Arrow McLaren SP
IndyCar’s new-for-2020 aeroscreen is a welcome step forward in terms of cockpit protection – but it brings with it some technical challenges, as James Hinchcliffe’s race engineer at Arrow McLaren SP, Will Anderson, explains to David Malsher.
Unless you’ve been living a hermit-like existence over the past nine months, you’ll be aware that the NTT IndyCar Series will introduce the Red Bull Advanced Technologies-developed aeroscreen as a compulsory part for all 2020 season entries on all types of track. So far there have been two-car tests at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (superspeedway), Barber Motorsports Park (road course) and Richmond Raceway (short oval, returning to the IndyCar schedule next season after an 11-year hiatus).
Next up is Sebring Raceway’s 1.7-mile short track which, although a closed road course, is traditionally used by IndyCar teams to represent a street course. This is due to the circuit’s sheer bumpiness, the variety of curbing, its stop-start nature (which throws down serious challenges to both engine and brake cooling), and the manner in which the track grips up over the course of a test. For this test, James Hinchcliffe and the newly named Arrow McLaren SP team – now powered by Chevrolet – will be joined by Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan Honda. As in the other tests, the drivers’ and teams’ quest on behalf of IndyCar is to verify that the curvature of the windshield does not cause distortion issues, does not obscure corner apexes, and does not cause bad reflections and refractions.
In addition, the hugely reduced amount of fresh air entering the cockpit has resulted in an ongoing quest to improve through-flow, using various styles of ducts grafted into the bodywork. Drivers have so far appreciated the reduction in wind-noise – they can better hear the pit-to-car radio and the engine – but they’ve also been thinking ahead to the prospect of the race at Texas Motor Speedway in June, running at pace car speed under a full-course caution. Even in the evening, how hard will it be for drivers to remain cool?
All involved in the tests believe that it will be relatively easy to come up with a solution. There are, after all, some immensely bright minds at work within IndyCar and they’re being advised by similarly bright minds in the form of drivers and team engineers.
However, the addition of the aeroscreen has triggered yet another set of brainboxes to kick their gray matter into high gear. While in 2022 the aeroscreen will be an integral part of the next-generation IndyCar chassis, it is an ‘aftermarket’ add-on to the current chassis – whose basic concept was first designed for the 2012 season – and to the aerokit that is already two years old.
Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images
Given that the aeroscreen and its accouterments add an extra 55lbs, installed just behind the front axle longitudinally while raising the center of gravity (CoG), race engineers have had their work cut out to project, calculate and simulate the effect – and then come up with ways to counteract the consequences to the cars’ handling balance and its tire degradation. You might consider they have quadruple the challenge, too, given that IndyCar races at superspeedways, short ovals, street courses and road courses.
Arrow McLaren SP colleagues can count themselves blessed to have Will Anderson, a 30-year-old rising star among race engineers, fighting their corner when grappling with such complexities – especially given that the team is having also to adapt to Chevrolet engines for the 2020 season.
DM: It’s a cliché that the next season begins the day after this year’s finale, but I assume in your case in 2019, that’s been absolutely true…
WA: Ha! Yeah, it’s been a very busy off-season. With the aeroscreen arriving and the switch from Honda to Chevrolet, there’s been a lot to do. The engine switch, in terms of physical alterations to the cars, is very small – just enough to make it tricky! But there’s also a change in tools, in terms of aero programs, databases, simulators. That’s time consuming and a lot of detail work is required.
And regarding the aeroscreen, has your information so far come from IndyCar, Dallara or Red Bull?
We’ve had some basic information from the testing that’s been done already, mainly from IndyCar, in terms of the weight, how much it moves the CoG, and some of the driver comments. And then because it’s an IndyCar-run test, we’ve been given a test plan for November 5.
Speaking with Ryan Hunter-Reay last week, he was saying that with Barber Motorsports Park having just been resurfaced, it was hard to judge how much of the car’s balance shift was down to the revised weight distribution and how much down to the shift in grip levels. Will that be less of an issue for you guys because everyone knows Sebring’s surface so well from years and years of testing on largely the same track surface?
Actually, I think we may have a similar issue because of the amount Sebring changes according to ambient temperatures altering from morning to afternoon, the amount of grip available according to track temp, and so on. The last time we tested there was March, before St. Pete.
