James Hinchcliffe has delivered an angry attack on IndyCar’s new underbodies for superspeedways, stating that he believes the series is solving a problem that doesn’t exist – and perhaps even creating new problems.
Weather allowing, Chevrolet is due to have a ‘manufacturer day’ at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Tuesday, but allowing one Honda-powered car (the Andretti Autosport #27 of Marco Andretti) on track too, to test the new-for-2016 domed skid plates. This will be followed by an open test for all cars on Wednesday.
Ed Carpenter, Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe have tested domed skids already and the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver is convinced that the Verizon IndyCar Series has gone in the wrong direction – and unnecessarily.
He told Motorsport.com: “It’s bad, real bad. You can look at all the windtunnel data you want, but at the end of the day the reality on track is sometimes very different.
“We’re going to be producing less downforce in the corners and that’s going to destroy the racing at Indianapolis where there is already only one lane in the corners.”
The concept of the domed skids is to greatly increase downforce once a car's yaw angle dramatically increases – as during a spin – thus slowing the car’s rotation and forward momentum, and thereby reducing the chance of it catching air and launching. Hinchcliffe dismissed this theory as being of little consequence.
“The fact domed skids are even being considered is asinine,” he remarked. “They’re arguing safety, which is very bold considering we haven’t had a 90-degree rollover since the DW12 came out. If you put this car in a windtunnel at 90 degrees, you have to be going 300mph for it to blow over.
“So to my mind, they’re trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist and creating a new one by making the cars less stable in dirty air and therefore less raceable.”
Another potential safety issue
Hinchcliffe added that he believed the domed skids would introduce a safety hazard, which had particular resonance for him, given his suspension failure during practice at Indianapolis last May. The shunt ended his season on the spot and, given his perilous blood loss, could have had far more dire consequences.
He stated: “To get the ride heights that you need to run domed skids, you need to max the suspension of the pushrods, which makes them potentially way weaker.
“Well, as you can imagine, at the minute I’m a little bit sensitive to what can happen in the event of suspension failures at superspeedway velocities.”
The four-time IndyCar race winner is also convinced his opinion is shared by his rivals.
“I don’t care what anyone says to you on the record,” he said. “Off the record, every single driver will tell you domed skids will destroy the racing. And yet not one of us is worried about the potential safety of the old skid plate, because the 90-degree slide and flip problem simply doesn’t exist.”
Instability and unpredictability
Now in his sixth season in the series, Hinchcliffe tested the domed skid plate on his #5 Schmidt Peterson car at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., a track which is not on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.
The Canadian also missed last year’s Fontana race as he was recuperating from his IMS injuries, but said he remembers how the track felt in 2014 – and that the handling of the car with the domed skid plates is drastically inferior.
“It feels like you’re running in the dirty air created by a lot of traffic, even when you’re running by yourself,” he said. “That’s how bad it was.
“I went into Turn 1 and the car wanted to turn right. There’s a bump there that I didn’t even know existed. The front end just took off on its own path, and you had to predict when it was going to turn. You make an input in the steering and try and time it for when the front end is gripped enough to make the turn.
“It basically feels like you’re in a four-wheel drift – and this is Fontana we’re talking about, which has one of the largest radius corners of any of our ovals.”
More crashing, less racing
Domed skid plates, according to Hinchcliffe, will create similar issues to IndyCar’s previous measure to reduce the chances of cars taking flight.
“It’s the same problem we had when we cut holes in the floor,” he observed. “By making the underside less efficient, you’re more reliant on top-side bodywork downforce, which is obviously what gets affected most when you’re in dirty air.
“So not only will you now have less downforce running on your own because of the raised ride-height, you’ll have even ‘more less' relatively speaking when you’re running in traffic.”
Hinchcliffe said he found the logic behind introducing domed skids – which were last used on the previous-gen IndyCar of 2011 – incomprehensible.
“For safety’s sake, we’re trying to prevent cars taking off as they slide through 90 degrees – which is insane because they don’t do that anyway – but risking putting more guys in the fence as they try to follow each other.
“They’re creating a much bigger problem than the one they’re trying to solve. And it’s mind-boggling, absolutely mind-boggling, that they don’t see it and that these discussions have even made it this far.”
Asked if he believed IndyCar could reverse its decision to run domed skid plates on superspeedways, Hinchcliffe, who has twice started the Indy 500 from the front row, said that it’s possible.
“It’s a decision that is reversible, yes,” he said. “It takes nothing for us to go back… except for IndyCar to admit, ‘OK, we’re going back.’
“I just hope they can and will. This is the 100th running of the Indy 500, so it could be the most-watched race in IndyCar history. If these domed skids have to come in, then fine… but leave it until Texas or Pocono, or if Fontana comes back next year.
"Whatever, man. Just do not risk ruining the great racing we’ve had at the ‘500’ when the eyes of the world are on us.”