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36 Franck Montagny 8
IRL and Honda on right track with new Indy Car

by Mark J. Cipolloni
Monday, May 25, 2009

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Next generation IndyCar concept car
Mark Cipolloni/AR1.com
On display in the Indy Speedway media center this past weekend was a concept model car of the next generation IndyCar.  The concept was developed by Dave Marek who heads up the Acura design studio in Pasadena, California.  He was involved with the design competition with the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA (The other college was the College of Creative Studies in Detroit) that the league engaged but took it one step further. 

The design hits all the key points that the next generation car should be:
  1. It is futuristic looking (very much so)
  2. It offers increased driver protection (note the sidepod design)
  3. It reduces the chances of wheel-to-wheel interlocking (note sidepod design)
  4. It generates most of its downforce from the undertray, which is less affected by turbulence from the car in front (Note the huge diffuser exit tunnels and recall the article I wrote with Dr. Mark Handford on this very topic many years ago.)
  5. The wings are small so they generate less turbulence for the cars following, which increases the chance for passing.
  6. The sidepods offer a huge amount of real estate for sponsor logos

If Dallara can build this car, the IRL will have hit a home run.  On Sunday before the Indy 500, I spoke to Honda HPD boss Erik Berkman about the concept car.

I asked Erik to tell me how Honda got involved with this project.

Honda HPD boss Erik Berkman
"Dave Marek is the executive designer for the advanced studio.  We have three studios out in L.A., two production studios, one for Acura, one for Honda, then the advanced studio feeds those production studios with advanced concepts.  Dave is a race fan, always has been, and followed this series back when it was CART and all that.  He is somewhat knowledgeable," said Berkman. 

"And he helped mentor the Pasadena Arts Center Students Project back in '07, and then the Center For Creative Studies Transportation Design Students Project, that was funded all by Honda, back in 2008.  So he worked with these two prominent transportation design schools.  And he gave the students a shot at it.  And they had a lot of crazy and wild and good ideas. 

"Then I said, Dave, why don't we go ahead and take a crack at it using our own designers, because they all came from these schools anyway, too, right?  So let's go ahead and use our own in-house resources and see what we come up with.  Let's go ahead and take one, build it as a model.  Let's make it as feasible as possible instead of as crazy and out there. 

"Not that this model is perfectly feasible.  You look at the low profile aspect ratio of these tires, you say, That looks more like something that's on one of these LeMans sports cars.  But at 225 or 230 out here on a superspeedway, you might want to have a little different aspect ratio. 

"In any case, much of this could be adopted into a next-generation car, trying to solve some of the problems with the current car, let's say, you know, interlocking wheels or, you know, always wanting to improve on the safety record of the product, and fundamentally trying to modernize the look, trying to come up with something that portends to the next second generation of open-wheel racing. 

"You know, here we are at the centennial era.  Two years, we're going to have the 100th anniversary of the first 500.  Honda's passion for this open-wheel racing goes beyond just being an engine supplier.  Not that we would necessarily be the chassis supplier.  I say 'necessarily'.  Not that we intend to be the chassis supplier for IndyCar.  But working closely with Dallara and the league, we would love to use our styling input and our passion for racing to help maybe influence that next car. 

I told Erik I felt his team did an excellent job on this concept car and asked him if the IRL had given him any feedback on this model? 

"Yeah, I mean, they're displaying it.  This is their media center," Berkman continued.

I was curious as to whether Brian Barnhart came back and said, Erik, this might be it? 

"No.  I think maybe at this stage it's Angstadt territory more than Barnhart," said Berkman. 

"Again, we've packaged it to say, look, the 3-D data, we can give that to Dallara.  Dallara is free to use it.  We're not charging a royalty.  If they want to go from there and do aero studies.  They may come at it from the other direction, wanting to design a next generation car by themselves.  All we're trying to do is influence. 

And right now, as it's painted up, I am Indy, Honda logo and color, besides IRL and Honda being called out, we have the associate sponsors currently in the field, indicated in a bit of a grayed out fashion here.  But Firestone's on the tires.  And you can see here that, you know, many things would need to probably change.  You know, there's no cut lines, whereas the body panels come apart, all that.  How are the wings removable, adjustable?  How about in a crash, how do you fix what you got? 

"But if and when we get to the next generation car, it's just a matter of when, not if, it will take on -- it's an opportunity for us to do something new.  And we're just saying, let's stretch the look, let's modernize it as much as we can.  We think this looks a little bit more like a jet fighter." 

I quizzed him on whether the huge underbody diffusers were part of the idea of getting more downforce from the underbody? 

"Yes.  You got the story right Mark," said Berkman.  "A little more downforce from the tunnel, and a little less -- maybe we can even spice up the passing opportunities and dirty air influences, all that sort of thing." 

So does this model help get the IRL closer to the next generation IndyCar due out in 2012? 

"That's the earliest we can do it," said Berkman referring to the fact that it is not only the car but also the engine specs that must be finalized soon. 

"All we got to do is reach a consensus within the end of this year and we can do it for 2012.  And there's still a little bit of work to be done to get to that consensus, but we got time," said Berkman as he whisked away to his next meeting.

Sidepods protect drivers Very futuristic Looking Note huge diffuser exits Front wings may be small

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