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Detroit announcements further clarify INDYCAR ‘five-year plan’

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The Verizon IndyCar Series world was a bit different when Derrick Walker, then INDYCAR’s new President of Competition and Operations, declared at the 2013 Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans that the “infamous aero kits” would eventually make their competition debut in 2015. Mark Miles was still in his first year as head of INDYCAR’s parent company, Hulman & Co., Jay Frye was still a year-plus out from being hired by the sanctioning body, and the new Dallara chassis was only in its second year of competition.

During that press conference, Walker also outlined a long-term, 10-year plan for what he saw as INDYCAR’s car evolution and vision through 2021. For the venerable Englishman who ran his own team for nearly two decades after moving from Penske Racing, Walker’s tenure with the series ended at the conclusion of the 2015 IndyCar season.

But the plan executed by the new personnel in terms of IndyCar’s car evolution has largely stuck to the script since, and with today’s pair of announcements at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, it’s solidified a path that veers only slightly from that originally targeted timeline.

In 2017, the manufacturer designed aero kits from Chevrolet and Honda will have their final runs, with those kits frozen this year. New for this year is new brake partner, Performance Friction Corporation, or PFC Brake.

The new-for-2018 universal aero kit will be selected from a pot of 11 or 12 potential suppliers, and likely revealed in the flesh in February. This kit will be utilized for three years in tandem with the current base Dallara IR-12 (Dallara DW12) chassis, with that extended through 2020.

A windscreen or halo-type element could be part of the kit, but the kit may have a couple different solutions.

More efficient downforce is sought from the floor of the car, rather than the top of the car, per driver feedback to INDYCAR. Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi were present today as part of a roundtable meeting, and were among those who noted that’s a direction they’d like to go.

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Frye at Texas last year. Photo: IndyCar

Frye, who succeeded Walker as INDYCAR’s President of Competition and Operations, expanded on the car evolution trajectory in a roundtable meeting with reporters at Detroit today. Selected quotes of note are below:

ON THE PLAN ITSELF 

“I went to the University of Missouri, so this five-year plan is actually really four years, but it could be five. If you look at it in 2017, we’ve announced we’re going to freeze the kits. ’18, ’19 and ’20, so the next three years after that, we’ll have a universal aero kit, and in the year 2021 it gives us an opportunity to do maybe something drastically different, maybe continue the current universal program, but just provides some options.

“The ’18 car, what we’re working on now, which we will unveil completely in the next couple weeks, we looked at the cars over the last 20 years, and what different parts and pieces off of different cars that we liked and we knew that other people liked, and especially that our fans were asking for. So that’s really where the car started, and it’s kind of a reverse engineering exercise. Usually you work on a performance piece first, where this car we worked on the esthetics of it first, hoping that we can create a performance package around it. And besides the performance piece, it also will have a lot of safety initiatives that are very cool, I think.

“An actual drawing of the car will probably be mid-February, and then it’ll be early to middle of the summer before we get on any kind of track testing. And then once that happens, the process will accelerate very quickly. So again, once we were very — the model wind tunnel test was done, I believe, 10 days ago, two weeks ago, so once we got those numbers we were very encouraged by the plan and how it could work. If those numbers would have come back not what we thought, then we would have had to maybe regroup a little bit, but right now we don’t have to.”

Renderings courtesy of IndyCar
Renderings courtesy of IndyCar

ON THE SHAPE OF THE NEW KIT

“(There’s) a lower engine cover, doing some different things in the back, again, a different shape for the side pods. Again, I think you’re seeing, something is going to go on the screen at some point, we’ll show you kind of some preliminary hand drawings that we had of the car. Again, if you look at the one in the middle, it kind of shows, again, a lower engine cover. You’ll notice there’s something that’s not in the rear wheels.”

