MOORESVILLE, North Carolina -- Both NASCAR Sprint Cup and the Izod IndyCar Series could be getting their wings clipped.
In an effort to improve racing with the oft-criticized-but-so-far-safer Car of Tomorrow (COT), NASCAR officials are considering taking the rear wings off stock cars and replacing them with spoilers. That change could be in effect before summer.
When a rear wing was part of the new car that began Sprint Cup competition in 2007, drivers, teams, fans and media scoffed at concept. It looked more like a Grand American sports car than a stock car, but the wing was combined with the front splitter to keep the car planted on the track. It didn't provide the side-by-side racing that NASCAR had hoped for, and a return to the rear splitter could give series officials the option of adding or reducing downforce depending on the angle of the spoiler.
"It's more important that it seems to be what the fans want," Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said at last week's Sprint Sound and Speed charity event in Nashville, Tennessee. "The fans want to get rid of the wing, get the old spoiler back. ... I don't really know what that will do to the racing. I don't think it will change it a whole lot myself.
"I don't know what that wing's really doing back there, what the spoiler would be like on this car. We've never really tested it so I don't really know what it would do to the racing. It could punch a little smaller hole in the air than the wing does and give us a little opportunity to get a little more grip on the front end, but it might do the opposite. You never know."
While some drivers are begging for more downforce, Carl Edwards would like to see less. That would return stock car racing to the days where a driver had more influence on the outcome by "manhandling" a car that often slid in the corners.
"What they need to do is take all the downforce away from the race cars, and then you don't have any downforce to lose," Edwards said. "If I don't have anything to start with, it sure can't get any worse. The blade is a good idea. Taking the front splitter away is a good idea. Taking the cars, make them drive like they used to at Darlington, like they do at Atlanta, places like that. I don't like to go down the corner, turn the wheel, find out how great my engineers are or aren't. That's not what I want to do in a race car. I want to go drive."
IndyCar's plans are more long-term as a "delta wing" concept is being considered, beginning with a new car/engine formula expected to debut in 2012 or even as late as 2013. That car is still in the concept stage, but the removal of the wings would reduce downforce, which in turn would also reduce speeds. But the main concept of the IndyCar would be to reduce costs, bring back some much-needed innovation, and hopefully recapture some of the imagination that has been lost in the past 15 years.
While NASCAR has its Car of Tomorrow, the current IndyCar is the "Car of Yesteryear" -- the same that has been on the track since the beginning of the 2003 season. If it is officially retired at the end of 2011, it would go down as the grandfather of all IndyCars.
Indy Racing League officials were expected to make their new car/engine announcements as early as last March, but that were delayed throughout the season. IndyCar Series President of Competition Brian Barnhart told a group of reporters, including SI.com, at Motegi, Japan last September that the rules package would be announced by Thanksgiving. That idea was tossed out along with the turkey carcass.
Ben Bowlby, a design engineer for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing is toying with potential designs of the new IndyCar in a project supported by several series owners. If approved, the plan is to have the car built in Indiana with the state government helping to fund the project because it would create jobs. If that concept proves unfeasible, expect a refinement and makeover of the IndyCar design that has essentially be used in various forms since rear and front wings first appeared on them in the early 1970s.
Izod series team owner Keith Wiggins of HVM Racing has opened an online forum to tap into the creativity and passion of fans, inviting suggestions and ideas for a new chassis design. Fans are encouraged to submit their concepts to www.hvmracing.com/hvmblog. All sketches, designs, opinions and criticisms are welcome. Images of designs can be uploaded directly, and all submissions will be displayed on the site.
"It's a fun exercise to engage the fans," Wiggins said. "If you read any online forum or blog about open-wheel racing, you can see that most fans have very specific ideas about the sport, its participants and the car itself. The car is a current topic and important to our future. This will give them a chance to show off their ideas, regardless of whether they're realistic or just fantasy."
One submission, selected by a random drawing from all submissions, will win the opportunity for two people to be VIP guests of HVM Racing at the 2010 Indianapolis 500.
Michael Waltrip will get a new experience this week when the NASCAR owner/driver and two-time Daytona 500 winner competes in the fifth-annual Dubai 24 Hour sports car race at the ultra-modern Dubai Autodrome on January 14-16.
"I love racing cars," Waltrip said. "The Daytona 500 is the ultimate race for a NASCAR driver to win. But how cool is it to go to Dubai on the other side of the globe and race a Ferrari? I never thought I'd have a chance to be part of such a unique experience."
The car Waltrip refers to is a Ferrari F430 GT2 of the AF Corse team co-owned by Rob Kauffman, who will be sharing driving duties with Waltrip, Marcos Ambrose, Rui Aguas and Niki Cadei. Kauffman is also a co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, which fields Sprint Cup Series entries for Waltrip, Martin Truex Jr. and David Reutimann. The Waltrip team has a technical alliance with Ambrose's JTG Daugherty Racing.
Waltrip and Kauffmann tested the Ferrari at the ACI Vallelunga circuit in Italy. Success at the test led the pair to review options for sports car races around the world before deciding to race in Dubai. The 3.5-mile track at the Autodrome is one of the most modern in the world. It is also one of the most challenging, as it has a combination of high-speed straights and technical corners. The race expects to start about 80 GT and touring cars.
"I have always thought of myself as a pretty good road racer," said Waltrip, who owns two top-five finishes in NASCAR road races. "But this is different. This is an endurance race. This is 24 hours, not the normal three-hour NASCAR race."
Race fans can track Waltrip's progress during the race on his Twitter account MWR55 and watch video updates at www.youtube.com/24hafcorse
"I can't Twitter while I'm competing during a NASCAR race, but I bet I can during this one," said Waltrip, who plans to keep fans in touch with in-race updates during driving breaks. "While I am on the other side of the globe, I don't plan on leaving my fans hanging."
Track action starts on Thursday, Jan. 14, with practice, qualifying and night practice. The 24-hour race will start on Friday Jan. 15 at 2 pm.
Beginning this season, a reverse gear will be added to the Xtrac gearboxes for street and road course races on the Izod IndyCar Series schedule. It will potentially allow drivers who spin off course to put their cars in reverse and rejoin the race without waiting to be towed or pushed out of a precarious situation by safety workers. Some drivers hope it will cut down on full-course caution flags in the non-oval races. There will be six forward gears and one reverse gear. The drivers will continue to use the paddle-shift system near the steering wheel to change gears. IndyCar Series technical director Kevin Blanche believes it was the proper time to add the reserve gear to competition and it can easily be installed with an inexpensive update kit.
"If we knew, we would have done it three years ago after he won the first one. We're hoping a rocket scientist like yourself could come up with some solutions and figure it out. Actually, never mind. We're smarter than you." -- Tony Stewart, responding to a reporter's question at last week's Sprint Sound and Speed charity event: "What will it take to dethrone Jimmie Johnson as NASCAR Sprint Cup champion?"