My DeltaWing opinion, 24 hours later

IndyCar commentary — By on February 11, 2010 4:01 pm
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(Originally posted by Paul to Planet-IRL.com.)

Okay, friends, pay attention as this situation may never occur again, but here goes:  I might not, after all, know everything. When it comes to the design of race cars and all the knowledge that some folks have, I can assure you that I do not, in fact, know it all!

Such, I believe, is the case with the DeltaWing IndyCar concept that was debuted yesterday at the Chicago Auto Show. My initial reaction upon seeing the concept car yesterday afternoon was that I did not like it. After about 24 hours to stew on it, my decision today is that I still don’t like it.

But I am smart enough to realize that since I don’t actually know everything about race car design, there’s a good chance that Ben Bowlby, designer of the DeltaWing car, knows what he is talking about. After all, Ben’s genius has been the driving force behind many previous race cars, including the Lola that was so dominant for so many years in CART and ChampCar. This guy is pretty damn smart, so it is probably wise on the part of many people to pay attention when Ben speaks about car design.

At the heart of the issue that most IndyCar fans have with the DeltaWing design is that it doesn’t look like an IndyCar. I agree to a point, but throughout open-wheel racing history, significant progress has been made by making cars that don’t necessarily look like an IndyCar. I’m not quite as hung up on the physical look of the car (though it will never win any race car beauty contests in my humble opinion).

What really, really bothers me about this car is that is not in fact an open-wheel racing car. Regardless of what some folks might try to claim, the fact that approximately 30° of the tire is exposed to sunlight does not mean this is an open-wheel car. Nearly all cars, if not every car, that has ever competed in the Indianapolis 500 has had exposed wheels. Part of the danger of IndyCar racing is that a large amount of finesse is require to drive these cars at high speeds in close proximity and to keep from touching wheels. The fact that the DeltaWing’s designers were so blatant in their disregard of this aspect is concerning. I do understand that tucking the wheels away significantly enhances the efficiency of the car but, quite honestly, I don’t care. Radical innovation is one thing. Wiping away 100 years of history and putting fenders on the car is quite another.

Mike Hull has pointed out on a few occasions that is has been car designers willing to innovate outside the box that has gotten the modern IndyCar to where it is today — from the boxy 1940s to the roadster to winged racers to ground effects, etc. However, what is different about each of those situations is that each of those technical innovations was a method to create a faster race car, a car that could beat 32 other cars at Indianapolis. Never has there been such a radical change just for the sake of doing something different, and never has the entire IndyCar community made the dramatic change all at once. When the roadsters came around, there was one the first year and a few more each year until the entire field eventually chose the best option, which turned out to be the roadster. Wings were integrated into the cars over the course of several years, and the same is true with ground effects. In each of those cars, the change was gradual and allowed the fans to see that the best car was in fact winning out. In this case, the change is so sudden and so dramatic that it will be extremely difficult for the fans to accept, no matter how long they sleep on it.

I think Ben Bowlby has ultimately addressed some very pertinent issues for the design of the future IZOD IndyCar Series race car, but I’m not convinced that the DeltaWing is the answer. I hope that some of the ideas that Ben has proposed can be incorporated into a more traditional but advanced-looking design.

IndyCar fans are not opposed to change. I’m tired of hearing people say that those of us opposed the DeltaWing are opposed to the future, opposed to innovation, and opposed to change — that simply is not the case. What we are opposed to is a car that has absolutely no connection to the history of IndyCar racing (except the Firestone Firehawk racing slicks). I think that if Ben Bowlby can go back and make some revisions to this concept to incorporate more of the IndyCar look that fans have known from the past 30 years, designs, teams owners, and League officials alike will get a much warmer and open reception to a radical design. For 99% of the fans, the current iteration is just too far out there for fans to consider it an IndyCar.

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