IndyCar's new chassis will reduce costs, offers teams more freedom

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We don't know what it will look like, but we know Dallara will be building cars for the IZOD IndyCar Series starting in 2012. That wasn't the monumental, earth-shaking, dramatic news that most were expecting in Wednesday's much-awaited announcement of the next-generation car. Dallara has been an IndyCar constructor since 1997 and it's had every car on the track in every race since 2008.

Heck, we didn't even get an artist's rendering of what the future will bring. We were enticed through the spring by sexy, swoopy, sleek drawings from Dallara and four other companies -- Swift, Lola, BAT and DeltaWing -- that made presentations to become IndyCar chassis suppliers. Maybe Dallara, given a fresh chassis-and-engine rules package that will change the look of the car, will come through with something beautiful, aesthetically pleasing, a car that IndyCar patrons can be passionate about. It's something the series desperately needs to recapture some of its past glory.

But Dallara can't do it alone. Diversity is a vital component of the revival and that's where it gets trick and technical with IndyCar's "future car strategy." The seven-man committee developed a plan that allows different aerodynamic suppliers to strap their wings, sidepods and engine covers onto the Dallara-built rolling chassis being called the "IndyCar Safety Cell."

The bodywork and wings are, of course, what you see and will determine the car's aerodynamics, a major performance factor. Dallara will have the upper hand in the early stage of the process, the ability to deliver an entire car, and a slight cost advantage. Teams will be able to buy the rolling chassis for $349,000 and the aero package will be an additional $70,000. A complete Dallara, with bodywork, will be $385,000. You can figure that every team will buy a complete Dallara to start, because it's likely to be the only car tested and ready to start the 2012 season.

Each team is allowed two aero packages per season, which provides an opening for teams willing to take a chance by forking out either the $34,000 difference or spending $70,000 if they've bought whole cars. Neither amount is a substantial hardship to the best-funded teams like Penske, Ganassi and Andretti Autosport and it's well worth it to gain an advantage over the competition.

But will anyone build the aero package by itself? The risk for IndyCar is that nobody does and there are 33 Dallaras on the grid for the Indy 500 in 2012, just like there were this year and will be in 2011. The 2012 version may be the best looking car of all-time, but after a year or two, it will just be another spec car--exactly what IndyCar is trying to avoid.

IndyCar has high hopes of multiple aero manufacturers, but knows there are no guarantees.

"I think we have to be realistic and not set our expectations too high," IndyCar chief executive officer Randy Bernard said. "Our goal was looking at the long term ... the aero kit manufacturers in 2013 for sure."

Swift Engineering IndyCar program manager Casper van der Schoot likes the concept, but will have to determine if becoming a aero supplier is financially viable.

"Obviously, there's disappointment because we weren't chosen as the chassis manufacturer, but great news for the American race fans," van der Schoot said. "The plan the IRL set up is very exciting and opens up new opportunities also for Swift Engineering. With these new rules and regulations in the game, we'll go back to the home base and see what we can do to be a part of it. We need to go back and do our homework and see if we can develop a viable business case.

"It all depends upon how many kits you can sell and we have to come up with a way to make the risk manageable. The uncertainty of not being able to tell how many kits you can sell is the risk. Dallara has a significant head start in developing the design and that could make 2013 be more probable."

Bruce Ashmore, once the chief Lola designer in the CART IndyCar Series and the technical director of Reynard North America during its dominant years in the 1990s, was one of the principles in the BAT proposal. Ashmore also has an independent design company. He's interested in getting involved in the project, but hasn't committed to becoming an aero supplier.

"I think the whole thing is very exciting," Ashmore said. "I think it's the logical decision for them to make. It's a concept I've thought would work for a long time. This is one of those ideas that could really flourish if the right thought and process is laid out, it could really be a story, it could really work. If it's not policed correctly, not organized correctly, then it could be a complete flop and it will all be Dallara-Hondas.

"The rollout of how you police it and you get information out to give all the manufacturers time, that's a very complicated process. That excites me, I'd like to be involved in that. If the rollout of information is done in a timely fashion, there would be multiple aero suppliers."

IndyCar likely would have had two or maybe three takers if it had decided to allow multiple manufacturers into the series. But the series also wanted to reduce costs to induce more cars on the grid and having only Dallara doing the whole car allowed them to do that. A new Dallara cost $700,000 this season.

"Clearly, the fans want to see different looks on the race track," IndyCar president of competition Brian Barnhart said. "They want to see competition out there. Historically, competition drives costs up. What we feel really good about from a committee standpoint is that we are opening this up to anyone who wants to build aero kits, yet at the same time, we've accomplished reducing the cost of participation. We think it's the best of both worlds."

Gil de Ferran, co-owner of de Ferran Dragon Racing and 2003 Indy 500 champion, was also a member of the committee that worked out the compromise of one chassis with additional aero manufacturers allowed.

"We are projecting a reduction in running costs of approximately 50 percent, which is quite astounding, especially if you take into account these cars will be quicker, will be more sophisticated and, hopefully, will also have some competition," de Ferran said.

The 2012 IndyCar will weigh 1,380 pounds, 185 less than the current version. It will transform it into a more agile, better handling car on road courses and, depending upon horsepower, a car capable of running faster on ovals.

IndyCar also will have a new engine formula, 2.4 liters turbocharged in either V-6 or Inline-4 configuration, that will generate between 550 and 700 horsepower. IndyCar will adjust the turbo boost to create different horsepower for different tracks, more on road courses and less on ovals, to hit target lap times and speeds.

"I don't think you could ask for anything better," Penske IndyCar driver Will Power said. "The car is going to be lighter, it's going to be faster. It entices other manufacturers to come in. I think this is the best direction that they could have gone."

IndyCar has put forth an innovative and bold concept. It needs to work for the series to grow. The jury will be out until the first race of 2012.