In summer 2010, when Randy Bernard led IndyCar, a concept was unveiled.
'Aero kits' became the sport's buzz words.
Five years later, reality hits. Chevrolet and Honda have visually distinguished themselves with different bodywork designs. The kits include wings, sidepods and all coverings; they serve as the dressings on Dallara’s DW12 chassis; and teams have more freedom to chase a competitive advantage.
The official aero kit debuts March 29 at the season-opening street race in St. Petersburg, Fla. IndyCar president Derrick Walker is eager to see if Bernard’s idea transforms the sport or simply costs it money. We were eager to ask him the following:
Autoweek: Why now? And maybe the bigger question, wouldn’t it be better to have the manufacturers spend these millions of dollars publicizing the series?
Derrick Walker: Before aero kits, the manufacturers weren’t spending this kind of money promoting the series, so this is money put toward something that interests them. The manufacturers see this as a technical exercise, and it brings other engineers from other parts of their company to IndyCar. The manufacturers took the challenge up and went for it.
AW: The aero kits certainly have a developmental aspect, but it’s not exactly taking the sport back to the glory days of building unique cars.
DW: We happen to believe that aero kits are one small step for man, a back to the future, if you will, but we have to do it in a different way because we just can’t go and say ‘in the ’70s we did it this way.’ We had to find a way to manage that development. We asked ourselves, ‘What’s going to drive the interest in the sport?’ This is supposed to be the cars and the stars, but I don’t see the current car having that wow factor. But again, that doesn’t mean we have an open checkbook to run amok.
AW: What have the manufacturers said to you about the process?
DW: I think they underestimated how much (money) this was going to take. I guess you can ask what we could we have done to (control costs)? Could we have made the areas of development smaller? Or less? Or had more restrictions?
AW: In the late 1990s, even IndyCar’s most loyal followers couldn’t distinguish the differences in the three chassis designs. Is differentiation different?
DW: Given that most of the car must stay the same, it will be tough to make that big of a change. In certain configurations (there are oval kits and road-course kits), one car will have more widgets than another one. Had we given them a clean sheet of paper, we probably would have seen a lot more radical design changes.
AW: These aero kits generate significant downforce increases. Is the DW12 chassis prepared for that?
DW: That was a concern early on in the aero-kit experiment. Some changes have been made to the wishbones, and there’s been a stiffening of the wing mounts. Right now, as far as the data we have and working very closely with Dallara, we’re OK.
AW: Are you projecting a big speed increase at Indianapolis?
DW: The manufacturers have their predictions, and they don’t necessarily agree with each other. You can’t unlock a spec car without some increase, but it’s not the intention to deliver big chunks. We’ve only talked about the car here but not the engines. They’ve gone through some updates.
AW: The kits are designed to give teams options and build interest, right?
DW: Yes, and let’s take Indy as an example. You’re going to start the month with teams getting to know their kit and feeling what it’s like while working toward qualifying and getting speed. Then they’re going to be thinking about nothing else but running the 500 miles, and that’s a completely different exercise. You might see one (manufacturer) doing great for qualifying and the other being the hot dog in the race.
AW: What’s your concern with the kits?
DW: With all these changes to the car — some small, some bigger, some you can see, some you can’t — it’s inspecting things. We’re introducing a scanning procedure so we can get the information digitally (because) there are too many bits to think about carrying all the (measuring devices). How we control this is the challenge. Nothing ventured is nothing gained.
Curt Cavin is an Indianapolis Star staff writer. AutoWeek