Yet another 2018 bodywork-related theme has emerged at the opening of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Fuel mileage has improved considerably with the 2.2-liter V6 engines produced by Chevy and Honda, and it comes as a result of the Universal Aero Kit 18. Compared to the high-downforce manufacturer aero kits that were used at St. Petersburg last year, downforce figures have been cut by approximately 20 percent and drag numbers are down 15 percent or in road and street course trim. And with less downforce to pull through the air, plus less aero resistance from the rest of the bodywork, engines are working less hard to accelerate.
The benefit will come on Sunday where creative race strategies could add to the drama.
“It’s definitely an improvement,” Chip Ganassi Racing managing director and Scott Dixon’s race strategist Mike Hull told RACER. “It will open up the window a bit. You’re usually short on that last stop if you run two green stops, and I expect there will be a lot more flexibility to play with since we can go longer [on a tank of fuel] now.”
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal has been impressed with the fuel mileage gains seen through three practice sessions. With a 110-lap race to complete on Sunday, and a reasonable expectation for a few caution periods, the 24-car field has plenty of creative options at their disposal. And with the aero-improved mileage in mind, drivers could spend less time coasting into the brake zones to conserve fuel than they’ve done in the past.
“Pretty much what we’ve seen recently is a three-stop race and the windows are pretty small,” Rahal said. “From what I’ve seen so far, the windows are huge, which is shocking. You could probably go 30 laps, which is a lot more margin to use. You’re probably going to have more guys taking risks on strategy because they can.”
With the parade laps in mind, the maximum length of the first stint could indeed fall in the 30-lap range, as Rahal mentioned, and the second could last in the 32-33 range. It would push the final stop somewhere to a place where a short fill would be required, but if a significant amount of yellow laps occur, the improved fuel mileage could make the race a two-stop affair.
“It would have to be a perfect storm for it to happen, but it is possible,” Hull said. “History says we commonly get 13-14-15 laps of yellow, and if it were to fall at exactly the right time – if we get at least 16 laps at pace car speeds – it could be done with two [stops]. It isn’t something we’re counting on, but if there’s a lot of carnage, you might see some people starting to think about trying it.”