He grew up in Wales, learned under Robin Herd at the renowned March Engineering firm that produced Formula 1, CART Indy car and IMSA GTP products, and put those design talents to use when the Verizon IndyCar Series wanted a new universal aero kit.
Tino Belli, the soft-spoken designer-engineer who joined the series in 2014, has been a central figure in Jay Frye’s new-look IndyCar’s competition team. Drawing from Belli’s significant experience in aerodynamics, IndyCar put him together with conceptual artist Chris Beatty, his fellow competition team member Bill Pappas, and official series chassis supplier Dallara to craft the beautiful new bodywork that adorns the field of 33.
And while a single person was not responsible for the UAK18 package, Belli’s role as IndyCar’s head of aerodynamic development guaranteed his influence would be seen throughout the creation process, and again in testing and development as the bodywork was finalized for introduction in 2018.
“Credit to Jay and Bill,” he said. “When they came in, they wanted to do the low engine cover, [move] the radiators forward, remove the wheel guards. We did some tests at Mid-Ohio where we proved that the wheel guards — and then we went on to repeat those tests at Phoenix — were creating this wide wake, which was not beneficial.
“The low engine cover is something that [former IndyCar competition boss] Will Phillips had wanted, even with the aero kits, but didn’t force the engine manufacturers to reposition their turbo inlet. I think it’s something that everybody’s always liked or thinks is synonymous with Indy cars, is low and sleek.”
Along with the low-profile engine cover, removing the ineffective rear wheel guards was agreed upon, and with the Speedway package defined, Belli and the UAK18 team went to the wind tunnel and found there was more work to do.
“So when we wrote the specification, they were gone,” he said. “We then moved on and worked very hard on the Indy 500 car. As you can imagine, that’s probably the most difficult one. It’s the one we had the most specifications for. The first wind tunnel test…we had too much drag, but we had way too much downforce.
“After that, it was shedding downforce really, which is easy for someone like me — if you’ve spent half your life trying to make downforce, you’ll find that your hit rate gets to about maybe one in 20. Now I’m getting 19 in 20 hit rates to kill the downforce off, so it was like the opposite to what I’ve been trying to do all my life. I was actually trying to make it worse, which from the styling point of view, is nice because it was quite easy to achieve.
Although the UAK18’s drag figures are higher than the manufacturer aero kits with the rear wheel guards in place, extra effort to shape the rest of the car to reduce drag helped bring the number down.
“The difficult part for Indy was getting the drag down,” he added. “At one point, we were considering [maximum] boost for qualifying just to try and get the speed [up]; we were struggling that much with the drag. With a lot of diligent work with Chris trying to do the styling, he’s taking little angles and changing things cosmetically and doing a really, really good job, and then we’re pushing on the wings to get [drag] out.”
Belli also pushed the team to embrace flowing lines on the UAK18.
“The initial thing — you’ll remember Dallara had spent 30 years trying to work within boxes, and so they’re designing things parallel and perpendicular, and I’m saying, no, we need to taper it,” he continued. “If you went to a Lamborghini showroom or a Ferrari showroom, you don’t want to see a [boxy] Volvo. So you’ll notice that wings, their front wing end plates, are all tapered back towards the wheels.
“We got the swept-back front wing on the speedways – that wasn’t really done because it’s significantly better. It adds some complication, like so now when you change the wing angle, the back tips go up and down a lot, which made the design of the end plates more complicated, but it was a good challenge for those guys. They worked their way around it. The rear wing, we tweaked the span a little bit wider and, surprisingly, those wingtips work really, really well. They make the wing think it is a larger-span wing.”
The result at Indy has been a car that’s harder to drive yet nearly as fast as the high-dollar manufacturer aero kits the UAK18 has replaced. Considering the comparative lack of budget, it’s been an impressive accomplishment to behold around the 2.5-mile oval.
To help us appreciate more of his work today, Belli turns the clock back in a longer conversation in the podcast below that spans his early life, introduction to the sport, the busy schedule involved with updating March’s various Indy cars in the 1980s, learning alongside renowned designer Adrian Newey, the controversial 1990 March-Porsche Indy car, his transition into race engineering, and his shift to working for the IndyCar Series.