I haven’t felt motivated to write a motor sports post, but after seeing Honda’s IndyCar aero kit that was debuted earlier this week I finally felt that motivation. Admittedly, there are times that IndyCar makes it difficult to be a fan, but this is most definitely not one of those times. After years of almost spec race cars, IndyCar now has an element of engineering diversity if just in the realm of aerodynamics. What we’ve seen so far are their Road/Street Course/Short Oval kits so those are what I discuss below.
The Chevrolet aero kit was introduced earlier this year and was developed in partnership with Pratt and Miller. It is the more conservative of the two designs and most closely resembles the original Dallara. The front wing in particular looks rather conventional and not far removed from what we’ve seen on previous IndyCars. Flicks are liberally sprinkled about the car until you get to the rear of the car which is reminiscent of a prototype race car. Particularly noticeable at the rear of the car is the multi-element rear wing with slotted end plates.
The Honda Performance Development aero kit developed in partnership with Wirth Research on the other hand, is the more complex of the two. Overall, it is a more aggressive design. All around there are multiple elements to be found, whether they’re on the front wing, flicks along the body work, or the rear wing. The front wing in particular stands out, there are a lot more elements to it and it’s obviously going to be redirecting more air than the Chevrolet kit will. The rear wing and bodywork behind the rear tires look more like the Chevrolet but once again there are more elements and the rear wing end plate is not stlotted.
When you take the manufacturer partnerships into consideration, the differences in the aero kits aren’t that surprising. Both partnerships are not new, both pairs have plenty of experience working with each other. Pratt and Miller are more experienced at designing GT race cars, although they have some prototype experience and Wirth Research has experience with designing prototype race cars, particularly the recent HPD/Acura ARX series LMP1 and LMP2 cars (it’s also worth mentioning that HPD’s parent company Honda have F1 experience). Honda’s F1 heritage is definitely visible in their aero kit. I think Pratt and Miller’s heavier experience with GT cars and Chevrolet’s more general association with “tin top” racing led to their more conventional design while HPD’s prototype experience and Honda’s F1 heritage resulted in their more complex design.
I’m not privy to any of the reasoning either of the pairings used in their designs, but I have been thinking about what they might have had in mind. I think Honda has heavily considered downforce and outright performance. Their kit appears to create a lot of downforce, possibly more than the Chevrolet kit (although we don’t really know because no figures have been released and they haven’t tested side by side). Chevrolet, on the other hand may have been thinking more about durability. Even though most of it is in NASCAR, Chevrolet has more experience in oval racing and know that contact on a short oval is sometimes unavoidable. Likewise, contact is hard to avoid on street courses where you’re racing between concrete barriers. Both lead to damage and can cause you to lose your complex aero bits. The Chevrolet kit looks like it may be sturdier because of lack of those complex bits. Perhaps there are two different philosophies at work in the two designs? We’ll see…
Although I’m a life long Chevrolet fan, I think Honda may have stolen a march on Chevrolet in the battle between the aero kits. It certainly looks like the Honda kit is going to create more downforce and that’s very important on road/street courses and short ovals. A lot also rides on how the manufacturers have developed their engines during the off season as well; there of course has to be the proper balance between downforce and power for maximum performance. All that said, the proof is in the pudding. We won’t know for sure what either kit is going to do until the season gets underway at St. Petersburg. Of course, this opens up the potential for domination by one manufacturer or the other, but racing isn’t always side by side, neck and neck. It isn’t just about who the best driver is, it is also about who can build the best race car and now that element has, to an extent, been returned to IndyCar. This is going to make the 2015 season quite fascinating and has increased my expectations for the season. I for one can’t wait until the green flag drops to start the season!