MARTIN: Universal Aero Kits Ahead Of Schedule

The Verizon IndyCar Series is working towards the new Universal Aero Kit and it has received mostly positive praise. (IndyCar Photo)
Bruce Martin

INDIANAPOLIS — When the Verizon IndyCar Series comes up with an idea that even its critics praise, it must have done something right. And that is why the 2018 universal aero kit appeared to be a big winner after three of four tests.

The new bodywork gives the loudest antagonists, who have been complaining about the looks of the cars, reason to be quiet — at least for a while.

With its sleeker, lower profile, the car looks fast just sitting still. The  front end and the radiators have been moved forward on the 2018 car, giving it a “retro” appearance reminiscent of the chassis used during the 1980s and 1990s when the old CART Series was considered to be at the “peak” of its popularity.

The rear is much more refined and streamlined, giving the car a more “futuristic” appearance that some have even described as looking like the Delta Wing.

Gone are the clunky, bulky and modular bolt-on aero-kit pieces used from 2015 through this season, when Chevrolet and Honda were allowed to create parts for the car that would set the two brands apart.
After spending millions of dollars on development, it set the two brands apart competitively on the race track with Chevrolet getting a huge competitive advantage in 2015, which led Honda Perform­ance Development to request relief under the rule known as “Rule 9.3.”

Honda closed the gap significantly last year to where the two brands were fairly even.

Hoping to attract an additional engine supplier to the series in future years, IndyCar officials, led by Jay Frye, the sanctioning body’s president of competition and operations, decided to “freeze” the aerodynamic rules for 2017 and introduce the universal kit in time for next season.

The Dallara DW012 chassis has been quite competitive since it began competition in 2012. It has created the most competitive Indianapolis 500s in the 101-year history of the storied race with records for most lead changes and most different leaders all coming since it was introduced.

But it has also had its share of critics who didn’t like the fact the rear wheels were covered by a “bumper” that was supposed to improve safety and keep cars from launching over the rear wheels. But for anyone who saw Scott Dixon’s airborne flight in this year’s Indianapolis 500, the rear bumpers didn’t keep cars from launching.

Those rear pods are gone on the universal aero kits and the rear wheels are once again exposed.

Overall, IndyCar has hit this one out of the park by creating a beautiful-looking racing machine that may actually improve the style of racing on the street and road courses, as well as the short ovals on the schedule, while preserving the breathtaking style of racing displayed on superspeedways.

The initial test for the new bodywork was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 25. The second test, for road course configuration, was at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Aug. 1 with the short-oval package tested Aug. 10 at Iowa Speedway.

A final street course and brake-cooling test is set for Sept. 26 at Sebring (Fla.) Int’l Raceway.

After those tests are complete, production will continue on the parts. Manufacturer testing by Chevrolet and Honda will follow with individual teams getting parts at the end of November.

Team testing will begin in early January.

Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya is the Chevro­let test driver with longtime veteran Oriol Servia serving as Honda’s test pilot.

“We’re so experienced, both of us, and I think we can bring good feedback,” Montoya said after the Iowa test. “We’ve both raced when the wings were (providing) half of the downforce that we’re running right now. It was nothing, we had the little superspeedway wings on ovals like here (Iowa) and we were braking in both corners. I felt that was way too low when we were doing that, so this (new kit) seems to be a good balance and the car is much nicer to drive.

“Each team will have to do their own work and figure out what’s the best compromise for each other, but for a package, I think it’s great. I think having everybody in the same chassis is really good.”

With three tests conducted in less than three weeks time, IndyCar officials were pleased that the design of the new bodywork is performing up to expectations.

“It’s reconfirming that the technologies of today can be used to develop something, then you go to the race track and reconfirm it in the real world.” said Bill Pappas, IndyCar’s vice president of competition and race engineering. “From that perspective, it’s been an interesting engineering exercise.

“We did a couple exercises (at Iowa) with our brake partner, PFC, which looks to be a step in the right direction going forward,” Pappas continued. “We’ll go to Sebring at the end of September. The box to check off there is our brakes. We know that’s the most difficult track on brakes and if we can get them to survive there, then I think we’re clean as far as our brake development for next season.

“If we go to this lower downforce package, both (drivers) agree that we need to develop a tire for that,” he added. “Firestone accepts that and they’re going to come up with something for when we go testing at Phoenix, hopefully in October.”

More testing remains before the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season begins, but so far it looks like the new bodywork for next year is already a winner.