James Hinchcliffe with his race engineer Will Anderson.
Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images
Will the difference between the power delivery characteristics of Honda and Chevrolet also skew your data when you try to compare like with like?
Yeah, it will be a little harder to decipher what’s track, aeroscreen and engine related, certainly at this first test, anyway. But the goal for IndyCar from this test is to check the drivers’ opinion of the aeroscreen, we’ll do some brake testing for PFC [Performance Friction Corp., spec brake suppliers for IndyCar] and then also try different cockpit cooling methods. I’ve got to say, I think so far IndyCar has done a great job of methodically stepping through the problems or differences that may be arising when it comes to drivers’ opinions on airflow.
I’m sure it’s annoying hearing other people’s verdict on the car’s new handling balance caused by the aeroscreen when you must be desperate to get on track and check it out for yourself. In the mean time, how good are simulations now – can you immediately recalibrate to simulate the 55lb weight addition and a CoG shift both forward and upward?
Yes, the sim packages we use offline are pretty well down the road where you can add 50-55lbs – whatever the final weight ends up being – and it will give you a pretty good result. I mean, ideally you’d always want to correlate it with real track data which obviously we don’t have yet but I’d say the simulations will get us very close and then once you’ve run on track a few times and correlated with the sim figures, that should give you even more accuracy going forward.
And when deciding how to negate (or use) this weight shift in terms of wing settings, spring settings and so on, how much are you governed by what will be quickest empirically, and what will best suit James’ wants and needs?
Well, it’s the same compromise as ever – finding that middle ground between the theoretical fastest and what makes James fastest. I think it will be very interesting to see how the new weight distribution drives and what it ‘likes’ on track. The current aerokit kit really seemed to suit guys who could deal with instability on corner entry to have less mid-corner understeer, and so I’m intrigued to see if this revised package rewards a different driving style. I think that side of it will have to wait until we actually get on track. Where you find lap time after this fairly big revision is something that occupies a large part of the offseason, because you have to apply it to all the venues.
There are still some things up in the air, though – overall tech weight of the car, whether or not they allow us to move weight rearward to compensate – so it’s hard to completely define what will be necessary. The one thing we know is that by process of cause and effect, there’s no way we’ll be able to make as big a change as this and for it to not have consequences. Like, there’s no way we’re going to show up to races and be able to run last year’s setup.
But the good thing is that our ‘boxes’, even though it’s a spec series, are still big enough to make the necessary changes. I guess I’ll reserve judgment until we actually get on track, but depending on what IndyCar decide and how Firestone respond regarding possible changes to tire construction or compound, I’m confident that we aren’t running out of tools.
Could revised Firestones be a key component that you build into your car balance plans? So for instance, if IndyCar decrees – or Firestone choose to make – a more durable front tire to compensate for the harder wear and/or higher temps caused by the increased weight up front, I would assume that harder tire would offer less front grip. Could that help neutralize – add understeer to – a car that is currently regarded as being quite oversteery on corner entry? And will you even have sufficient test days to explore all those avenues, and get an idea of the boundaries between what does and what doesn’t work? (Apologies for the very long question…)
Well, regarding the first part, that’s going to be a fundamental question for Firestone and IndyCar. In the very big picture, Firestone is primarily concerned about safety and they’re not going to bring in a tire that is going to overheat and be unsafe. But yes, that scenario of a different compound tire adding a bit more understeer on turn-in and helping to balance the car a little more could be right. We just don’t know right now.
As far as testing’s concerned, there won’t be a ton of it and we have to squeeze it in between January 7thand the start of the season – a fairly short amount of time. So I can foresee a situation where we roll into St. Petersburg [the traditional season-opener] and there’s a slightly bigger gap from the front of the grid to the back. That’s especially likely compared with this season, because 2019 was the second year of an aero package that didn’t change, so there were a lot of teams able to arrive at tracks with essentially the same setup as the year before and then refine it. Everyone was closer together in terms of laptimes as they got nearer the limit of the kit’s potential. This year, with a big change like the aeroscreen, maybe the first half of the year will see a little bigger discrepancy between teams as all the engineers and drivers try to figure out how to tackle this new challenge. We just need to make sure we’re one of the teams at the front – and then maintain an edge by continually pushing to improve further.
Photo by: Art Fleischmann
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