Editorial

CART Champ Cars, the next generation - Part 1
Where will CART fit in the world scheme of racing?

 by Mark Cipolloni
November 24, 2003

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CART has a dilemma.  What engine and chassis configuration will its next generation Champ Car take on, and where will it fit in the world scheme of racing?  In their heyday, Champ Cars were battling with F1 cars for bragging rights as to the fastest cars on earth. They were viewed as one of the top racing series in the world, which allowed it to be recognized as an extremely marketable product in much demand.  Then in 1996 the IRL was formed with a low-cost, low tech mentality and the entire image of Indy Car style racing took a nosedive.

Recently, F1 has unquestionably pulled  out to a significant unassailable technical and marketing advantage.   In 2005 when the FIA launches its new Formula 2 series, it too will have an engine and chassis up against the current grossly overweight Champ Cars. As a consequence CART will again be bumped down on the worldwide prestige/performance ladder.  How can CART sell itself to a race promoter and to fans as a top-level series if it's inferior to even Formula 2?  CART must rethink its entire package.

Will there be a CART/Champ Car?
I am going on the assumption that there will be a CART series in 2004 and beyond.  The series simply has too many big venues, good drivers and a substantial enough fan base for it not to continue.  In addition, with NASCAR becoming all-powerful with its oval track product, and the IRL barely clinging to its oval track coattails, there is a huge void in North America for a first-class road racing series.  The fact that CART drew over 411,000 fans for its Mexico City race and over 300,000 for its Australia race proves there is a real niche for CART to fill, not only in North America, but also overseas.

If there is a CART, where should it fit in?
CART is uncertain as to what its next generation car should be.  Rather than presenting a business plan as to what its next generation car specs will be, explaining where the series will be positioned in the new world order of open wheel racing, and seeking manufacturers who like that model, they are soliciting various manufacturers for input and, not surprisingly, finding there is no consensus. Some think CART should continue with the current economical single-supplier 2.65 L turbo engines in 2005 (or 2006) and beyond or a variation with various manufacturers badging the package.  Others think it should use a V8-based normally aspirated IRL engine; others believe a small 1.8 L turbo should power the cars; and, still others think a normally aspirated V10 powered car is the way to go, which was Chris Pook's original idea.

CART must decide what it wants to be.  In 2005, when FIA Formula 2 replaces Formula 3000, the Renault powered cars will be putting out a rumored 650 HP in a light chassis.  The dilemma for CART is that its current cars will be significantly heavier than the new lighter and nimble Formula 2 car.  The Champ Car, with only 100 more HP, will not only look slower, but will probably be slower on almost every road course.  CART will immediately be relegated to a third tier product and its value in the world marketplace will take a further nosedive.  And the good talent who are not immediately placed in F1 as drivers or testers, will seek F2 instead of CART.


The ultimate racing machine

We suspect the Formula 2 car spec, when it is announced, will be similar to the stillborn Premier F1 series, which was supposed to use a full-size F1 car and a spec V10 engine with approximately 750 HP.  As I have "preached and criticized" on a number of occasions, to be a proper road and street racing car (CART's niche market) the new Champ Car should be dimensionally the same as a F1 car, but lower cost.  More on that later.

To be marketable to a race promoter and to race fans, CART is best positioned just below F1 and above F2.  On the world motorsports scene, F1 would still be the pinnacle, but in North America/NAFTA CART would wear that crown and carry that image. 

Today a Champ Car and an IRL IndyCar weigh the same at 1,550 Lbs to 1,565 Lbs without driver. An IRL car and the current Champ Car, because they race on high-speed ovals, must have a heavier and stronger chassis to protect the driver in the event of violent high speed crashes into hard concrete walls.  Therefore, if and when the IRL decides to add road courses in their schedule, they will do so with their current tail-heavy 1,550 Lb car. 

By 2005, CART should not have any high-speed high banked ovals on its schedule.  It will have morphed into a road and street racing circuit with a smattering of flat ovals (Milwaukee and perhaps EuroSpeedway again) thrown in.  There will no longer be a need for a car with a ground effects underbody, which needs stronger and, therefore, heavier sidepods that double as driver side-impact protection.  Hence CART will then have a lighter weight car that is more nimble on tight road and street circuits, and, coupled with a F1-like screaming engine, will certainly raise its image demonstrably.

