IndyCar Series uses Gossage's input to widen its car and appeal

Posted Thursday, Jun. 07, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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Five safety features on the 2012 IndyCar Series competition vehicle

1A new design for the underbody and top body work to create more downforce from the chassis rather than the wings, making it more likely the car stays on the ground.

2Carbon brakes, to improve stopping power.

3A wider underwing and a bumper behind the rear wheel to reduce the chance of cars riding over a competitor's wheels.

4Wider cockpits, to allow for easier driver extraction in an accident.

5Energy-absorbing seat insets to provide more protection beneath and behind the driver.

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If anybody knows what a racing fan wants, it's Eddie Gossage.

The president of Texas Motor Speedway is a master at squeezing the most entertainment possible out of a racing event.

So it made sense that the Izod IndyCar Series, still trying to establish an identity in the NASCAR-dominated United States and Formula 1-dominated South America, wanted him on board when it came to designing its competition car for 2012.

The league wanted a safer car, and it had plenty of technical advisers for that. What it wanted from Gossage was a picture of what the fans were looking for, and that was an easy assignment for the veteran promoter.

In a word, visibility.

"That was the thing I kept hearing, that the cars were too small and they looked alike," Gossage said.

The two ideas, adding visibility and making a safer car, went hand in hand.

The new car, which makes its Texas Motor Speedway debut on Saturday night in the Firestone 550, has a wider underbody and new sidepods that allow not only more downforce, or grip, but also more space for a paint scheme or a bigger number.

A larger cockpit allows for the driver to be removed more easily in case of an accident, but now it's also easier to see the driver.

The drivers believe it has made the series more competitive.

"The car is a faster car," said Ryan Briscoe, the Texas winner in 2010. "We're going to be putting out more horsepower than on the old car. I think as far as everything I've experienced so far, they're all positives. A lot of emphasis has been put into the safety of the car from inside the cockpit to the way the bodywork is designed, as well."

Next year, the series will add the ability to change the "aerokit," or surface structure, of the car for a particular track or road course. It will help distinguish the cars from each other.

"The fans didn't want to see 33 identical cars on the grid at Indianapolis," Gossage said.

Gossage is proud of his input, and he was glad the IndyCar Series asked.

But he would be more proud if the new car can stage a safe, competitive race on Saturday night.

TMS has been home to some of the closest races in IndyCar Series history, and it has been a safe circuit. Last year, there was one caution in the two-race format (which this year has returned to one race). There were four cautions in the 2010 race. There were three in the 2009 race.

But the track is going to be a laboratory on Saturday night. It will be the first time the series has raced on a high-banked, 1 1/2mile oval since the October crash in Las Vegas that resulted in the death of driver Dan Wheldon.

A test in May seemed to ease the mind of some of the drivers.

"I see three guys, two guys, side-by-side in the race," Helio Castroneves said after the test, in which he traded places with teammate Will Power in a 10-lap sprint that closed the session. "It will be exciting, but more on the safe side. The car is much more safe."

The new car has been raced on one oval, so far, the 2 1/2-mile track at Indianapolis. And it was a star there. The race produced a record number of passes at the track.

Naturally, Gossage wants to see the car succeed. A healthy IndyCar Series is good for the bottom line at Texas Motor Speedway. But Gossage said the car has been more than expected.

"I really think the car has been a wonderful development," he said. "It's raced well. It's been safe. Usually, you have teething pains with a new car. You haven't seen anything significant like that. I think it's been a little more expensive than the team owners wanted. I'm sure that's a point of contention. But I think the car's worked out well."

Carlos Mendez

817-390-7760

Twitter: @calexmendez

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