Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Why You Shouldn't Hate the Delta Wing YET
Why, then, am I conflicted? If you've been following my comments on the chassis development program, you know that I like the Swift and Dallara offerings so far, and can't wait to see what Lola brings to the table. So far, some of the designs have been more radical than others, but they have all fit the basic definition of a modern open-wheel racing car.
In short, my favorite parts about this car have nothing to do with its exact appears, and everything to do with the assumptions on which it's based. One of the common refrains from the folks who don't like the chassis is, "Can you imagine 33 of those things at the Indy 500!?" But that's just the thing - I don't think anyone involved ever intended 33 of these to start the Indy 500, at least not unless it first beats other chassis. Ben Bowlby (the designer, formerly of Lola and now with Target Chip Ganassi) has said in a few different interviews that the DeltaWing group do not want to be a chassis builder. They want to be a designer who them offer a core concept that other builders could develop from there. Theoretically, this would lead to cars that follow the same basic idea, but look all different (some subtly, other less subtly) as engineers tweak, and trim, and change. Remember that even when the IRL had three chassis suppliers (Dallara, Panoz, and Riley & Scott), the chassis were that different in appearance to the untrained eye. Maybe the cars will all share a similar silhouette, but will have definite visual differences. What this means, boiled down, is that the DeltaWing idea is based upon the assumption that starting in 2012, the IZOD IndyCar Series will not be a single-supplier series! Swift and Dallara both very definitely made their proposals to be that sole supplier. Lola will likely do the same. DeltaWing does not. In fact, I think this car is more of a reference design than the car that will actually run in 2012. Think of it as IndyCar's Nexus One (the phone Google uses to show what the Android OS can do, even though they know most people will buy the Droid in the end). This is a platform to show lots of the great ideas they have, that can then be applied to other chassis.
The engine is not a stressed member of the chassis. While a somewhat boring technical detail, this opens the door for a much wider variety of engines that could be run. Bowlby envisions a small turbocharged four-cylinder as part of his push to make IndyCar technology relevant, but you could easily run a V6, or even a small V8. You could potentially even run a naturally-aspirated engine. Any number of interesting engine technologies suddenly become realistic.
Well first of all, yes. Just like Penske and Ganassi do now. But actually, maybe not as much as you'd think. Bowlby also envisions a unique engine performance management method. Sanctioning bodies have spent the past 25 years trying to find ways to equalize different engines and slow them all down. ALMS regulates the intake opening, limiting the air to the motor. NASCAR used to trim aerodynamic areas on the bodies when one manufacturer was running away with it. Remember going to Charlotte hearing that the Ford would be losing a quarter-inch of front valence? Exactly. Bowlby's idea is to limit all engines at a single point: fuel flow. You can carry a certain amount of fuel, but it is strictly limited in flow rate. Since you can only burn at that rate, it behooves you as a designer to find a way to transfer as much of that burn into power hitting the pavement as possible. This leads to a focus on extreme efficiency, both in engines and in gearboxes and bearings - all of the areas that auto manufacturers are working on right now for their road cars! The Indy 500 could once again be a proving ground for automotive technology. Combined with their extremely light chassis (1030 lbs. without engine), a 300 hp engine could (they claim) turn a 235 mph lap, returning 12 mpg! Even if those are optimistic, they're still amazing.
The lack of wings and the shrouded wheels produce downforce that is far less sensitive to turbulence, while preventing the interlocking wheels that have sent drivers into the fence at high speed.
OK. It looks silly. I get that. But for everyone who complains about the lack of innovation, this is innovation. I have no idea if this thing can do everything Bowlby claims it can, but I'd love to find out. And if it can do those things, that car deserves a shot. Sure, I don't want every car in the field to look like that, but maybe they don't have to. If you consider it in the context of multiple chassis options, suddenly this things looks much less silly.
This isn't racing camp. It isn't important that everyone is on equal footing. If you have the know-how and creativity to work on your car, and you manage to beat everyone else to the checkered flag, you should get the big shiny trophy, and everyone else should get a clap on the back and a beer. Because anything else isn't racing. Winning is beautiful, and I want to see if this thing has what it takes to win.
Oh, one more thing. The DeltaWing technical notes talk about a theoretical lap of 235 mph with 300 hp. That's getting perilously close to a number IndyCar fans thought they'd never see again: 237.498 mph. That lap was laid down in 1996, by Arie Luyendyk. In 2012, it will have been 16 years. If this car can make a run at Arie's lap, then I say bring it on.