By Design: 2018 IndyCar

America’s open-wheel series gets a new look and, hopefully, even better racing

Verizon IndyCar Series officials have called the new race car design for their 2018 season “reverse engineering.” In other words, make it look good first and then dial in performance.

The series is still in the days of early returns, with the car’s running limited so far to off-season testing, but it appears IndyCar accomplished both objectives. Drivers have said the new sleek shape creates a smaller aerodynamic wake, which should allow trailing cars to have more stability so passes become less about drafting. Ideally, better racing follows.

The process of outfitting the series’ Dallara IR-12 chassis with a new aerodynamic kit began in the spring of 2016, with initial designs from Dallara and Chris Beatty, a U.K.-based concept-design and 3D-animation consultant. IndyCar officials orchestrated the rest, taking input from teams and drivers.

The result is a look that harks back to IndyCar’s early 1990s CART heyday. A lower engine cover and smaller wings provide a long, lean profile. Gone are the bulky rear wheel guards no one liked, and the front wings are tidy and pleasing to the eye.

This design should be safer if for no other reason than it has fewer breakable pieces. Side-impact protection improves significantly with the joining of two bulkheads ahead of the radiator. The unitary construction is designed to absorb loads from all directions, and the structure is 8 to 10 inches wider at the driver’s hips. The tops of the sidepods are designed to exceed FIA requirements, with the oil and water radiators moved forward, adding cushioning.

A wider leading edge mitigates the chance of another car’s wheel climbing on top of the underwing. The rear wing and front-wing main planes are smaller, and the centerline wicker from the nose of the car to the cockpit is tapered—an aerodynamic device intended to prevent the car from lifting off the ground when it spins.

Drivers asked for more downforce to come from underneath the car—instead of on top, using the wings—and the new design in road course/short oval configuration puts 66 percent of the downforce there, an increase of 19 percent. Overall downforce, however, decreases.

“It’s going to be way different from what we’ve been used to the last three years, which is going to change all the setups, it’s going to change the driving style. So the field could be mixed up, which is good, and I think the racing is going to be better,” says defending series champion Josef Newgarden. “I think the cars are going to be difficult to drive in one way, and they’re going to be easier in another. They’re going to move around a lot more because they have less downforce, but they also move in a better attitude. They’re much more progressive. They’re not as snappy.”

The 2.2-liter twin-turbo, 700-plus horsepower V-6 engines from Honda and Chevrolet remain. Modeling indicates oval-track qualifying speeds for the Indianapolis 500 should be comparable to 2017. Scott Dixon won last year’s pole with a four-lap average of 232.164 mph. The 17-race season opens with a March 11 race in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Indy 500 is May 27.

1. You see more of the tire ramp detail, how it’s integrated into the sidepod. The open-wheel concept is very evident.

2. The best view of the car’s sleekness. The shape follows the nose’s tip and tapers up and back down. The sidepod here has a shape that plunges as you go down the side of the car. Note that the bodywork piece that used to block a sponsor’s logo is gone. The side impact structure is where the Honda logo is.

3. The front wing shape and endplates are new. IndyCar has tapered back the wing rather than keeping it perpendicular to the center of the tub. Now it narrows primarily for looks, but it also reduces some drag.

4. The underwing points back toward the rear wheel. The underwing’s opening is in the same shape, but gone is what was known as the “sponsor blocker” on the side. The bodywork “Coke-bottles” toward the back of the car now, where with the previous design it was mostly filled in. This design manipulates the air from the underwing to create a suction effect.

5. The simplicity of the new aero kits, seen here in the speedway trim, is evident. Details such as the endplate curves stand out.

6. The F1-style airbox inlet is removed from above the driver’s head, giving the car a sleek, lower profile. This shape follows the contour of the tub, tapering to a sharp point at the back.

7. Notice how visible the tires are. The rear wing shape is nice and low, and you can see through the roll hoop. This is a good view of what is a more classic-looking Indy car.

8. This is the road course/short oval rear wing. The endplate is sculpted down to make sure it doesn’t get into the tires.

9. Removal of the old rear wheel guards exposes the rear wheels completely, a hallmark of open-wheel cars. The rear wing is significantly smaller than in the past, about 60 percent the size of the previous one.

10. New heat vents are in place for the exhaust system below. There wasn’t a problem with radiated heat in the past, but this helps prevent bodywork from burning when the car is stationary.

11. PFC is the sole brake supplier. In 2017, IndyCar used carbon PFC and Brembo rotors. This PFC package includes rotors, pads, calipers, and mounting hardware.