IndyCar’s president of competition and operations Jay Frye predicts IndyCar’s technical direction for 2017 and beyond will be revealed within “the next 10 days to two weeks”, and says it covers far more than just aerokits.
He told Motorsport.com that current technical discussions are not centered solely on 2017, nor on just the aero package, but are instead about having a plan that covers the next three to five years.
He said: “We’ve been working on this project for the last five to six months and aerokits are just one piece of the plan. We’re trying to come up with a three to five-year program – and although obviously the aerokits are a big part of it, there are several other important factors.
“Chevrolet and Honda are great partners, and we’ve talked to them a lot about this. We’ve talked to teams, talked to Dallara, talked to Firestone, and we’ve collected as many ideas as we can from their thoughts. So now we’re piecing this together and we should have it in the next couple of weeks.
“Remember, we do already have regulations in place for 2017 and ’18, in terms of boxes that the teams could work on their aerokits. If we’re going to deviate from that plan, we need to show this other direction we’re heading in over the next five or six years.
“That’s why it’s taken a little longer than we’d hoped to come up with a plan,” he continued. “We’re 80 percent of where we need to be but the devil’s in the details. But I think we’re close enough to get it all buttoned up and, like I say, in two weeks, we’ll be able to reveal how it will work going forward.”
Spec aerokits but greater engineering freedom
Should IndyCar switch to a spec kit, Frye says that the intention would be to open up the rules and allow more individual input from the teams.
“We’ve got a really good product and we don’t want to jeopardize that in any way. So if aerokits continue to evolve, who knows what could happen?” he remarked. “Whereas if you go to something more common, the goal at that point would be to deregulate some areas.
“From our side, a common aero package would allow us to come up with a car design that was less aero-dependent than the current car, a cool-looking design, where the emphasis would be on mechanical grip and much more downforce created by the bottom of the car and less from the top, to make the cars able to run closer.
“Then we’d open up the regulations to allow the teams to work more on their own cars.”
Although some team owners have expressed worries in the past over the potential costs of deregulating tech areas for their own development, Frye responded: “Not if we manage it smartly. Plus, I think creating the chance of individual engineering ingenuity gives the smaller teams the chance to outperform the bigger teams. If everyone’s got the same gear, they don’t have that opportunity.”
Regarding who might design spec bodywork to incorporate these various aims, Frye said it was not a given that the task would be assigned to Dallara, nor Pratt & Miller, the company that has designed the highly regarded Chevrolet aerokit this season and last.
“Wouldn’t it be smart to go to all the different groups and come up with all different ideas and take the best ideas from all?” he asked. “You’ve got to get the right concept, the right design, the right manufacturer, the right pricepoint, etc. There’s a plan, a process and a direction you try to come up with.”
Engine regs and attracting another OEM
Frye stated that engine regulations were also on the agenda currently being tackled by IndyCar in consultation with its current OEMs.
He said: “How will the engine programs play out over the next five years? That’s something that we’ve got to address because one of the biggest goals from Day 1 was adding another OEM. That’s critical.
“So part of what we’ve been working on is looking at the points of entry and the hurdles to overcome for potential OEMs. What makes sense for both our current partners and potential partners? The more we can do to make it more appealing, the better everyone within the sport will be.”
However, Frye dismissed the idea of creating equivalency formulas along the lines of sportscar racing in America and Europe.
“No, no, definitely not,” he said. “Everyone would be under the same regulation. We don’t want to be dealing with Balance of Performance.”
Positive team reception to new direction
Frye says that team owners have so far been open to changing the regulations, even if that means the aerokits are deleted after just two seasons.
“We’re not done, they haven’t seen the definitive plan so I don’t want to speak for them,” he commented, “but I can say that when we’ve talked to people there has been enthusiasm for the ideas. We take very seriously everyone’s ideas, and we’ve been very appreciative of their willingness to come forth with ideas. When people have equity in something, they want to contribute, and even when they don’t agree with you going that way, they can appreciate you being transparent about why you’re doing it.”
Overhead cockpit protection is on the agenda
IndyCar is looking at cockpit protection, according to Frye, but he wasn’t inclined to give a timeline nor reveal what type of design the series was leaning toward.
He said: “Safety evolves every day. After this interview, we have a meeting on safety initiatives, and it’s something that you can never do enough. There are always new things coming out that you want to keep up on. So a Halo or aeroscreen or something of that type – it’s coming at some point, but whether it’s ’17 or ’18 isn’t yet decided. But we’re aware of the FIA work, and the Red Bull guys are friends [Frye used to run the Red Bull Toyota NASCAR team] so I would be interested in their ideas.
“But we want to be sure we’re doing it right. There’s a cause and effect to everything, so you have to be careful of the potential negative effects.”
Asked if a Halo-type or aeroscreen design could be retrofitted to the current IndyCar, Frye said: “Of course it could. Anything’s possible; racers can fix and do anything. And so one of the things we’re looking at is how to retrofit some kind of device to this car.
“But as I’m sure drivers have told you, a Halo would be difficult because on banked ovals, a driver has to look up to see around the turns. Our needs are kind of unique in that regard.
“We’re going hard at it – there are goals and safety is very much part of this whole plan. Like I said, it goes way beyond just aerokits.
“So stay tuned.”
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