The Concept of a new Chassis

Last year, the Indy Racing League set a new time period for the next IRL chassis design. The current chassis designed by Dallara in 2000 has, bar some minor tweaks, remained largely unchanged over the years. Originally it was assumed that Dallara may deliver an evolution of the current car, but in the time since a group of team owners announced a concept chassis called the Delta Wing – a concept that is to be officially unveiled tomorrow at a Chicago car show.
While there will not be a multi-chassis combination competing in the IRL in the near future, it does raise the bar in terms of competition amongst potential clients for the position of sole chassis supplier.

One thing that does seem to have been overlooked by many commentators is that although the new car will launch in 2012, it should not be designed with 2012 in mind. If this car is to run for a possible five or six seasons, it needs to be designed with 2015 to 2018 in mind. Like the new engine proposals (which may be unveiled later this year) it will need to be configured so that it will fall in line with environmental and power considerations of the future for the simple reason that this is what engine manufacturers and the likes are looking at. No one wants to build a car for 2012, because by the following January it could be considered to be conceptually outdated and its relevance may begin to sink quickly thereafter.

In the wake of all this talk about new cars, I could not help but notice that a proportion of writers have suddenly become experts on the designs of these cars with many happy to state that they have preferences for certain concepts because “…they look nice and fast…” or alternatively “…they look like an Indy car…” and it is train of thought that I simply cannot fathom.
Unless a whole host of bloggers, journalists and other commentators have become aerodynamacists overnight and can decipher the aerodynamic numbers and mechanical grip elements of cars that have yet to be built – let alone raced – then surely what a chassis looks like is quite irrelevant. Pretty cars do not always make for good racing and for all we know the ugly third concept design by Dallara as revealed last week could be the best racer of the lot and this is before any of the concepts have even been formally examined with regards to any sort of safety implementations.
This is crazy and it brings me to my biggest quip.

There seems to be a few in the racing community that appear to be more concerned about where sponsors are placed as opposed to how the cars race and ultimately that is completely the wrong way to approach any potential chassis design. If anything, this should be about:

  1. Safety
  2. Good racing
  3. Economy / Sponsorship

I will repeat this one last time – safety must come first; not only for the drivers, but more importantly the fans and the marshals. If the chosen chassis is slick, but inherently dangerous, then the League is just asking for bouts of litigation and bankruptcy should fatal accidents occur – this is not the 1970’s anymore and fatalities and serious injuries, while still a risk, must not be option open to possibility.
On the other hand, if they bring out a car that cannot race well and produces boring events, then regardless of how much sponsorship space a car has, the sidepods will be hard to sell, because fewer people may end up watching. However, if a chassis is chosen that allows exiting and competitive racing where drivers can get close without the risk of losing their lives, their feet or the front end in an aerodynamic wake, then people may be more aroused about the product and may be more inclined to buy in. More eyeballs may make marketing the series and obtaining sponsorship a little easier regardless of how cars look.

Taking all of that into consideration for moment, I must admit that the Italian company have been rather clever here. By revealing three concept drawings, Dallara have got an increasingly desperate fanbase talking about the cars, the IRL and most importantly their place in the series – but it’s only three drawings. No details have been released, there are no numbers, no thoughts, no ideas, just drawings of pretty cars. If I were to draw a machine that looks vaguely like an Indycar and submit it to the series bosses, do I then tout my squiggle as a potential 2012 chassis??
Like any other company in their position, Dallara were clever enough to throw out three seemingly random car concepts to position themselves one week ahead on the unveiling of the Delta Wing – thing is, when Dallara let their drawings “slip” not many were considering potential offerings from Swift Technologies or Lola cars. I wonder if Lola will unveil their 2010 Formula 1 car that was turned down? Of course, I could never really be that cynical, but the timing is certainly rather odd.

While it is wonderful that lots of people are talking about this issue, the reality is that apart from the light nuggets of information given to us by Swift Technologies, we – as fans – simply don’t know what we are talking about in terms of Indycar design. We are not aerodynamacists, so why are we even thinking about which concept car will work best? Unfortunately absolutely none of us know for sure which company may win out in the end; thus for now, the chatter is mainly about which is the prettiest drawing, but for now they are only drawings.
On a lighter note though, for the first time in a long time and despite some recent wobbles, the Indy Racing League feels as if it is moving along as opposed to bumbling around in the dark. Let’s hope progress can be maintained and that the series will be let to grow and breathe. In the meantime, the Delta Wing will be unveiled tomorrow at an auto show in Chicago and I – as with many other IRL fans – wait with baited breath to see what the Delta Wing can produce. In the absence of Formula 1 in the United States, whatever the league bosses choose will dictate the future of single seater racing in the US for years to come.

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