De Ferran: Rules “quite restrictive” in racing over last decade

1 Comment

This is the last in a series of posts stemming from a Tuesday interview with Gil de Ferran. The first two installments can be found here and here.

Tighter rules packages as a whole have become more commonplace in motorsports, and as you would figure, it’s had some consequences. One can argue that there isn’t as much room for innovation in the sport now as there was in the past, and as a result, the natural evolution of racing technology has largely slowed down.

Gil de Ferran, a figure well-known for his considerable background in technical and engineering matters, concurs that racing technology has not evolved much in the decade following his Indianapolis 500 win. But he also notes that there’s a positive to this movement as well.

“Over the past 10 years or so, the rules have been very restrictive,” De Ferran said. “People got smart about a few things, the computers got a lot more powerful, so people are doing more simulations now and they have a better understanding of certain things…Apart from that, if you look at most of the technologies that are in the construction of the car, they’re similar or they haven’t moved by leaps and bounds. That’s because the rules have been quite restrictive over the past decade.

“The upside of that is…There’s a much greater understanding about the performance of racing cars than there had been in the past, so people are closer and closer together and you have very exciting racing, which is the plus side of keeping the rules very tight.”

One just has to look at IndyCar in its current form to see that. While aero kits have been clamored for by fans in order to create different-looking cars, it can’t be denied that the series has produced a tremendous racing product over the last two years with its spec Dallara DW12s – a product that may or may not be altered considerably should the kits make their way onto the track.

Those kits, as well as other projects concerning Honda, may be on De Ferran’s plate in the future as he focuses on his work as a technical consultant for Honda Performance Development, the racing arm of the company’s American operations. He has been part of the Honda family for many years; among other exploits, he won his two CART titles in 2000 and 2001 with Honda power and an American Le Mans Series title in 2009 while driving an Acura ARX-02a for HPD.

De Ferran appreciates the “familiarity and comfort” that comes with working with HPD and says he is very happy to be involved in racing again on the technical side, which he’s loved since he was a kid. As for what may come next for him, De Ferran said that, with the right opportunity, he’d like to try his hand at building racing cars.

Last year, he and a number of colleagues put together what he calls a “free-thinking” proposal to build the next-generation car for the Firestone Indy Lights developmental series. However, the decision was made this past February to delay the debut of such a machine until after the 2014 campaign.

Still, De Ferran seems hopeful for another chance in the future – if it seems good to him.

“Whether we’ll try to participate on something similar to that I the future, it’s [to be determined],” he said. “I have to analyze the situations individually as they come along. They depend on a lot of things, including time. Have I lost my passions for cars and racing cars? No.

“If the right opportunity with the right timing and the right circumstances came around again, that’s for sure something that I would love to do. There are opportunities and opportunities – some are good and some are not so good.”

Watch Indianapolis 500 time trials this weekend online and on your mobile devices.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
Leave a comment

MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.