Dallara factory in Speedway offers behind-the-scenes look
Before Gian Paolo Dallara designed cars for the Indianapolis 500, he was a highly valued employee of both Enzo Ferrari and Ferruccio Lamborghini.
Dallara's history in the hallowed "Motor Valley" of Italy and his future in the "Racing Capital of the World" are on display at the Dallara IndyCar Factory, a Speedway attraction that opened to the public last month.
Tours are given at 11 a.m., and 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, when visitors experience behind-the-scenes aspects of racing not accessible even with garage and pit passes at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"We have kids who are crazy IndyCar fans, and we have men in their 70s who raced at IMS," said Kinsey Collins, the factory's event manager. "It's great to interact with all of them."
While Gian Paolo, 75, oversees Dallara operations in Italy, the Speedway site has readied more than 60 cars this year. About 30 percent of a Dallara IndyCar chassis is manufactured in Speedway, and 100 percent is the eventual goal.
The Red Bull Indianapolis GP motorcycle races, the third major event on the annual IMS calendar, are scheduled for Aug. 19 -- making it a good time for Ducati fans to check out the four-wheel stylings of Dallara (and perhaps sample a cup at Lino's Coffee, housed in the same building as the factory).
Showroom cars: The lobby of the Dallara IndyCar Factory features a rotating selection of race cars from 1997 (the first year Dallara was associated with the Indy Racing League) to the present. It's a safe bet that one or two models represented an NFL team during Super Bowl XLVI festivities (but the Chicago Bears car is the only one on the premises that hasn't been stripped of its logo).
Touch-screen trivia: A nearby video wall boasts photos and fun facts related to Dallara. The company, for instance, helped design the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 -- a luxury car priced at $2.25 million. IndyCar teams pay about $385,000 for a Dallara chassis.
Drawings, models and film: Gearheads can study Dallara schematics posted in hallways leading to the factory, and the elegant drawings easily pass for works of art. A half-scale model of the car introduced for the 2012 IndyCar season captivates visitors of all ages and any level of auto-racing affection. The model was used in wind-tunnel testing related to drag, downforce and aerodynamic balance. A screening room shows a 10-minute film based on Gian Paolo and his lifelong pursuit of creating the "perfect car."
Work rooms: Inside the factory, technicians specialize in areas labeled composites, grinding, fabrication and machining, quality control and assembly. The full-scale prototype of the 2012 car (test-driven more than 2,000 miles by two-time Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon) is found in the assembly room. The tour stop devoted to composites features a gee-whiz tutorial on carbon fiber's journey from a cloth-like state to being stronger than steel.
The future: In 2013, the factory will become home to a high-tech driving simulator that resembles a two-story moon lander. The machine won't be a playground for the public. It's reserved for the Franchittis, Dixons and Kanaans of the world.
Catch a ride: For $30, a visitor can travel a few blocks in a street-legal, two-seat, open-wheel car. Collins said staff drivers abide by speed limits, but passengers still get a thrill. "You feel like you're going faster because you're only two inches above the ground," she said. "People get out and think they've gone 100 mph, but in reality the car topped out at 40." Indy Star