ON TESTING NEW PARTS THUS FAR

“We tested at Mid-Ohio; we tested at Phoenix. So we’re taking the current car and coming up with some of the ideas we have, we basically took parts off to see what they would do. One of the things on this new car, there’s a lot of parts and pieces that are not on it, so we took most of the downforce of this current configuration, most of the downforce comes from the top. The new car, most all the downforce will be generated from the bottom of the car, so I think these guys will like that.

“When we did the tests, one of the things the drivers mentioned and commented was how we have a great racing product right now, we don’t want to affect that negatively in any way, but this new car, the universal car, we should be able to pull it better. We don’t run into that air that they currently do. So that’s some things that we’re looking at. Performance-wise it should be better because we don’t want to go backwards, and the safety elements to it, there’s some stuff on the side impact that should be much better.”

ON A POTENTIAL HALO/WIND SCREEN

“We are looking at a wind screen or a halo type application. Will that be on the car in ’18, I’m not sure, but we’re full speed ahead designing and developing as soon as possible.

“But again, even that, because of our schedule being so diverse, maybe there’s two different applications. It would be difficult to run a halo at an oval, but what’s to say you couldn’t run a halo at road courses. Yeah, we’re looking at all different scenarios.”

ON SAFETY ENHANCEMENTS THE LAST COUPLE YEARS

“One of the things on safety, too, if you look at last year, this was the dome skids, the tethering, the rear wheel guards to the rear flaps, you know, two years ago we had the issues with the cars getting airborne. Last year at Indy, every car that spun, I don’t know if you noticed, smoke completely engulfed the cockpit. Well, the year before the cars would get light and there would be no smoke when they spun.

“Well, when we saw smoke when the first car spun and the car was completely engulfed with tire smoke, that was perfect. That’s exactly what the — that safety element was supposed to do, keep the car on the ground. It flat spotted the tires. You shouldn’t do a 360 spin or whatever and just be able to drive off. It needs to keep the car on the ground. There’s been other safety things that we’ve done that we will incorporate into the ’18 car that we have in ’17 that we developed in ’16.”

F1: USGP post-qualifying reactions on NBCSN

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Here are post-qualifying quotes from drivers following the session today at the United States Grand Prix, where Lewis Hamilton extended his record with 72 poles and then broke a tie with Michael Schumacher for his 117th front row start.

TOP 3 WORLD FEED INTERVIEWS – WITH NBCSN’S WILL BUXTON

1. 44-Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

“The team have done a great job. Track was very difficult with the wind picking up. There was a head wind into Turn 1, then a tail wind out of 1, then Sector 1 tail wind, then a head wind into 9, so it shifts through the lap. You have to gauge how hard to push. That’s why I love this track, especially when you have a car this good.”

“I think it’s highly unlikely (to clinch the championship). Sebastian did a great job to bring the Ferrari back up there. Ultimately all I can do is the best of my abilities.

“Sebastian’s right there. Unless he makes a silly mistake – which is quite unlikely as he’s a four-time World Champion – we’ll see it continue on to other races.”

2. 5-Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari

“I was very happy at the end but was lacking a bit of rhythm first to second sector. Finally I got it right at the end when it mattered. I believe our race pace is very good. Quali, we’ve been just a bit behind. Congrats to Lewis.”

3. 77-Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes

“Definitely disappointing. It was looking good, quite close with Lewis. Disappointing but there’s always tomorrow.”

OTHER INTERVIEWS (Alonso, Ocon, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Hartley with Buxton; rest with BBC Radio 5 Live reporter Jennie Gow, while Buxton was handling world feed top three) 

4. 3-Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull

“Happy with what I did in the last run! Today overall not really, until that last run. We were a bit off the pace. We found something. I’m just more happy with how we turned it around. I was 10th in Q1, but then we made it less than half a second. Let’s go for win number two. That sounds a lot sweeter and has a better ring to it!”

5. 7-Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari

“Probably not (as to get the most out of it). This is what we got today. Some places were more difficult. It was hard to get it right. Some laps were good. It was difficult to put a lap together. I don’t know. I have no idea how tomorrow will go.”

