Two of four submissions have now been unveiled by the companies wishing to produce the next generation of IndyCar open-wheel racers, and the most recent one is one of the most fascinating looking racecars we've ever seen. The DeltaWing submission is a radical departure from traditional open-wheeler design - in fact, the only thing you could really compare it to is the bizarre lovechild of a drag racer and a Batmobile. With its comically narrow rocketship front end, broad rear end and narrow tyres, the DeltaWing aims to outperform the current crop of IndyCars for significantly less money, while delivering extraordinary efficiency gains and leaving a clear airstream for following cars, in order to promote close racing and overtaking. But is the public ready for a car that looks... so little like a car?
IndyCar racing is a close-fought and exciting spectacle, tailor-made for the American TV audience with its combination of oval tracks and road racing. In recent years, it has become pretty much a one-make series - Honda engines in a Dallara chassis - and while the Dallara gear has been successful, IndyCar's organizers are looking for a way to move forward in a way that promotes closer racing and technological development.
The Dallara chassis looks a lot like a Formula One car - open wheelers with big, flat wings at front and rear - and it's this aerodynamic configuration that has been proving problematic of late, as it has in Formula One. Because the cars rely on such massive downforce from their front and rear wing spoilers for cornering traction, a car that's following behind another car is at a severe disadvantage because it's traveling in a turbulent airstream that's been disturbed by the car in front. Overtaking becomes more difficult and the racing becomes less fun and compelling to watch.
The new machines need to help bring costs down too - in the aftermath of the global financial meltdown, there's not as much money going around to spend on things like racing, so the series is hoping to find a local American manufacturer that can bring entry costs down and encourage more teams to participate.
On top of that, the new designs are being evaluated on their safety, light weight, modern look, green credentials, sponsorship logo area and their ability to outperform the current generation's laptimes despite a drop from 3.5 liter engines to 2.0 liter engines. Quite an ask.
The DeltaWing solution
Through 2009, a group of IndyCar team owners collaborated on a secret project to develop a prototype racer for the next generation of cars. The team surfaced publicly in December last year, and yesterday revealed their radical proposal for the IndyCars of tomorrow.
The DeltaWing solution is a wild-looking machine that pushes the boundaries of what you'd call an 'open-wheeler' to concentrate on massive aerodynamic drag reduction.
For starters, the wheels are almost fully enclosed - as much a safety feature as a drag consideration, when you think about how close IndyCar racing can get and how often wheel entanglements can send one car or the other airborne.
The front of the car is incredibly narrow, the wheels only 24 inches apart leading a spaceship-style fuselage that swoops back toward the cockpit. The rear of the car becomes gradually wider toward the rear wheels, which are 70 inches apart, and the rear wing spoiler has been ditched in favor of a vertical tail fin, helping to stabilise the car and prevent high-speed spinouts. The vast majority of downforce is produced by the ground effect underbody, which sucks the car down onto the track while producing a negligible wake - trailing cars should find it much easier to overtake.
Crucially, the car will weigh only half of what the current generation IndyCar weighs, and will produce only half the aerodynamic drag. This means it should be able to reach similar top speeds, around 240mph (386kmh), but with substantially smaller engines and getting somewhere near double the fuel efficiency.
Teams should be able to buy the car, complete with engine, for around US$600,000 - and it will be manufactured in America by various parts suppliers and constructors, keeping transport costs to a minimum.
Dallara's competing design has already been shown - a fairly conservative reworking of the current IndyCar shape, but it's still going to be Italian-made, which will go down as a point against it as the IndyCar organisation considers proposals over the next few months.
The drivers seem to like the idea of it, and in addition to appearing to meet all the criteria, the DeltaWing is also the only one of the four entries to have produced a full-size demonstration model. So it's in with a good chance. We'd love to see one driven in anger - it's certainly the most radical and remarkable racecar shape we've seen proposed for a major code.