New Indy Car has history in Detroit
To drivers and race fans, it’s referred to simply as “the new car.” In official parlance of the Verizon IndyCar Series, though, it’s known by a more formal title: universal aero kit. By any name, it has changed the face of racing at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear and it has roots grown right here in the Motor City.
New 2018 Indy Car returns to Detroit. Video courtesy of Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear.
Fans who attend this year’s Chevy Dual in Detroit – the two INDYCAR races during the June 1-3 weekend on Belle Isle – are likely familiar with the new car; after all, its first concepts were unveiled in 2017 at the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center, and then the completed car itself was revealed to the world at the auto show in January. The two unveilings reflect the long connection between the City of Detroit, INDYCAR, Chevrolet and Roger Penske, owner of Team Penske and the driving force behind the Grand Prix.
“Detroit has a long history with INDYCAR,” said Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion and winner at Detroit in 2013 and pole position winner at both Detroit races in 2016. “It’s the Motor City, and Chevrolet is so involved with Detroit and with INDYCAR racing. It’s a perfect fit. With the Penske organization putting the race together here, it all comes together really well as a package. It’s very impressive how you can line up the best in every industry and make it a special thing. INDYCAR is very fortunate with all of that, that’s for sure.”
The universal aero kit is an assembly of new body parts fitted to the existing Dallara chassis, and it’s fresh to INDYCAR racing in 2018. It offers a different look – sleeker, lower to the ground and less busy than previous versions of the car – and offers a different feel for drivers.
“It’s obviously a lot less downforce, so the car is a lot less stable,” Pagenaud said. “I actually think it’s harder for a driver who has been driving the high-downforce kit the past three years compared to somebody who comes into the series with no reference. It’s really hard to step back down and try to back off rather than going forward with your limits. “
The new car’s design is intended to return driving to the drivers. Previous versions of Indy cars featured heavy downforce -- the pressure created by the flow of air over the car – that made the cars “stick” to the track. The new aero kit has significantly less downforce, meaning the car slides around more.
“It still has four wheels, but it’s a different car,” said Marco Andretti, who drives for Andretti Autosport. “There are a couple of inherent things that it does differently.”
“It’s definitely more alive,” said Ryan Hunter-Reay, one of Andretti’s teammates. “It’s been a busier car to drive.”
Four races into the 2018 season, most drivers are steadily becoming more comfortable with the new kit and the changes it demands of them. Last week they tested the new kit at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time in preparation for the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 later this month. The reviews were positive.
“I think it was pretty smooth,” said 2013 Indy 500 winner and 2007 Detroit Grand Prix champ Tony Kanaan. “You saw everybody came up to speed pretty fast, which is pretty remarkable, in my opinion. To me it was a lot quicker down the straightaways, which was quite fun. It was like back in the day. You definitely feel the speed going down the straightaway. You have to hang on into the corners.”
During offseason testing of the new kit, drivers adjusted to a car that slid around the track more than in previous years. Doing that requires quicker hand reactions and more active control of the throttles, so drivers’ hands and feet are working harder than in previous years.
“Everyone is in the same boat,” said Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ed Jones. “Obviously some people have done more testing with it, but it’s going to be good. It’s good for the series to change things up after a while. The cars will be a lot more challenging to drive. It should equal out the playing field a lot more in terms of the difference between teams.”
One thing is certain: Detroit race fans will see a different product on track and the racing is only going to get more intense and exciting at the Belle Isle street circuit.
“From a performance standpoint, we’re putting the driver back in the cockpit,” said Bill Pappas, INDYCAR’s vice president of operations, race engineering. “There was so much downforce with the last couple of years of the aero kits. The driver was basically riding. … You never were using the drivers’ talents. With this thing, because of the reduced downforce, they have to decide how early they want to brake. They’re working on technique again as far as how they carry speed. When they go back to the throttle, it’s not just matting it. They get wheelspin and the car slides. If drivers can cope with the car slipping and sliding around, they’re going to be really successful.”
For more information and to purchase tickets to the 2018 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, June 1-3 on Belle Isle, visit DetroitGP.com.
Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.