If you needed to know one thing summing up this morning’s reveal of the 2018 IndyCar Universal Aero Kit at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) here in Detroit, it would be to expect that the aero kit is better, safer and will make for some exciting racing heading into the 2018 season.
Fans can appreciate the better racing aspect and all-around the IndyCar series, along with Chevrolet and Honda, created what looks and promises to be a masterpiece of design for the track. From the major enhancements on aerodynamics promising more downforce, to the impressive improvements and upcoming additions for safety as well, the new aero kit promises better, more exciting races, but also will ensure drivers can still walk away or remain non-critically injured like Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais last season after their two (separate) horrific crashes during the month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The 2018 aero kit project began in Winter 2015, with IndyCar really questioning where they wanted to go, and started the development for this new aero kit in 2016. Working with Chevrolet and Honda, as well as inquiring on the interest from other possibly unnamed manufacturers, the aero kit brings something fans and followers have been hoping for–not only a way to make a more level playing field in components, but a way to give everyone more competitive and overall more incredible racing.
Team Penske driver and the current reigning IndyCar Champion for the 2017 season, Josef Newgarden, took the press through the outfitting and engineering behind the new aero kit, explaining the benefits of each detail altered from the previous aero kit designs (mind you Honda and Chevrolet both supplied their own prior to this).
So, what’s new and what will it result in?
Starting with the center of the car, which makes most of the difference for this new, racier design, the car has been lowered, even lower for the Speedway configuration, providing 6% more downforce for ovals. This improved and ideal air flow and extra downforce will help maintain increased sticking to the track for the cars, allowing drivers the ability to keep up with other competitors, as well as create more opportunities for passing. After a few of the ovals experienced in the 2017 season, fans, drivers and team owners alike have voiced there was some much-needed improvement on that end, and we’re promised this is the fix for it.
This lowering of the car and increased downforce created less need and dependence on the newly crafted front and rear wings. Teams will still be able to adjust the front wing for ideal air flow from track to track, and the rear wing still includes a road course and oval set (both noticeably different from the previous designs) to configure accordingly. And with these new rear wings there was an allowance for the removal of the rear pods and beam wicker, helping the car to lose 35 pounds from the rear, concentrating the center of gravity more, well, centrally, allowing for the car to be more nimble and predictable for drivers.
And safety is huge on this car. The sidepods have been moved forward on the car (remember the cars had more of a wedge shape last year) and provide a more Coke bottle silhouette for the 2018 cars from above. The sidepods moving forward not only help with air flow, but provide more structure around the cockpit meaning more material surrounding the driver in the event of a crash like Bourdais’s or even Schmidt Peterson Motorsport’s James Hinchcliffe’s near-deadly crash at Indy in 2015.
Now, remember, mid last year, Jay Frye, President of the Verizon IndyCar Series talked about this 2018 kit being designed with driver safety in mind. The sidepods were a huge step in that direction. As far as furthering head protection for the drivers, Frye says they are working on those safety enhancements, trying out ideas with halos and windscreens, and have been for the last year. “The target now is to put something on the car by Phoenix (April 7, 2018) to test and just to get a look at it. We’ve done simulations and models, but just haven’t put it on a car yet–it’s a process they’ll go through, and do we integrate or not? And how do we go forward with it, possibly by the end of ‘18?”
The new improvements on performance and design clearly have generated excitement for the upcoming start of the season (St. Pete, March 11, 2018), including Driver, IndyCar Champ and 1969 Indy 500 winner, Mario Andretti, who shared his enthusiasm for the car, however, “…the only negative in this is I don’t have a ride yet. What’s wrong with you guys?”
Team Penske owner and the brains behind the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, Roger Penske, promised Andretti a ride for the 500 tomorrow. We’ll see if he follows through.
But the important thing Mario pointed out was, “It’s going back to what a pure, open-wheel, single-seater car should be.” And if you remember (or look up) just a few of the epic finishes of decades past, it’s something fans and drivers have longed for and can look forward to.
Beyond car design, with increases on viewership across the board digitally and in-person on track days, there is always talk of what that means for the future of IndyCar. Right now, everyone, across the board of the panel discussion, were happy with the schedule and the fan-favorite tracks that have returned (like Gateway, Watkins Glen and the newly announced Portland International Raceway race in September), but there could be opportunity to look at more if the fit is right. As Frye confirmed, “If there was a great event that was presented to us, an opportunity–we would go to everyone in the paddock and go, ‘Here’s the opportunity to do this–it would take us from 17 to 18 races. What do you think?’ But right now, we’re not actively seeking any more.” But if the time, place was right, including if an international opportunity occured and everyone was on board, there could potentially be another race added to the calendar.”
IndyCar returns to St. Petersburg, Florida for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Bourdais was the series premier winner last year. Will he defend his win, or will Champion Newgarden look to begin the defending of his championship title with the first race of the season?
Stay tuned, and get ready for one exciting season to come.