NEWTON, Iowa – Bill Pappas speaks from an engineering mind.
The longtime successful Indy car race engineer joined INDYCAR as vice president of competition/race engineering in 2015. Along with Tino Belli, INDYCAR director of aerodynamic development, Pappas has spearheaded development of the universal aero kit to be used on all Verizon IndyCar Series cars beginning in the 2018 season.
On Thursday at Iowa Speedway, the two cars outfitted with the new kit completed their third successful test in as many weeks. Teething problems often plague new racing equipment during the testing phase, but the universal kit has seen no such issues in its outings at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and now Iowa.
Pappas – shown above (middle) with Belli (left) and test driver Oriol Servia – credits it to hard work on the front end of the process when INDYCAR and kit manufacturer Dallara spent hours upon hours developing the aero kit through computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis and simulator testing. Once the actual cars got on track, it was only a matter of acknowledging that had been shown throughout the “laboratory” testing.
“It’s reconfirming that the technologies of today can be used to develop something,” Pappas said matter of factly, “then you go to the racetrack and reconfirm it in the real world. From that perspective, it’s been an interesting engineering exercise.”
And, while delighted with the test results thus far, Pappas knows there remains work to be done. INDYCAR will sift through the data gathered at Iowa and plot the plan for the remaining test under the sanctioning body’s program – Sept. 26 at Sebring International Raceway in what is closest to a temporary street course situation that can be simulated at a permanent facility.
“We did a couple exercises (at Iowa) with our brake partner, PFC, which looks to be a step in the right direction going forward,” Pappas said. “We’ll go to Sebring at the end of September. The box to check off there is our brakes. We know that’s the most difficult track on brakes and if we can get ‘em to survive there, then I think we’re clean as far as our brake development for next season.”
The test cars will then be turned over to engine suppliers Chevrolet and Honda for manufacturer testing, which could include visits to several tracks this fall, including Phoenix Raceway to fine-tune the short oval package and downforce levels for the 2018 season. At Iowa, drivers Servia and Juan Pablo Montoya preferred the lower downforce level tested compared to when they ran with a downforce level similar to what was used on the current aero kit at Iowa for last month’s race. Lap times were nearly identical for both downforce levels, even though the drivers had to do more braking at the lower downforce level.
“If we go to this lower downforce package, both (drivers) agree that we need to develop a tire for that,” Pappas said. “Firestone accepts that and they’re going to come up with something for when we go testing at Phoenix, hopefully in October.”
Montoya and Servia were selected to be the test drivers for their many years driving Indy cars through various iterations and for their ability to provide valuable information. They have seen the development of aerodynamics over the years and can use that knowledge to assist INDYCAR in putting together the best racing package possible for 2018.
“We’re so experienced, both of us, and I think we can bring good feedback,” Montoya said. “We’ve both raced when the wings were (providing) half of the downforce that we’re running right now. It was nothing, we had the little superspeedway wings on ovals like here (Iowa) and we were braking in both corners. I felt that was way too low when we were doing that, so this (new kit) seems to be a good balance and the car is much nicer to drive.”
“Each team will have to do their own work and figure out what’s the best compromise for each other, but for a package, I think it’s great. I think having everybody in the same chassis is really good.”
Action resumes in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season Aug. 19-20 with the ABC Supply 500 race weekend at Pocono Raceway. Qualifying airs live at 1 p.m. ET Aug. 19 on NBCSN. The 200-lap race begins with coverage at 2 p.m. Aug. 20 on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.