Christopher DeHarde of Luling is a regular contributor on IndyCar racing to motorsport.com and tributeracing.com as well as co-hosting a weekly racing show on blogtalkradio.com. He is a 2012 LSU graduate. During the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana, DeHarde will be providing analysis for The Advocate.
After the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg launched the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series championship, it was clear there was a lot of work to be done with the new aero kits before this weekend’s Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana.
The kits gave Chevrolet and Honda, which also provide the engines for Indy cars, radically different looks than in their previous incarnations.
On the street course in St. Pete, Florida, Chevy had seven of the top nine finishers while six of the bottom nine were Hondas.
However, the race results are only part of the story. How the results came to be is quite another.
Part of the what makes these aero kits so special is that they are so different at accomplishing the same task of directing the air over the cars, and by being so different, it can be a challenge when one kit has an advantage over the other. Sometimes, that advantage can be as simple as one of a basic difference in design philosophy.
The Honda kit has several smaller wings above the main plane of the front wing that are held in place to the front wing endplate, and when they were knocked off of the car from car-to-car contact, then the front wing’s job efficiency was compromised. Because of a loss of efficiency, the teams would change out damaged front wings for new ones.
By changing these components, teams would have longer pit stops, but they could mitigate their on-track losses.
Because of Chevrolet’s design, they did not have many teams that changed front wings during the race. The design has one small winglet above the main plane supported by a stem whose loss would not compromise the integrity of the front wing.
Because of this design, many Chevrolet teams did not bother changing out their front wings because the time lost in the pits would be greater than anything that could be gained by having the two pieces back on the car.
However, not all contact resulted in new pieces becoming a necessity for Honda drivers. Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal had an incident with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Charlie Kimball, resulting in Kimball’s car making contact with the turn 10 tire barrier.
“That contact (with Kimball) shouldn’t have been what it was, yet unfortunately we had that incident, and our (front) wing held up,” Rahal said.
Rahal is in a Honda car while Kimball drives a Chevrolet.
“The thing about the Chevy kit is that they had maybe even more guys that lost parts, but it was just the little parts that stick up, so if they fell off they kind of just kept running without them,” Rahal said.
However, Rahal reminded himself that the aero kits necessitate a new change in driving style.
“The main thing is that we’ve all kind of gotten used to this style of racing where with the old kit, you could bump and bang a little bit, obviously now you’re not able to do that, and that takes some adjusting to, because everybody is used to being able to flex your muscle a little bit if you need to,” Rahal said.
St. Petersburg race winner Juan Pablo Montoya knows what the risks are when it comes to losing aero kit pieces, especially considering that his teammate Will Power lost a piece when trying to overtake Montoya.
“I think if you hit something, that’s meant to break,” Montoya said, referring to the small Chevrolet pieces that have flown off.
IndyCar did take notice of the extra debris that was generated and called for the manufacturers to strengthen their front wing and rear wheel guards in an effort to reduce flying pieces. President of Competition and Operations Derrick Walker was upbeat about the manufacturers and their willingness to cooperate and submit bodywork upgrades that were approved by the series.
“With a quick turnaround from St. Petersburg, our partners were very diligent in making these enhancements in time for this weekend’s event,” Walker said.