter than the current model. The actual weight is still yet to be determined, though, due to variables with suppliers.
Hildebrand, the 2009 Indy Lights Series champion who just announced a new two-race deal with Panther Racing in the IndyCar Series, was a fan of the new design.
"This series is in need of competition beyond the teams," Hildebrand said.
Hildebrand also liked new design elements of the chassis intended to prevent cars from touching wheels and going airborne as driver Mike Conway did on the final lap of this year's Indianapolis 500.
"It makes the closeness of IndyCar race more justifiable," Hildebrand said.
Such competition was certainly on the minds of the committee members.
"One of the goals that we had with a lot of the ovals and superspeedways was to stay at least at today's level (of competition)," Barnhart said.