The next generation Champ Car
CART may be debating on what its next generation car should be.  The following is what I believe the next generation Champ Car should be.  What I propose below takes into account the need to keep costs in check while elevating the image of Champ Car, thereby allowing it to be marketed as a "premier" racing series and not some low-cost feeder series.

I acknowledge the difficulty in balancing cost, image and speed.  Under the bodywork, it's a much cheaper car than a F1 car, but outwardly to the viewer, it exhibits similar characteristics.  The sound and agility are what make F1 cars so spectacular.  Let's face it, F1 cars appear blindingly fast (which they are).  That's the image CART should be seeking.  This isn't stock car racing folks.  This is a, oh-my-God-look-at-that kind of wow factor they should be selling.

Formula One suffers from a small following in the USA.  Having a CART series that looks and sounds more like F1,  will certainly generate more fan interest in the USA market that is now monopolized by NASCAR.  If I were Bernie Ecclestone, I would be pushing CART in this direction, because as we previously warned, the War of the Worlds is upon us and if the road racing cartel isn't careful, it will face possible extinction in the USA.

The key to CART's success will be getting car manufacturers back into the series in 2005 (or 2006).  If CART secures a reasonable USA TV package with Viacom (CBS/MTV/Spike TV), delivers a reasonable international TV distribution, and provides a sensible platform with a clearly defined niche, they will come.

Description Current Proposed Comment
Purpose Ovals & RC's RC's and.... Current car optimized for oval safety.  New for RC's and flat ovals
Chassis make Multiple Single A spec chassis will save significant $$, price caps on spare parts
Wheelbase 126in Max 118in. New car should be slightly smaller for tight street circuits
Underbody Tunnels Flat Bottom More skill req'd.  Reduce size of unnecessary heavy sidepods
Overall Length 190in. 173in. New car should be slightly smaller for tight street circuits
Overall Width 78.5in. Max 71in. Max New car should be narrower for passing on tight street circuits
Overall Height 36.0in. 38in. Bodywork, to top of air intake 38 in. max.
Min. Weight 1565 lbs.* 1565 lbs.**  * Without driver
** With Driver (i.e. take about 175 lbs out of car so a Champ Car will be just 400 to 500 lbs heavier that an F1 car)
Fuel Methanol Gasoline With gasoline's better mileage, cars can have smaller fuel tank
Fuel Capacity 35 Gallons 25 Gallons Less fuel to put in during stops will put premium on tire changes
Engine Make Single Multiple 1 make, multiple badges, or open it up to competition
Engine 2.65L V8 3.0L V10 15,000 RPM rev limit
HP 750 HP 750 HP No need to change HP level, just take weight out of heavy car
Air Intake Turbo Natural Asp Take off turbo muffler, F1-like scream will set CART apart in USA
Engine Sound Current.wav Future.wav Need we say more.  That scream will make CART sensational.
Engine Life 1200 miles 1 weekend Can't police more than 1 weekend with multiple manufacturers
Starters None On-board If driver stalls engine, should have chance to restart on own
Transmission Multiple Single Single supplier saves cost.  7 forward gears, 1 reverse
Brake Rotors Steel Steel Carbon Fiber too costly and shortens brake zones too much
ECM Cosworth CART CART must retain complete control of ECM with multiple engines.
Traction Control None None Leave it to driver skill
Launch Control None None Leave it to driver skill
Wheel Width R 14 in. 14 in. Identical to F1
Wheel Width F 10 in. 12 in. Identical to F1
Wheel Dia. R 15 in. 13 in. Identical to F1 - Current wheel makes tire too low profile
Wheel Dia. F 15 in. 13 in. Identical to F1 - Current wheel makes tire too low profile
Tire Dia. R. Wet 27.0 in. 26.3 in. Identical to F1 - Higher sidewall allows for more driver input
Tire Dia. R. Dry 27.0 in. 26.0 in. Identical to F1 - Higher sidewall allows for more driver input
Tire Type (Dry) Slicks Slicks Identical to F1 in size, but no grooves
Tire Suppliers Single Single, but.. Re-bid contract every two years.  Best bid wins
Testing Limited Limited Keep limits but need more 2005 testing to develop all-new car

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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