What you see above is not a spaceship, a new Transformer, or an ad for Gillette. It's what about half the field of this year's IndyCar season will look like — at least on road courses. It's a design that's so crazy that it makes the Formula One concept car we saw a few weeks ago look tame. And this one's actually going to make it into a race.
The new Honda kit is one of two distinct aerodynamics packages that teams will use on road courses this season. The other is made by Chevrolet, and in comparison it looks rather ho-hum:
Each new aerodynamics package builds on the Dallara "DW12" chassis that debuted back in 2012, which was introduced in an effort to equalize competition. These new, more distinct aero kits will obviously change that a bit, while also giving fans something other than paint jobs to distinguish which car is which on the track.
The biggest difference between Honda's new look and the previous design is with the front wing. The two-tiered design has been replaced with a three-tiered one that looks like a monstrous shaving razor. It's essentially a less-subtle version of the nose wing found in Formula One, specifically last year's Ferraris. Here, in IndyCar's version, all those little wings in front help displace air up over the suspension and wheels through a series of smaller wings ("flicks," as they're called) along the body, all the way to the back of the car.
Open wheel racing isn't quite so "open wheel" anymore
Meanwhile, there's now even more body paneling at the rear, giving it a boxier back end than we've ever seen in IndyCar. It's a far cry from the lithe, missile-like designs we saw in the 1990s and into the early aughts, and is indistinguishable from the sport's tubular-shaped beginnings. This is done partly for aerodynamic benefit, but also partly for safety; IndyCar started using small bumpers around the rear wheels ever since the introduction of the DW12 in order to reduce the violent crashes that can occur when cars rub wheels at 200 miles per hour. (The "DW12" name is a nod to Dan Wheldon, who died during such a wreck in 2011.) Open wheel racing isn't quite so "open wheel" anymore.
Professional race cars thrive on speed and downforce, which are both majorly affected by the aerodynamic design of the car. Each of these new designs has over 100 parts that teams can use to mix and match for the best results. The design was revealed online yesterday, and at the same time Andretti Racing driver (and winner of last year's Indy 500) Ryan Hunter-Reay unveiled a real-world version of his new-look #28 machine.
Both manufacturers are holding back the designs of the aerodynamics packages for oval tracks (which make up about half of IndyCar's schedule), but a camouflaged glimpse of Honda's can be seen in the announcement video for the road course package. It looks noticeably less exciting.
IndyCar is going through some rough times. Its 2015 season opener in Brazil was canceled without any warning, and the series wasn't able to schedule a replacement race in time. The 2015 schedule will be the sport's shortest in years, ending in September instead of later in the fall like usual. And even though the overall ratings were up last year, that's in part because of how low they were since the race broadcasts moved to NBC Sports Network, where IndyCar has had to share the spotlight with NASCAR and Formula One. The new designs might not be enough to help the series overcome these problems, but the sport will certainly look cool while it fights for relevance.