Excessive downforce levels under scrutiny at Phoenix

IndyCar’s new vp of competition Bill Pappas has admitted there could be considerable changes coming to the mandated setups for Phoenix International Raceway.

Excessive downforce levels under scrutiny at Phoenix
Honda aero parts detail
Engineer Bill Pappas and Graham Rahal
Chevrolet aero parts detail
Honda aero parts detail
Honda aero parts detail
Honda aero parts detail
Chevrolet aero parts detail
Chevrolet aero parts detail
Honda aero parts detail

Pappas told Motorsport.com that he’s aiming for a setup where drivers are having to lift off the throttle for the turns, and that 5.5g lateral load – as seen by Chevrolet drivers earlier this month – is too much.

He says the two-day open test for Chevrolet and Honda runners at PIR that starts today will be instrumental in guiding IndyCar’s regulations for the race to be held here on Saturday, April 2.

Pappas stated: “We’re starting the test with a setup based on the feedback we got when IndyCar tested here last fall, from Tony Kanaan [Ganassi-Chevrolet] and the Penske organization.

“Based on that, we put out a bulletin as to where we felt was an adequate place to start. But it will be an evolving exercise. We’ll collect information as we go through the day [noon-3pm session], and into the night session [5pm-8pm]. We’ll canvass the group and see if they think an adjustment needs to be made.”

Pappas said his aim was to avoid having drivers "pedal to the metal" all the way around the 1.022-mile tri-oval.

“I don’t think you want cars at a constant rate throughout a fuel stint,” he said. “I think you want it where they can go flat for a handful of laps after putting on sticker [new] tires and then as they wear, they have to start lifting off the gas. That’s when you get passing, and drivers showing their talent.”

Getting radical is an option

Pappas said that considerable changes could be made to the aerodynamic rules between this test and the race. He stated: “Today will very much dictate tomorrow, and we’d like to leave the track on Saturday night saying, ‘OK, this is the setup we’re going to run for the race.’

“But if we don’t, then yes, there could be more changes.

“I think we do need to consider what our objectives are. We have to use common sense. If there are certain drivers who want to go foot-to-the-floor for the whole stint, then I think they could be disappointed. If they don’t have the talent to modulate the throttle then they’re going to drop down the field from the middle of a stint.” 

Appeasing the manufacturers

Alterations to Honda’s and Chevrolet’s homologated parts may still happen, according to Pappas, but he’s aware that could open an area of controversy.

He said: “There are parts that have been homologated since last year that we could start backing off that would cause a significant reduction in downforce. It’s not like we’re going to stick on the speedway wings.

“But as with the drivers, I’d like to believe we can get a consensus from Chevrolet and Honda that pulling 5g throughout a stint and returning to pack racing would be a bad idea. So it’s time to sit down with them and come up with an amicable solution.”

Pappas admitted that adjusting homologated parts could stir up controversy, however, and that making changes to a common, IndyCar-mandated component would sidestep some of that.

“Yes, hopefully that would avoid the need to run the cars through the windtunnels again,” he said.  

Iowa implications

Pappas admitted that what was eventually decided for Phoenix would have major implications for 0.875-mile Iowa Speedway in July.

Last year, several team engineers felt the aerokit-produced extra downforce, combined with the track’s severe bumps, had put too much of a strain on some of the Dallara DW12 componentry. Team Penske, for example, believed Juan Pablo Montoya’s front-right suspension collapse was caused by too much compression.

“Yes, reading through the notes from Will [Phillips, Pappas’ predecessor] and Tino [Belli, IndyCar’s director of aero development], they had already planned a step in reducing the downforce at Iowa,” said Pappas, “past what we’re starting with here at Phoenix.”

Iowa’s bumps already force the teams to run the cars with increased ride-height, thus reducing the effectiveness of the underbody aerodynamics. However, Pappas said running the suspension at ‘Iowa-spec’ was not considered an option for reducing aero grip here in Phoenix.

“There are enough parts on the car that we can remove or adjust to reduce downforce.”

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