Oriol Servia celebrated his 43rd birthday Thursday. With experience comes great responsibility.
“I’m not 20 anymore,” Servia joked while discussing his selection – along with fellow Indy car veteran Juan Pablo Montoya – to test the Dallara universal aero kit that will be used by all Verizon IndyCar Series competitors in 2018. On-track testing begins July 25-26 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval and will be followed by sessions at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Iowa Speedway in August, and at Sebring International Raceway in September.
Team Penske is providing the Chevrolet-powered Dallara IR-12 chassis to be driven by Montoya. Servia will drive a Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Dallara with a Honda engine. While the teams are providing crews to service the cars, the testing regimen will be supervised by INDYCAR, the sanctioning organization for the Verizon IndyCar Series.
INDYCAR will maintain control of the test chassis and data, so as not to provide either test team a competitive advantage for the 2018 season. Data and results will be distributed to all teams once testing is complete.
Montoya has six seasons and 93 Indy car races split over two stints in the sport, separated by 13 seasons driving in Formula One and NASCAR. The 41-year-old Colombian won the 1999 CART championship and has a pair of Indianapolis 500 victories (2000, 2015) among his 15 race wins.
Servia, the 1999 Indy Lights champion from Spain, has driven Indy cars since 2000 and notched his 200th career start at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in May. He and Montoya were chosen for the aero kit testing due to their lengthy histories in the sport and ability to deliver essential testing feedback.
“I have a little experience, same as Juan,” said Servia, who also holds a degree in mechanical engineering. “If we can help in any small measure to have a great product in 2018, I’ll be honored. It’s great that INDYCAR is doing it to make sure we have good racing. We want to help them accomplish what they want to accomplish.”
The 2018 universal aero kit marks the beginning of a new era. Dallara was named last month to manufacture the kit following a yearlong process at INDYCAR to establish the parameters for a sleeker, bolder bodywork kit whose look is inspired by past favorite chassis that competed in Indy car racing.
Chevrolet and Honda have been supplying aero kits to their contracted teams since 2015, but that will cease at the end of this season. The new universal kit is expected to be more cost-effective, with the intent to draw additional engine manufacturers to the Verizon IndyCar Series since they no longer need to supply aero kits as well.
“I think they did a really good job with it,” said Montoya, who will spend July 24 – the day before the Indy test – in Dallara’s simulator at its U.S. headquarters a few blocks from Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I think going back to one aero kit for both manufacturers is good for the sport. … It opens the door to other companies to get interested in INDYCAR again.”
The universal kit contains additional safety enhancements and is intended to deliver even greater on-track racing since most of the aerodynamic downforce will be generated from underneath the car. That will create less air turbulence for trailing cars, allowing for more overtaking opportunities.
Another component of the universal kit’s design is a weight redistribution to improve the car’s handling and balance.
“The new car will have more weight on the front,” said Tino Belli, INDYCAR’s director of aerodynamic development. “We’ve removed the (rear) wheel guards and the beam wing, which obviously is quite a bit of weight far back on the car. We’ve introduced side-impact structures beside the driver and moved the radiators forward a bit. We’re anticipating having about 1.6 percent more weight on the front axle, so that could require a small amount of front downforce.”
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway test will mark the public debut of the new car look. Computer-generated images of the universal kit were initially released in January and followed up with more detailed images in May. The response from Verizon IndyCar Series drivers has been overwhelmingly positive, as were the responses of Servia and Montoya to the invitation to be the first to test it.
“To be chosen as one of the guys to test it is exciting,” Montoya said. “It works out really well. Since I’m not running full-time this year, it was a good fit.”
The first hours of on-track testing are expected to be a methodical, step-by-step procedure to establish the basics.
“Once we’re sure the car is in the right window, we’ll move on to reliability testing,” Belli said. “We’ll put the car back to a race-level of downforce, fill it up with fuel and check that we don’t have issues with the exhaust heating the bodywork too much and establish the cooling levels for each engine.
“We’re not really trying to go a certain speed and we’re not trying to check how the car handles in traffic,” emphasized Belli. “Those things won’t be established until we’re able to work ‘in anger’ next year, but we just want to make sure that we haven’t missed on our aero targets specifically.”
The kit will still come in two configurations: one for superspeedways to be tested at IMS and the other for road courses, street circuits and short ovals that will undergo its paces at Mid-Ohio, Iowa and Sebring. The two chassis will be housed at Dallara’s headquarters in Speedway, Indiana, in between tests.
For both veteran drivers, the opportunity to help shape the next generation of chassis is welcome.
“It’s good for many reasons for myself,” said Servia. “It keeps me in the seat. I enjoy every opportunity I can to jump in an Indy car.
“Some drivers do not like to test; I do. I like going testing and trying things and trying to understand the car. I’m looking forward to it.”