Indy drivers say new car will put up even faster speeds at Barber
A bigger, sleeker, more powerful car isn't the only difference fans will notice when the IZOD IndyCar Series returns to Barber Motorsports Park at the end of March.
The new car design that is being introduced this year will look different with its nearly enclosed rear wheels and it will perform differently thanks to enhance horsepower.
But it will also try to appeal to fans on a sensory level that's almost as important as how it looks.
"It's going to make a better noise," defending series champion Dario Franchitti said during a test session Monday at Barber where he crashed the tail heavy Dallara.
Fans accustomed to hearing high-pitched IndyCar engines screeching down the track will hear a lower roar from the new engines. This year -- for the first time in many years -- Honda will not be the sole engine supplier to Indy teams. Chevy and Lotus engines will also contribute to the race cacophony.
Franchitti was one of several drivers participating in Monday's test. He said the new car will definitely break the Barber track record of 119.213 mph set in 2009 by Will Power.
"We're going to see significantly faster lap times here at Barber," he said. "Some of that is lighter weight, more downforce, engines producing more power with having Honda, Chevy and Lotus. I definitely expect it to be faster on the road courses.
Power, who won last year's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, agreed that the car will be quicker.
"No question it's going to be faster than last year's car," Power said. "The engine's probably going to have more power, the car is larger. It's got more downforce, more grip.
"The appearance will be most noticeable," the Penske driver said. "You can see that the rear wheels are now closed in."
Body work now wraps around the rear wheels in a safety improvement over the old car. The intention is to prevent a car from running into another car from behind and having its front wheels climb onto the rear wheels of the car in front, which can result in the trailing car being launched into the air.
Whether the new car makes it more or less difficult to pass remains to be seen. Power led every lap of last year's race.
" I understand the fans don't want a boring race and I want passing as much as anyone else," he said.
One change that might accomplish that is a boost being given to the Push to Pass feature on each car. Drivers have a button in their cars that gives a temporary boost of horsepower to their engines to facilitate passing.
This year that boost is being amped up and might be as much as a 50 to 100 horsepower boost, said Ganassi driver Scott Dixon.
"Because of the specific track layout, it's still going to be tough," Dixon said of Barber, a notoriously difficult track to pass on. "And the car tends to have more downforce already. It's going to be more of a momentum car which might be a little harder to pass with."
Horsepower might not be as important to enhancing passing at Barber as a softer tire compound, he said. Tires that wear out faster often make for better racing because some cars have fresh tires and others don't and some drivers are better at driving on older tires.
"When you have tires that degrade a lot and some guys can manage it a little bit better that's when you have the best racing," Dixon said. "Hopefully Firestone can maybe build something that's soft and degrades faster."
The series is making other changes this season, the third with Randy Bernard at the helm. Double-file restarts are out at the big oval tracks and qualifying has been tweaked with heat races to be used at Iowa Speedway. And Bernard replaced the chief steward in charge of calling the shots during a race.
The series saw improvements in TV ratings and attendance last year but it also had to deal with the tragic loss of one of its most popular drivers, Dan Wheldon, in a terrifying crash in the season finale at Las Vegas.
That wreck prompted an investigation and a lot of soul searching that resulted in the series not returning to Vegas this year. In fact, the series schedule is now dominated by street and road courses like Barber. Only five oval tracks -- Indianapolis, Texas, Iowa, Milwaukee and Fontana -- remain on the 2012 schedule.
The series starts with four straight street and road courses. The season opener is March 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg with Barber following the next week on April 1.
ABC will broadcast six IndyCar races this year with NBC Sports Network -- which used to be named Versus -- broadcasting the rest, including Barber.