Wheldon tests new IndyCar at Barber
To a casual observer visiting Barber Motorsports Park on Friday the sleek, black car speeding around the track probably looked like a cross between a stealth fighter and the Batmobile.
It definitely would not have looked like any Indy car that has ever raced at the 2.38-mile road course.
A technical crew from the IZOD IndyCar Series leased the track Friday for a closed test session for the new car that IndyCar will use in 2012, bringing along Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon to drive it.
"Obviously from a visual perspective it's incredibly different," Wheldon said. "It's very eye-catching."
The new car will have a completely new chassis and Dallara-designed outer shell, known as an aero kit, as well as a new engine. It will be the first new car for the series in almost a decade.
"IndyCar has so much momentum it's important to continue that," Wheldon said. "We've had the same car for a long time."
And Wheldon said the car should be a big hit with fans.
"They'll like the fact that we have a turbocharged engine," he said.
In fact, the car will have one of three different engines. That's a big change from the current car, which uses Honda engines exclusively. Starting in 2012 three manufacturers -- Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus -- will produce IndyCar engines.
One of those new engines was provided by Honda for Friday's test at Barber, prompting the need for closing the test session. Honda doesn't want photos of the engine or technical data derived from it made public.
"We're respecting their request to keep it under wraps," said Will Phillips, IndyCar's vice president for technology.
Friday's session at Barber was the second test for the new car, Phillips said. It went through a brief shakedown at the Mid Ohio Sports Car Course before coming to Barber. And over the next month it'll be tested at all the different tracks that IndyCar races on -- mile-and-a-half ovals like Texas Motor Speedway, short tracks and road courses.
After that, manufacturers will be given cars to do their own testing with their engines. By 2012 teams will have to replace their current cars with the new cars, which will cost $385,800 each, engine not included.
That will require a substantial investment up front but in the long run it's intended to save teams money. The new car costs 40 percent less than the current one, Phillips said.
What happens to the current cars -- can they be used in another series or will they end up as museum pieces? -- is still undecided.
"We're working on that," Phillips said.
The new car also sports substantial safety improvements. Extra foam padding has been installed behind and underneath the driver, improvements that Phillips said would have prevented the type of injuries that Justin Wilson sustained in a crash this year.
It will also do away with the clutch pedal and move the shifting function to the wheel. And side pods enclosing the rear wheels will make crash-inducing, wheel-to-wheel contact during a race less likely.
But mostly it's intended to give the series a new look. It was actually supposed to give the series multiple new looks and get IndyCar away from being such a spec series with identical-looking cars.
Different aero kits for the car with different designs from each manufacturer were supposed to be introduced in 2012 along with the new engine and chassis.
But that change has been delayed a year in order to spread the cost out for teams. The 2012 car will only use the Dallara aero kit.
"It's proven to be very fast and very confidence inspiring," said Wheldon, who travels with the test team and may only drive in a couple more races this year. "I'm very much focused on this."
Wheldon has been without a full-time ride this year, yet still won the biggest race of the year for Bryan Herta Autosport. Next season, however, he hopes to line up a full-time ride.
"It's about finding yourself in the right situation," he said, pointing out that he had lost momentum with his long layoff. "Winning Indianapolis has kind of regained that."
And it won't hurt that Wheldon will have more experience with the new car on multiple tracks than any other Indy driver.
"That's maybe a perk from being with the program from the start," he said with a smile. Huntsville Times