New IndyCar Spec Chassis is Making Progress
by John Oreovicz
After some challenging early testing, the new Dallara DW12 Indy car chassis is finally showing signs of progress.
Through INDYCAR Series development and initial manufacturer testing last autumn with Chevrolet and Honda, the DW12 was considerably slower than expected on high-speed ovals, and reportedly very difficult to drive.
But a series of modifications, including lighter components and alternate suspension geometry designed to reduce the weight at the back of the car, have transformed Dallara’s first new Indy car design since 2003 into a basic platform that teams are confident they can whip into shape prior to the season opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 25.
The late Dan Wheldon handled the initial shakedown work for the car that would eventually be named after him. But other top Indy car drivers were far from impressed with the new machine in its initial oval configuration during manufacturer testing in October and November.
Under the direction of INDYCAR Vice-President of Technology Will Phillips, Dallara enacted a series of fixes, including the modified suspension along with altered rear view mirrors and rear wheel fairings introduced in an effort to cut drag.
In the most recent round of oval testing at Texas Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway in California, drivers were much happier with the feel of the DW12.
Following his run at Fontana, Rahal tweeted: “I’ve got good news for IndyCar fans out there, the car is good on an oval! We made huge improvements today, lots of fun in the end… Everything ran perfect – Honda Racing did an awesome job, and I expect things to only get better!”
Meanwhile, after running an exploratory test at Texas along with Tony Kanaan and Alex Tagliani, Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe was also pleased. “Things felt really good,” he told SpeedTV.com. “We tried the offset suspension configuration, and in terms of car balance, everything felt normal, which is sort of what we were looking for all along.”
The car is still not producing the expected speeds, though that could be because the engine manufacturers are not pushing the envelope. The deadline for submitting final specifications for engine homologation is February 24.
Although the Lotus engine did not hit the track until January (five months behind Honda and three months after Chevrolet), the powerplant has proven reliable so far in testing. Lotus is supplying BHA Barracuda (formerly Bryan Heta Autosport), Dragon Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and HVM Racing.
Meanwhile Honda has expanded to supply twelve cars while Chevrolet could add more to its projected ten. Sarah Fisher Racing, Michael Shank Racing and Conquest Racing have still not secured an engine supply.
Phillips projects there will be 28 cars on the grid for the season opener and he is confident the DW12 will be race ready.
“We expect the car to achieve 225 mph at Indianapolis with a projected power of 550 horsepower,” said Phillips. “With approximately 700 horsepower for road and street courses, we expect lap times 1-2 second quicker.”
That has been borne out so far in testing, where the drivers have been very positive about the DW12.
Rahal paced the latest round of road course testing at Barber Motorsports Park with a lap almost two seconds faster than Will Power’s 2011 pole time.
“The car is impressive,” Rahal said. “It has a lot of grip and there’s still a long way to go.”
“You can feel everything is continually improving with the car and especially with the engine,” added defending Barber race winner Will Power. “I still wish we had more power like the old Champ Car days, but it’s been good to work on the development of the engines and I’m very impressed with the job Chevrolet has done.”
Given the troublesome early development of the DW12 in speedway applications, the IndyCar Series is perhaps fortunate that the 2012 schedule features only five ovals. An open test at Texas on March is the last opportunity the series will have to tweak the basic oval specification prior to the month of May at Indianapolis.
The Dallara DW12 generated a lot of grumbling about its appearance, and even though it is now appearing in painted liveries rather than carbon black, the design still polarizes Indy car fans. But the positive reaction the car is now generating from drivers is nothing but good news for the season ahead.
John Oreovicz is a veteran motorsport writer and columnist whose work appears in various places, including ESPN.com.