Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why You Shouldn't Hate the Delta Wing YET

So that's the DeltaWing chassis, huh?  Well, they did say it was a revolutionary design.  Of course, they probably didn't mean that it would cause IndyCar fans to take up arms against the series, which if you peruse the forums of fans on Twitter is pretty much about to happen.  If the DeltaWing group intended this car to unite the fan base, well, mission accomplished fellas.  Seriously, job well done there.  I don't think I've ever seen that dude from Toronto in the orange and black Champ Car hat and the FTG shirt agree with the guy from Brownsville in the red and blue Northern Light hat and the Puck Fenske shirt.  Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya!  I'm pretty sure they could outlaw NASCAR and it wouldn't have united everyone as strongly in single purpose as they were when the red tarp got pulled back.  Yikes!  You'd think Ben Bowlby ran over their dogs or something!

I admit, I wasn't immediately a fan myself.  I'm still not sure I am.  It looks weird.  Really weird.  It looks a little like a Colonial Raptor from Battlestar Galactica, and a little bit like top-fuel dragster.  It was originally a three-wheeler, and let's be honest, it still looks like it is.  Head-on, it looks like something the military would deploy against the enemy only after all other hope is lost.

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.

But Fred, you ask, how will the IRL equalize a variety of engines!?  Won't the fast one run away and stink up the show?

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.


Edward said...

So if I'm reading your, Fred's, and Ben Bowlby's comments correctly-please correct me if I'm not-the purpose isn't to be a chassis builder-I hate the way the car looks by the way-but to simply show the rest of the world a way to go. Fine. I know you can't answer this question for Bowlby, but wouldn't a better answer have been for Bowlby to stay employed with Lola and help them build their chassis?

As I stated earlier, I hate this car. Having said that, I'm not a mechanical engineer-not even close-so I don't understand totally the ideas that led to this design. Bottom line, if this was an effort to jolt IndyCar and other chassis manufacturers into action, then it was worth it. Even though I don't like the Delta Wing concept, I won't stop watching IndyCar if that is the chassis chosen. I am a fan of RACING, not a fan of a car or a car design. But if the Delta Wing design is chosen, it will definitely take some getting used to.

The SpeedGeek said...

All good points. I'm glad that somebody broke it down like this. Nice job.

I think the big question is: how flexible is the silhouette of the chassis? Can you widen the nose and set the front wheels out wider, so as to employ a normal suspension setup? Do you have to use the 4" wide wheels that they've proposed? Do you have to have the dorsal fin? How much can you play with the geometry of the tunnels and tunnel inlets?

This is all stuff you can't answer, and neither can I. It's all probably stuff that falls outside of the scope of yesterday's announcement, but it's all stuff that the DW guys should probably answer sooner rather than later, before public opinion runs away from them to the point they can't get anybody back.

Anonymous said...

All of your arguments about allowing independant engine builders to work within a loosely defined formula are valid. Those arguments have existed for years, and so have suitable four cylinder turbocharged racing engines.

That is not the issue surrounding yesterday's release: in fact, a true prototype cannot be built until the engine which will power it is defined by IICS specifications. I'd put a flat four Subaru turbo in the Delta, if it was going to be permitted.

The question is purely about the chassis. If the program is based around a common monocoque, there won't be a way to change the wheelbase significantly. If rules permit you to widen the front track, the pandora's box of R&D expenditures and wind tunnel testing for compatible bodywork revisions is opened.

Ideally, that's the kind of open competition we once had and so dearly miss. Realistically, rules with that much room for interpretation will be maximized by those few who have the budgets to do it best.

My contention remains that once out of the box, two teams will have a clear advantage before the first week of ownership of any chassis has passed. There is no parity in that plan, unless there is a similar parity in resources to implement it.

I think it is a crude but fair description to say that the Delta Wing car essentially steers via torque application changes at the rear wheels. That will be quite an unfamiliar principal for new drivers to learn, and for fans to relate to.

Full ground effect designs have always concerned me, and have been systematicaly controlled thhroughout the history of Formula One. Downforce is heavily reduced when the car is off-axis: hence the large rudder?

Downforce on the Delta Wing would be significantly disrupted if a rear wheel was picked up: at the end of the Mid-Ohio video, one car rides the turtles on a sweeper. Is a full ground effect car going to exhibit stable handling characteristics in that event?

