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Detroit โ€” Do not worry, you need not be a gearhead to notice the difference.

The wholesale new designs for the Indy cars racing on Belle Isle this week in the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit make them easier for spectators to distinguish with the naked eye, even as they streak by in a blur on The Strand along the Detroit River.

The Chevys and Hondas actually look different now, beyond paint colors and sponsor logos.

They also look lower and are a lot sleeker.

Beyond that, however, the variations are more technical and harder to decipher.

graphic

The good news is the designing initiative is having its intended effect. It is clear, early this season, the new cars make for better racing.

Any fan who sits in the same corner on Belle Isle every year, or watches the broadcasts with keen observation, should notice a few enhanced elements of performance that add up to one thing: The cars are quicker in the corners.

"We're seeing a little bit of an increase in top speed because the cars are a bit more efficient," said Ron Ruzewski, technical director of Team Penske, which finished first and second place last weekend in the Indianapolis 500, with drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power, the defending IndyCar champion.

"We've also seen that they are generating a bit more downforce, so the drivers are braking a little bit later into a corner. And they are carrying slightly more mid-corner speed, particularly in the faster corners, because the cars generate more downforce.

"In the slower corners, it's about the same. But in the higher-speed corners, the speed is up slightly."

As IndyCar makes its annual trek to the motor capital of the world โ€” and home to one of its two manufacturers, Chevrolet, and premier team owner Roger Penske โ€” the changes are a big focus.

Officials intended to expand the fan experience and reinvigorate interest in the mechanical methods of Indy racing, while continuing to control the cost structure.

Looking for balance

Striking that balance is integral to all varieties of motor sports.

Some fans believe Formula One does it the best. Others, especially in the United States, say it is NASCAR.

IndyCar moved to seize more of the acclaim as it changed racing models from the Dallara DW12 cars that ran for three seasons beginning in 2012.

"Basically, they asked for the manufacturers to create an aero kit or body change to the cars from the last few years, with the DW12s," said Bill Pappas, technology project manager for KV Racing, who works with the team engineers and drivers Sebastien Bourdais and Stefano Coletti.

"Honda and Chevrolet then went out and went down their path of what they thought were the best solutions to that."

Both manufacturers were charged with developing two designs, one for street and road courses like Belle Isle, and one for big ovals like Indianapolis.

The mandatory specifications for the new design included some latitude to allow for variations within targets.

"Each manufacturer was given basically a build-to criteria, and then they tasked them to do what they want within those boxes," Ruzewski said. "Certain parameters had to be maintained and cost targets had to be hit, and there were issues of production availability and stuff like that.

"For the most part, they were given some freedom within these boxes. And there's two different solutions out there; one by Honda and one by Chevrolet."

The results were uniform between the teams in that they both produced faster cars. But, so far, Chevy has exceeded Honda's performance on the road courses.

"On the road courses, they've changes the front wing assembly," Pappas said. "They're distinctly different between the two cars, the way each manufacturer thought they could create more down force more efficiently.

"We have higher mid-corner speeds, which turns into faster lap times.

"It also creates closer competition. The cars are driving really close now, on the streets and the road courses because of the more efficient downforce packages."

The greater downforce means the cars are holding the race surfaces better, even when the nose of one car gets close to the nose of another and the suddenly clean air tends to cause a car to lift, diminishing forward force.

"The biggest differences you'll see are in the front wing area and the rear wing area," Ruzewski said. "Those are the most visual. And then the side pods are different shapes as well, relative to last year.

"I would say the Honda configuration is a lot more complicated looking, with the number of parts and pieces.

"The Chevrolet design is a little simpler and more sleek, with some different concepts like you'll see vents in the rear wing. Whereas Honda has multiple elements in the front wing, like 10 or 12, lots of little air foils."

Remain grounded

The new designs engendered some hiccups at Indianapolis.

The Chevys literally flew when on-track incidents included spins. As the rear of the cars began to face forward, there was considerable lift, and the cars were suddenly upside down and airborne.

The problem would not happen on a slower, smaller road course, like Belle Isle. And IndyCar officials enforced mandatory increases in downforce in the adjustments available on the chassis at Indianapolis.

Speeds diminished, but the cars remained on the ground.

"Driving-wise, we have a little more downforce than last year, so we can be more on the attacking side of things," said Simon Pagenaud, who joined Team Penske as a fourth driver this season on an already powerful team that included Power, Montoya and Helio Castroneves.

"We can be more aggressive with the car, with the regulators. We carry more speed into the corners, and it just makes for a faster car, in general.

"The driving is a bit more physical, as well.

"So, a lot of fun for us drivers, including in synchronizing who is behind us, in terms of which team and which driver."

Pagenaud said racing fans should be more entertained.

"I think people will be impressed how late we can brake now," he said. "We can brake later and carry more speed into the corners.

"Also, the tires are getting used a little bit more. So, there might be a little bit of a tire drop-off, which before wasn't the case.

"So, you might get to see better racing because of that."

gregg.krupa@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/greggkrupa

Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix

Friday-Sunday, Belle Isle, Detroit

TV: ABC (Saturday and Sunday)

Tickets: From $35 (single-day general admission) to $65 (two-day general admission) to $175 (three days).

Details: detroitgp.com

Schedule

Friday: Free day (gates open at 7:30 a.m.; practices and qualifying until 6:10 p.m.)

Saturday: Dual in Detroit, 3:30-6 p.m. (gates open at 7:30 a.m.)

Sunday: Dual in Detroit, 3:30-6 p.m. (gates open at 8 a.m.)

Note: Street festival at Campus Martius Park in Detroit from 5-8 p.m. tonight. Admission is free.

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