The NTT IndyCar Series is evaluating the merits of introducing its next chassis in stages. Rather than ask team owners to purchase completely new cars, IndyCar president Jay Frye has floated the concept of a phased rollout.
The driver for the unparalleled approach is cost management, owing to the upcoming arrival of new 2.4-liter twin-turbo V6 hybrid electric powertrains in 2022. With IndyCar team owners facing an expected increase in annual engine lease pricing once the new motors arrive, the additional need to buy all-new cars within a 12-month timespan has led Frye to explore the feasibility of breaking up the chassis purchase process into key areas on a year-by-year basis.
“Looking at the original timeline, the new engine was going to come in 2021 and the chassis was going to come in 2022,” Frye told RACER. “Then we changed the timeline for the engine, moved it back a year and added the hybrid component, and that left a decision on the chassis, and when would be the right time to put that in motion. So we met with team owners at COTA and told them we were looking at reverse-engineering the car going backward from 2027, break it up into pieces where there are smaller pieces every year.
“And by 2027, you’d have the entire new car through annual updates, versus a whole new car at once. We asked them if it was something they were interested in and if it was the right approach, and they all said yes, it was something they wanted to do. So there’s three or four models of how we might do this. And work on this has slowed down, obviously, as everything has been shut down, but it will pick back up again once we all get together and go racing again.”
To protect itself from being forced to use new cars at the same time new motors came online, the series made a smart decision on engine architecture by requiring the upcoming 2.4-liter units to use the same exact mounting point locations as the current 2.2-liter engines.
Owing to the engine mounting rule, the 2022 motors will plug directly into the existing Dallara DW12s, which gives the series an option to continue using today’s chassis after the 2.2-liter motor are retired.
It also opens up the possibility for IndyCar introduce new chassis, drivetrain, and aerodynamic components around the 2022 engines starting in 2022, for example, and continue to do so each year until every piece of the DW12 has been replaced by brand-new technology.
From transmissions, to suspension, to brakes, to electronics, to wings, to underwings, to the survival cell itself, Frye envisions gradual upgrades until there’s nothing left of the DW12.
“The basic part of it is whether we will have a new car in 2021, and the answer is no, we won’t,” he said. “We started seeing this last fall, because economics matter. And with the pandemic, it’s only gotten worse. It’s going to be a few years recovering financially from the pandemic. We don’t want to make things worse for anybody, so maybe we do one new chassis thing in 2022, and then another the next year, and the next, and so on, getting us to 2027.”
In IndyCar’s move to hybridization, the kinetic energy recovery system meant to come packaged with the 2.4-liter V6s was also subjected to a design criteria that would allow installation into the DW12. Drawn to fit between the back of the engine and the transmission, the mechanical portion of the KERS unit could be a seamless integration into the ageing Dallara. Where the battery and associated electronics would live within the existing car is less clear.
Provided the full hybrid 2022 powertrain solution, which is meant to push speeds higher and combined horsepower near the 900hp range, is introduced at the same time, the series could face a few challenges in holding major upgrades for later in the decade.
Factoring in the spike in weight brought by the KERS unit – something near 100 pounds would not be a surprise based on similar systems – the cars will have more mass to stop, at greater speeds. And with a significant amount of newfound power to distribute to the rear wheels, a need for bigger brakes, more robust suspension uprights, a stronger gearbox and driveshafts could be on the cards from the outset.
Another consideration would be the cooling needs of the 2.4-liter engines, which could necessitate larger radiators and reprofiled sidepods to accommodate those pieces, and then there’s the aforementioned increase in rearward weight with KERS installed. Due to the undesired shift in weight onto the rear axle, new suspension with forward-swept A-arms, and possibly an increase in front downforce to add dynamic weight to the front axle would be on the KERS-related menu.
Altogether, there are a lot of interconnected pieces to the new hybrid motor puzzle that could push many of the DW12 replacement items to the early days of the new engine formula. Frye’s multi-stage introduction plan can certainly work, but with the KERS component installed, the big-ticket chassis items won’t wait until the end of the update cycle. Developing the plans and timelines for IndyCar’s future chassis, along with more ways to soften the financial outlay, will continue in the months ahead.