OK, so we can overcome that obstacle with active suspension capabilities. So I can buy my Delta kit, and tinker out my own rear suspension layout. And then have to hire an engineering firm to remap my suspension ECU? And will his efforts be as effective as the brain trust at Penske Racing?

Reduced limits are a tricky deal. Safety cannot be compromised. Budgets will not be equalized. Fuel flow can be regulated, and a common platform adopted. But the "do it yourself" notion of significant modification to this kit, or any other, gets much more problematic as sophistication of the design increases.

We will never have low tech IndyCars again. The question is how high tech they will become under the rules, and who is permitted to reach those heights. And stay there, all by themselves.

I'll apologize in advance if my understanding of the Delta Wing design pronciples are incorrect. After watching the simulation video of Mid-Ohio, I quickly devoted my attention to other matters, I'm an IndyCar fan. To me, that video was a cartoon.

Andy Bernstein

The SpeedGeek said...

Those are great points as well, Andy. As you point out, with a full ground effects car, ground clearance is king, with pitch usually a close second in command when it comes to downforce created, as least as far as I've always understood. I'm guessing that active suspension is right out, with the prices that they're talking about, so yes, what happens when somebody clocks a curb? And, like you, I wonder about whether the steering is supposed to come from torque vectoring, which is at least applicable to road cars, but not all that interesting when it comes to racing. Do the cars wind up being "steer by wire", with the front wheels being little more than an extra "directional thruster"? That's very not cool, because that means that the car is steered by electronics. Thanks, but we left that behind in F1 back around 1993 or so.

Like you, I had kind of a hard time with the Mid Ohio video. Other than giving an idea of what the power to weight ratio might look like for acceleration, I didn't feel like it necessarily gave a fair, realistic view of how the car will perform. Maybe I'm wrong, but the numbers they announced yesterday seem all wonky and there are many, many unanswered questions. That's not your fault, so no apology needed. It's only Day 2 A.D.W. (after Delta Wing), so maybe those answers are forthcoming. Hopefully soon.

Katie said...

When I hear the term IndyCar Racing, one of the first things that pop into my head is OPEN WHEEL RACING, one of the biggest differences is has from Nascar, or its term in my book, no offense to anyone, Nascrap. The Delta Wing concept car would not be too bad if they were to start a whole other series to race it in, but really...does it look like a true open wheel car? Its more of a mix between a dragster and a rocket able to be driven on land. I honestly like the Dallara and Swift concept cars alot more than the Delta Wing. What makes IndyCar racing what it is is drivers driving inches away from eachother for miles and never touching wheels/tires because if they out, someones car is going flying into the fence and it wont be pretty, but that cant happen with the Delta Wing cars, the wheels are covered by I dont want to say a fender but they are not sticking at all. Which makes IndyCars so unique. I think the Delta Wing car is too big of a difference from what the cars look like right now, they look like they are way ahead of its time. I would deffinately not be looking forward to the 2012 season if the cars will look like this. If they will be faster than they are now thats cool but when your already going 220+, will another 10 of 15 mhp more really feel like much? But hey what do I know, Im just a 15 year old girl with the biggest obsession of IndyCar Racing :)

Mike Wendler said...

You are right open wheel fans are united in hatred of this car. The Batmobile comments are dead on but your Colonial Viper comment fits even better. New Indycar boss says he wants to hear from fans, Well the fans are telling you in droves via Facebook and Twitter that they hate it. You need to listen Indycar, you have enough trouble now without alienating the fan base. I just did entry on my blog below about how much I hate it. I may go back and add a picture of a Colonial viper.

I've watched every Indy 500 since I was seven in 1972 and will quit the sport if this is chosen and follow Danica to Nascar. I can't believe I even just typed that. But it is how strongly against this I feel. Get rid of this thing NOW!

Anonymous said...

To Speedgeek:

Thanks for the exchange of ideas. I was onto a notion about a steering angle senor to dictate the rear wheel torque application, I think you are correct. It could probably be as simple as a potentiometer around the steering pinion to signal the ECU.

Here's the only written information I found:

"Differential features full torque vectoring active technology with driver control of gain for balance adjustment".

Of course the balance adjustment is mainly for ovals, which is why the point is made that tire stagger is now irrelevant. I suppose you could even do some "traction jacking" for high speed corners during the middle of a road course lap.

So I think your "steer by wire" label is absolutely correct, and supports my contention that this is another design aspect which makes the Delta a complex and futuristic vehicle...but not a race car. Not in my book.