Indy 500: What’s New This Year?

 

Every year sees tweaks and changes to the IndyCar circuit, but 2012 has more than usual: partially thanks to the difficulties and tragedies of last year, partially thanks to new scientific advantages and safety technology. So, here’s a cheat sheet of what’s different for this year:

– After a five year monopoly, Honda is no longer the sole engine provider for IndyCar: Chevy and Lotus will also be providing engines. This is part of the ICONIC program pursued by IndyCar: the car of years past is being permanently retired as part of a sport-wide update of the vehicles.

– And those engines are surprisingly light on the fuel: this year, they’re 2.4 liter V6 engines, some of the lowest displacement in IndyCar history. In fact, you can find 2.4 liter V6s all around your neighborhood.

– The big difference between engines? Lotus and Chevy bring twin turbos to the table, while the Honda has one turbo. This also means there won’t be a single IndyCar in the race that isn’t turbocharged…which marks the first time turbos have been allowed on the track in 15 years.

– The chassis is the new Dallara, and all cars in the race must use the Dallara chassis. The chassis can only be modified in certain ways — such as fin angles — so for teams, the emphasis lies solely on making those tweaks and testing them out in wind tunnels and shake rigs. As a tribute to the unfortunate passing of Dan Wheldon, the chassis has been named the DW12 in his honor.

– Another subtle change: this year, the cars will run E85 fuel, instead of the pure ethanol of recent series. This is for safety; E85 will burn a little less readily. (Auto insurance companies must be happy.)

– Every engine in the race has to have run for at least 1850 miles, or face a 10-place grid penalty. This is for safety. There is an exception, though: if the engine fails for some reason during racing, a new engine can be installed for the next race and the penalty will be waived. Hopefully, though, no car winds up trying this rule out!

– On race day itself, expect the pits to remain open longer: for non-emergency caution periods, they’ll be open. The goal is to shorten caution period to two laps or so.

– At certain tracks, like Indianapolis and Texas, restarts will go back to single file, for the sake of driver safety.

Amid all the rule changes, though, one thing remains especially important, arguably more so under the new rules: the skill of the driver. Even with different engine packages to try, most Indy cars will be sticking to a very rigid formula, which means, first and foremost, that strategy and control on the track will be the most important part of the race.

So, for Indy fans, these rules may sound fairly minor, but the truth is, they promise to give us an exciting, dynamic and tense Indy season. It’s all down to the drivers, and we’re going to see some amazing racing this year.

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