Monday, February 8, 2010

Swift Arrives at the Chassis Party

I discussed the proposed 2012 Dallara Indy chassis here.  Those photos were released just as we found out that the DeltaWing chassis would be debuting the following week.  Then we heard that Lola and Swift would be debuting their concepts in the next week or two.  Suddenly we had gone from one Dallara option and one sort-of DeltaWing option to three Dallaras, a Swift, a Lola, and the Delta Wing.  Now Swift has shown up at the party, and guess what?  They brought their hot friends!

So right off the bat, some of these design choices will not appeal to everyone.  Some of them you might downright hate.  But I contend this is a good thing.  Good design always appeals to a ton of people, but great design should appeal to a ton of people and really turn off a few.  Otherwise, you're not taking enough risks to reach true greatness.

Also, there are three distinct cars here (like with Dallara).  They are not quite as distinct as the three Dallaras, but they certainly are not subtle tweaks on a theme.  Swift has thoughtfully numbered them (Just like real race cars!) as the #23, #32, and #33, and they escalate in that order from most conservative looking to most radical looking.  The #23 looks pretty much like a next-generation IndyCar could be expected to look - it's clearly a new and more "organic" looking car, but you can also see how they progressed from current to future.  The #33 looks like an ALMS car with the driver centered and sections of the fenders taken away.  The #32 looks somewhere between the two.  The kicker is that I'm actually fairly certain that these are all the same chassis, with different body cladding applied to create uniquely styled aero packages for the different types of tracks.

The #23 is the most basic design, with the least cladding.  Think of it as the speedway wing package.  The wings look like you'd expect wings to look, and the sidepods are similarly traditional.  It looks like it is designed to minimize drag for maximum speed.  This, I suspect, is the Swift you would see at Indianapolis.  I like it.  It's a good blend of the current basic formula with a more current organic shape, with some interesting curves and swoops without being garish.  It incorporates the current trend of high bracing around the driver's head, to protect them from debris in an accident.  One thing I didn't like about the Champ Car Panoz DP-01 (a design I otherwise liked) was that it did not incorporate some of these features.  Granted, with no oval racing, it wasn't as pressing, but it has become the standard for a reason.  All in all, if this was all Swift had, it would be a solid design.

And to give you an idea of what the #23 could look like at Indy, the nice folks at Swift have thoughtfully provided a conceptual image.  You know, just in case you were wondering.  You can see what I mean here by a more organic shape.  The rippling of the rear wing mimics some of the other major formula cars from around the world (like Swift's own Formula Nippon design).

The #32 car is the car that seems to me to be the short oval and perhaps road course package.  It features much more wheel protection to avoid interlocking wheels sending cars into the fence.  Fans of Ryan Briscoe know that this is a major focal point for the IRL when considering their options.  This car is more radical looking in a number of ways.  Those mini nose-cones ahead of the front wheels are definitely a new look, and the extended sidepods are also a fairly major change.  The center of the chassis looks fundamentally the same, but the rear wing is also a big departure.  It looks to me like the extended sidepods are cladding that fit over the existing sidepods from the #23, and are in unit with the alternate rear wing.  While wheel to wheel contact would still be a bad idea, it might result in a spin, rather than a ride into the fence.  I do like the idea of a car that is re-configurable to look very different depending on venue.  It solves the problem of wanting an entirely new car for each set of tracks without having to actually run three different chassis designs.

The #33 is where things get a little weirder.  It takes the radical look of the #32, and removes the rest of what we currently identify as an IndyCar.  This is the one that made me think of an ALMS car with fender pieces removed and the driver centered.  I don't know where this fits in.  Is this the road course car?  Is this an entirely different option to be considered separately from the other two?  It still appears to be the same basic tub suspension package.  It certainly dials the "radical" factor up a bit.

Three other features that are common to all three designs bear mentioning.  Take a look at the engine covers on all three.  See how they're notably not there?  Yup.  According to Casper Van der Schoot, Swift’s director of motorsports, “IndyCar fans love to see the engines and mechanical bits normally shielded behind bodywork.  These concepts incorporate retro styling cues that harken to the 50s, 60s and 70s IndyCar eras.  Our wind tunnel tests have shown the engine cover has very little effect on aerodynamics compared to most other components on the car.  We saw an opportunity to showcase the engine and other ‘jewelry’ while preserving efficiency with a much smaller fairing.”  The top of the engine is covered, and there's enough fairing to offer protection should the motor let go, but fans will be able to see an actual engine in there, something that is increasingly difficult to see on both other modern race cars and today's road cars.  Open your hood.  Go ahead, I'll wait.  There, see that big piece of black plastic cladding with a logo on it?  Hint: That isn't what makes your car go.

They also plan to include what they call a "Mushroom Buster" which they already use on the Formula Nippon car.  Says Swift chief designer, Chris Norris, “The ‘busters’ sweep up the wake behind the leading car, thus improving the handling of the following car."  They include the graphic at the right that helps show the effect.  The goal, obviously, is the let the trailing car get right up on the gearbox of the leading car without losing all downforce in the turbulence of the aero wake.  This would theoretically allow for closer racing on ovals, while avoiding what we saw at Texas and Richmond last year, which was a parade run at very high speed.  It was everything some fans hate about street circuit races, without the benefit of at least seeing the cars bounce over rumble curbs or dart through a chicane.  Anything that fixes that is a winner that IRL desperately wants needs.

Third, and most difficult to get my head around, is the SwiftLights system.  “As we listened to the IZOD IndyCar Series they also challenged us to help evolve the fans’ racing experience,” Mark Page, Swift’s chief scientist said. “The Mushroom Buster will promote closer racing and passing, but we also wanted to help communicate the car’s critical information in real time to the fans.  To that end, we are pioneering a new lighting technology which we’ve dubbed ‘SwiftLights’.  SwiftLights will display car information like throttle, brake and fuel levels as well as race position.  Our light sheets are made from a 1 mm thick clear plastic which can be molded over complex shapes like an IndyCar’s bodywork. SwiftLights are light‐weight, efficient, inexpensive, safe and extremely bright.  TV‐like sheets have also been demonstrated with this technology, offering amazing possibilities for team and series sponsors.”  What this means is that common telemetry items that a broadcast might show you from time to time when focusing on one car could be displayed right on the car.  How this works competitively is up for debate, since the amount of fuel you have left is something you might not want broadcast to the driver next to you, but it's at least a fresh idea.  The more intriguing possibility is using the material to offer sponsors a more dynamic way to convey their message.

All in all, I like these designs.  While I still like some of what Dallara showed us, these designs look somehow cooler.  One of the things any racing series needs to do is generate a genuine sense of wonder in younger fans.  That's what keeps them around until they become older fans.  A 12 year old should always go a little wide-eyed when meet a real live race car driver.  When you're that age, it's right up there with astronaut on the list of cool things you want to be someday.  At least it was for me.  Part of that wonder comes from seeing the sleek and cool machines those brave drivers pilot over 200 mph.  Why do I like the Swift offerings?  Because when I look at the car below, I can't help but think, "Man, that is just so COOL!"

1 comment:

Edward said...

I have to admit I like what Swift has done with their chassis designs, although I do admit that the #33 looks a little bit like the Batmobile from the 60's TV show.

The SwiftLights idea is really a cool one, although I agree that telegraphing to your opponents how much fuel you have and what your car settings are is something the teams might not like. But kudos to Swift for their effort. We'll just have to see how it all plays out.