Four-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon says the series’ races on the superspeedways will be tougher with the new aerokit, although he worries that qualifying at Indy may have been made easier by more restricted range of wing settings.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver tested at Texas Motor Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway along with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver James Hinchcliffe and was left enthusiastic about the new car’s attributes in race configuration.
“Race-wise, with similar downforce as last year, I think the biggest setup difference has been the altered weight distribution,” he told Motorsport.com. “I think that’s going to be pretty interesting to work around to start with because it doesn’t feel that great. But by the time we race, everyone will have figured out a multitude of ways to run them.
“The draft pull-up on the car in front is pretty substantial, and the buffeting is a lot less and the front-end washout behind another car is a lot less. I’m not an aerodynamicist but I think the reason you get that faster draft effect is because by reducing the top surfaces, the air is not so disturbed coming off the car in front, and obviously the car behind being is less draggy, so it definitely pulls up quick.
“The other thing we noticed is that the car is more consistent. It gets thrown around a lot less in crosswinds because I guess there’s less vertical surface area. With the manufacturer aerokits, there was so much crap hanging off the top surfaces you’d get a lot of inconsistency according to crosswinds across a big track like Indy.”
However, the 2008 Indy 500 winner, who has also taken three poles at IMS including two of the last three, says the heavy restrictions imposed by the rules, combined with the improved handling of the new car, could mean that qualifying could see an artificially compressed field from front to back.
“I don’t want to sound negative just on the basis of the first test,” said Dixon, “because I’m not sure how it’s going to play out. We all know that teams always find a workaround to get to the next level, but at the moment the rules are very restrictive and you don’t have much difference between teams. So the difference will still occur because the best teams will do things differently. But the magnitude of what we can do to separate ourselves will be much less.
“Like at Indy last year, we had an 800lb swing from qualifying to race downforce, and right now we have about 200. It’s hard to work out precise numbers at the moment because our new electronic systems’ sensors are not driving great yet. So qualifying there could be super-easy and everyone runs the same thing, which would be a bit disappointing.
“If everyone qualifies within 2mph, it means there’s no real gain for taking a chance by trying to trim out – and for me that’s a big part of Indianapolis – those risks you take in qualifying for the 500.
“But like I say, we don’t know how that’s going to play out yet, and qualifying is the only thing I’m a bit worried about. Everything else is good, and it’s a difficult car to drive over a long run. Because you don’t have the window of putting on all the downforce we had last year, I think Indy is going to be tough as the tires wear out. Our race runs in the test were really difficult.”
IndyCar can now prevent pack racing
On the subject of preventing pack racing which caused so much carnage at Texas Motor Speedway this year, Dixon pointed out that the power has been put back in the hands of the series' technical experts like Bill Pappas and Tino Belli.
“Again, it was hard to tell the effect of the new package with only two cars on track,” warned Dixon. “But for Texas, it’s nice to have the car back under IndyCar’s control in terms of strakes, sidewalls, the whole underwing and then the wing configuration itself.
“They can make changes pretty quickly and it’s not going to affect one manufacturer more than another, so no one should complain. IndyCar have a lot of power to determine where a downforce level needs to be for the race. Whether they hit it right first time is obviously yet to be determined but at least they have the parts and pieces to correct the situation on a race weekend if it looks like we’re heading in the wrong direction.
“Obviously that again constricts teams and engineers who always want a big window to work with to differentiate from the other teams. But I see why IndyCar are doing it that way for Texas; it makes sense. It’s just that it’s a complete 180-degree turnaround compared with what we had before. I mean, especially with the Honda kit, we had more pieces than we knew what to do with!”
Dixon pointed out that tire degradation would be another key part to making the ovals more of a challenge.
“I want to see more tire deg on ovals this year,” he added. “At Iowa and particularly Phoenix, you run faster at the end of a stint because you’ve burned off your fuel and the car’s lighter. I don’t think that should be possible because the tires should have degraded. If they haven’t, that means the drivers haven’t been given that challenge to deal with.”