For the third time in as many weeks, Oriol Servia and Juan Pablo Montoya were all smiles after completing a test of the universal aero kit destined for all Verizon IndyCar Series entries in 2018.
Last week, the veteran driver duo ran laps on Iowa Speedway in the new Dallara kit’s configuration that will be used on short ovals, road courses and street circuits next season. The test followed successful outings at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 25 (in the superspeedway configuration) and August 1 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (in the short oval/road/street configuration).
In addition to confirmation testing of the universal aero kit’s general performance on the 0.894-mile oval, the drivers also tried various downforce levels available within the kit configuration to help sanctioning body INDYCAR determine the best set-up for when the series returns to race at Iowa in 2018.
“It’s interesting how you can run the same lap time and in one [downforce level]you’re completely flat out and the other one you are lifting [off the accelerator in the turns],” said Montoya, driving a Chevrolet-powered Dallara IR-12 prepared by Team Penske and equipped with the universal kit. “We’re trying to understand what’s the best way to bring the best racing.”
Lower downforce kit preferred
Servia and Montoya – who have combined to start nearly 300 Indy car races, not to mention Montoya’s 13 seasons split between Formula One and NASCAR – preferred the lower downforce level and said it would deliver more exciting racing for drivers and fans alike.
“It was very consistent, especially if we end up going on the lower downforce package,” said Servia, driving the car powered by a Honda and prepared by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. “You have to drive it, which is fun. You have to lift and you’re still doing the same lap speed [as with more downforce], which is interesting. Exact same lap speed.”
Yet, because most of the downforce from the universal kit is generated underneath the car instead of on top via wings and winglets, there’s less air disturbance for a trailing car, which should present more passing opportunities. The test drivers found that to be the case again today when they ran laps together on the Iowa bullring.
“I was able to run a decent distance behind Juan Pablo, and the car just loses a little bit of grip but [with]a four-tire kind of slide,” Servia said. “It’s not like the front loses a lot of [grip]or the rear loses a lot, which is the problem with the current car.”
The higher downforce level run today with the universal kit was similar to what series cars generated with the current aero kits supplied by Chevrolet and Honda during last month’s Iowa Corn 300 weekend. The lower downforce level tested was about a 20-percent reduction from what was used at this year’s race.
“When you run wide open [in the new kit with higher downforce]the thing is like 7 mph difference between the corners and the straight,” Montoya explained. “The other one [new kit with less downforce]is like 20 mph difference, so you get to see acceleration out of the corners and I think it’s going to create better racing.”
Coming on the heels of equally successful tests at Indy and Mid-Ohio, INDYCAR officials remain pleased with the process and progress.
“Again, the idea was to check off boxes and we did all the boxes we wanted to,” said Bill Pappas, INDYCAR vice president of competition/race engineering.
“We wanted to analyze the downforce level we’ve been running here the last couple years versus what we thought was a target lower downforce, and both drivers responded favorably to the lower downforce. They thought they were able to drive the car a bit more, rather than hanging on, so that was very encouraging. As far as running in traffic, the car never felt like it was going to get away from them – spin out or have any issues with stability. They were both very happy about that.”
Montoya, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner known for his honest answers, didn’t hold back in his praise for the universal aero kit.
“The new ’18 car seems really good,” he said. “I think looking to the future with this is pretty exciting.”