Racing fans can feel it in their bones: it’s IndyCar season, and with it comes a new host of technical innovations and design ideas. Safety was front and center for IndyCar this year, in the face of the tragic death of Dan Wheldon during the 2011 season’s final race. So what are some of the best and most interesting innovations that are hitting the asphalt?
#1) Competing Engines
New this season, but a very old idea: engines from competing companies. Since 2005, IndyCar has used engines from Honda exclusively; but this season, Chevrolet and Lotus will also be offering engines. They’re all 2.2 liter V6 engines, of course, but Chevy and Lotus have very different engine design philosophies compared to Honda. These new engines bring in a new element of design into an already insanely competitive IndyCar season, and may give some drivers a competitive edge, depending on how clever their car teams are.
#2) Revised Car Bodies
The new Indy car bodies are substantially safer and more comfortable for drivers (auto insurance companies: you can breathe a sigh of relief). They’ve been designed not to go airborne, to prevent any more tragedies like Dan Wheldon’s death, and the cockpit is also wider to make it easier to extract the driver in the event of an accident. All of this adds up to a much safer Indy car, letting drivers focus instead on competing instead of worrying about their safety.
#3) Variable Turbo Boost
For the first time, Indy cars will be able to tweak their turbo to better suit their conditions, ranging from restrained to full-on raging power. This is important because it’s going to give the drivers and car teams much more control over how their vehicles handle on the different Indy tracks, giving the team that can figure out the right mix between power and control a substantial advantage in each race. Expect to see a lot of experimenting and fiddling out in the field as they try to strike the right balance.
#4) Rear Bumpers
These are probably the most controversial addition to the new Indy car body, but they have a noble goal, at least: preventing wheel-to-wheel contact.
Wheel-to-wheel contact is incredibly dangerous in Indy racing, and a major cause of accidents. The idea behind the bumper is to prevent those accidents in the first place. While the drivers are all for it, there’s some concern that the bumpers just aren’t strong enough to prevent a wheel from rolling right over them, or snapping off under stress. We’ll find out as the races continue, but it’s something everybody will be watching.
#5) Seat Insets
Finally, one last safety innovation makes our list for both making the sport better, and being pretty neat in and of itself.
There are now inserts in the seat designed to absorb energy before it reaches the driver. That way, if a wreck happens, the driver will be less likely to suffer injury from the rear, especially in a direct collision.
In short, this season is shaping up to be the most competitive and safest we’ve ever seen. We can’t wait for Indy!