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The Score - Anthony Schoettle

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Sports Business

Two changes could have major impact on IndyCar Series

October 17, 2014
KEYWORDS Sports Business

In the coming years, the IndyCar race car could look dramatically different than the current model—which was rolled out in 2012.

Chevrolet and Honda are set to debut aero body kits—finally—in 2015 designed to change the cars’ look and performance.
 
Just how much those aero kits will change the look remains to be seen.

There may be another change that will have a much bigger impact. More on that in a moment.

Photos surfaced on the Internet Tuesday of Chevy’s aero kit test session at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. The look of the aero kit could—and likely will—change before the formula is finalized in mid January.

For the gearheads among us, the changes the body kits bring will be significant. I’m not sure casual fans will notice a huge difference. The body kits should, however, bring an element of innovation to the series and allow another avenue for Honda and Chevy teams to look for an edge. And that should bring some intrigue to the series.

It didn’t take long for racing fans to take to the web and social media to voice their thoughts on the aero kit’s look—and the reviews were mixed. Some IndyCar fans were quick to point out that the aero kits are more about speed than good looks, while others said a good-looking car will help bring in more fans. And sponsors will tell you the series could use more fans.

A bigger change to the IndyCar chassis—beyond the aero kits—could be coming in the not-too-distant future. IndyCar officials have recently said they are considering putting a protective canopy on the IndyCar racing cars. That would represent a major departure from the tradition of open-wheel race cars in the U.S. and those that have competed in the storied Indianapolis 500 for the last century.

But several recent accidents, including the 2011 fatal crash in Las Vegas involving Dan Wheldon and the 2013 crash in Houston that ended Dario Franchitti’s career accelerated the conversation.

Two crashes involving Mikhail Aleshin this year, one where another car’s tire hit his helmet and a separate incident in Fontana where Aleshin hit a fence and suffered a serious head and other injuries have ratcheted up concerns over driver safety.

IndyCar officials this season have said they are now considering some type of cockpit enclosure. Derrick Walker, who became IndyCar’s president of competition in mid 2013, is talking with the series’ chassis maker, Dallara, about the possibility of at least a partial covering to protect drivers’ heads and upper bodies.

Some in the series said a partial enclosure, one that looks something like a slanted extended windshield, would be a good step, while others are calling for a full enclosure that would be more likely to withstand major impacts and offer more complete protection for drivers. Several drivers including Ryan Hunter-Reay have voiced their support for totally enclosing the cockpit.

While Walker and Dallara are discussing some type of canopy this off-season, a solution could be a few years coming. It’s likely it won’t be a reality until the series rolls out a new chassis design—and that may not be until 2018.

If there’s another serious head injury or a fatality, however, that timeline is likely to be accelerated.

 

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