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Won’t take much to make Champ Cars oval ready
The Panoz chassis introduced this season by Champ Car offers immediate satisfaction, added comfort and long-range possibilities.

"The biggest thing, from a fan standpoint, is the way the car looks," said Champ Car's technical director, Scot Elkins, who spearheaded the change from Lola to Panoz.

"Probably the biggest feature is this chassis has a raised nose. The rear wing is quite different from what the Lola was. When you look at the car from the side, on the Lola we had a two-wing configuration. On the Panoz we have a three-wing configuration

"A wing on the bottom, a main wing on the top and another small one off of that. We've done that to clean up the airflow off the car. This helps improve passing. By controlling the air coming off the car, it makes it much easier for a car following it to come up on it and make a pass."

More importantly, for the drivers, is the car's comfort. At one point in the not too distant past, standing 6-foot was considered about as tall as one could be to safely drive an open-wheel car. That is no longer the case. Drivers like 6-4 Justin Wilson, 6-2 Graham Rahal and 6-2 Tristan Gommendy slide into the new ride like it were a limo.  

"We actually used Justin as our model driver for this car," Elkins said. "The top of the cockpit opening has been increased in all areas. And the width of the tub inside, we've made it quite a bit wider. We've also allowed for guys like Justin, as far as where the pedal shifters are."

One of the most dangerous areas in a car when it crashes is the foot box. The standard safety feature is for the foot box to stay behind the centerline of the front wheels. That meant drivers could only be so tall. It also meant the foot box could only be so big.

"It sounds kind of silly, but one thing tall guys always have are big feet," Elkins said. "What we had to do, the actual steering column of the car joins the steering rack at exactly the place where typically the drivers feet are. What we had to do was incorporate a flexible joint in that steering column to have enough room so Justin's feet wouldn't hit the steering column.

"By doing that we made it good for Justin, but it also helps guys like Graham, and Tristan, actually quite a few drivers."

Can a driver with size-10 brogues now fit his feet in the foot box comfortably? Actually, size 12s," Elkins said.

Other improvements include a move to paddle shifting on the steering column, which in turn has led most drivers to go exclusively to left-foot braking -- since there is no longer a clutch pedal to deal with.

"I prefer it to last year's car," said Champ Car rookie Neel Jani, a former Formula One test driver, who also tested in the Lola's before joining PKV Racing this season. "The old cars were really tight. These are more like what we had in Europe. I like the room and I like the paddle shift as well. That's what I'm used to."

Elkins said the new chassis, combined with the new technology, has made for faster cars and faster racing.

"The drivers never take their hands off the steering wheel now," he said. "This allows them to do everything with a lot more speed. It basically increases their ability to get the car through the corners."

As for long-range possibilities, despite the fact there are no oval races on the circuit, Elkins said this chassis is ready for super speedways, with just some wing adjustments.

"It's an over-generalized statement, but that's exactly what we would do," Elkins said. "We'd take the front wing off and the rear wing off, put a different configuration on it, and go run in circles."

While driving in circles has not been a conversation heard much this season in Champ Car circles, that appears to be a long-term goal, in some form or fashion, based on the capabilities of the new chassis. Certainly nobody is talking about joining hands with the rival Indy Racing League. But Champ Car does appear to be ready if it ever happens.

"The real big difference, if you look at a car from the Indy Racing League and you look at our car, the biggest difference that you're going to see is the configuration of the wings," Elkins said. "On an oval, you're trying to shed downforce for less drag. On a road course we're trying to add downforce so the car is fast through the corners. That [the wings] would be the only difference we'd have to make to our car to go oval racing."

Time will tell if that will ever happen.  Cleveland.com

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