6. 33-Max Verstappen, Red Bull (has 15-spot grid penalty; will start 18th)

“Everything seemed to work pretty OK. I made two big mistakes in the last run. I was surprised to be that close (to them). I should have been near Sebastian. Look at sector times; it all looked OK. If you make two mistakes, it’s not all there. It’s my worst qualifying of the year.

“In qualifying we lose a lot on the straights. We get close. I have to fight harder. I’ll try to show tomorrow what I didn’t do today.”

7. 31-Esteban Ocon, Force India

“I feel sick all the session. Massive headache. I took something during session. My stomach was upside down. I’m not going too close to you. Hopefully can recover and be ready to attack tomorrow.”

8. 55-Carlos Sainz Jr., Renault

“(I’m) very happy with that, and how everything’s gone so far. It was quite tough track conditions with the wind is picking up. You have to know how the car will react. I built it up over the whole session, more than a second. P8 with a penalty in front of us, I think we can be pretty pleased with that. Just want a clean race. Don’t want anything more than that. We’ll see what the strategies are. I’ve been focusing on short running so far. A clean race, if we do that, we can be in the points for the team.”

9. 14-Fernando Alonso, McLaren

“It felt great. We had difficult conditions. Very windy and quite hot. The grip was lower than we expected. The McLaren car performed extremely well. We went into Q3. In Q3 we were ninth, and we’ll be eighth with the Verstappen penalty. A great chance to score points. (with long straights, maybe not as bad?)

“We’ll see. We seem to compare with the other teams. There’s still a deficit on the straights. We’re a little bit exposed in first lap in the group. After that’s settled, we can open the gap in high speed section and defend better. We’ll try defend these first laps as best we can.”

10. 11-Sergio Perez, Force India

“It was good. We had good pace in the car today. But my qualifying was compromised big time when Kevin (Magnussen) blocked me. I had to use an extra set. So in Q3 I only had a single set. It was strange; it was quite understeery. Lost 4 tenths to Q2, and that meant P10. Definitely tomorrow I will be able to recover, move forward. It’ll be a tricky run. There are a lot of things that can happen. It’ll be important to get a good race in. Crossed fingers! (to survive Turn 1).”

14. 8-Romain Grosjean, Haas

“Yeah, it’s been a tough weekend. I didn’t run any ultrasofts before quals. Then I spun before. The one on Lance Stroll was close. I was lucky not to spin in the grass. That would have been the end of it. We made it to Q2, which was good I thought. We closed the gap from 0.7 to 0.3, but we haven’t been performing that well. It’s not the upgrade that’s been the issue; it’s been more tire-related. And that’s why we’ve had such a swing in performance. Malaysia nowhere, Japan we’re good, now here it’s mixed.

“(On Haas Hill:) That was amazing. The support we have here is insane! I waved at them in quali after I was done. I’m sure the fans will give us something special.”

15. 27-Nico Hulkenberg, Renault (has 20-spot grid penalty, will start 19th)

“(Not running is) not by choice but it is what it is. We have the plus-20 engine penalty. It doesn’t make sense to keep running. We want to keep the flexibility in strategy to start on whatever tire. We have been reasonably competitive and have a big challenge on our hands right from the back. I’m trying to be positive. Hopefully can overtake a lot of cars. Look forward to better racing.”

18. 39-Brendon Hartley, Toro Rosso (has 25-spot grid penalty, will start 20th)

“Obviously I’d love to be quicker but we knew we were starting at the back. Put a lot of focus on long runs. Getting the peak performance out of this Pirelli tire I didn’t get today. Free practice three had a good feeling. There’s a lot of quirky things to manage with these tires. Honestly I should be happy with how the weekend’s gone so far. I don’t do the 24 hours completely alone! It’s quick. It’s physical to drive. I’ll be happy to be done after an hour and a half. A point would be a dream starting from the back. If I can move forward and put a race together, I’ll be happy.”