Testing set for Monday at Charlotte
October 13, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
CONCORD, N.C. – Some of the changes NASCAR officials are expected to roll out for Monday's test at Charlotte Motor Speedway have been previously attempted, in some form or fashion, by Sprint Cup Series teams or their respective manufacturers.
Altering ride heights and changing spoiler heights and angles isn't groundbreaking. Little was left uncovered by teams and manufacturers as they worked through the development process of the Generation-6 car that debuted this season.
But with NASCAR officials and a handful of teams back at the 1.5-mile track, much can still be learned. Attitude adjustment is no longer an idea, it's a path.
"Oh yeah, we've tried them in the tunnel," Pat Suhy, manager for Chevrolet racing and NASCAR group manager, said recently when asked about testing a variety of setups to impact the aerodynamic dependency of today's Sprint Cup Series cars. "Where we haven't tried them, and I don't think anybody has, is on the race track."
Much of what will be looked at, he said, involves changes that could aid the trailing car on the track.
"There's not a real practical way to do that in a wind tunnel," Suhy said. "The focus in the tunnel … is 'here's the package we want to test, let's make sure we can achieve a proper single-car balance that we need.' Then our CFD, our theory takes over, and we think by doing this we create this opportunity for the trailing car. But we won't see that until we get them on the track."
Suhy said some of the initial testing before the 2013 season, which included "tiny spoilers and things like that," was an attempt to create less of a disruption in the air by the lead car and provide front downforce on the trailing car. But while the cars weren't "un-drivable," he said, "They were kind of evil. The drivers didn't like them.
"That's when NASCAR and the OEMs said, 'OK, lets think about this' and went back to a package that was similar to what we ran at the very first (Gen-6) test at Homestead.
"In every racing series, the second place car is always at a disadvantage. I don't know how you make it not a disadvantage. If you've got a body traveling through air, it's going to disturb the air somehow and some aspect of the car behind it is not going to be happy. It's a daunting problem. It means you have to get out and be in front."
Andy Graves, vice president of chassis engineering and Toyota NASCAR program manager for Toyota Racing Development, said he had conversations with NASCAR officials as far back as four years ago about possible changes that Toyota officials felt would be beneficial. They were ideas "Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing had collectively come up with and discussed," he said.
Although initially dismissed because the ideas were too "outside the box," Graves said more recent concerns would be the burdens placed on teams as the series prepared to debut the new Gen-6 car.
"It was almost too much for teams to bite off at once," he said. Now, with a year's worth of work with the new car in the books, it appears such ideas will be re-visited.
"NASCAR is more receptive than ever to listening and they realize these are not simple issues to fix," Graves said. "Every motorsports formula in the world has issues with clean air and dirty air in traffic and the performance of vehicles behind or in front. It's a universal issue that we need to get creative and try to figure out … we're never going to solve it; we can only minimize the effects. That's the biggest thing - trying to work on that and trying to minimize it."
Graves said he believes there is a "good possibility" that the 2014 rules package will include a spoiler height change, among other things.
"Is there a chance of putting a roof wicker that's clear Lexan up on the top? Yeah, that's a possibility," he said. "Running around at 200 mph, seeing a roof wicker that's made out of Lexan, I don't think anyone's really going to see it. That's not even a done deal anyway.
"There are some options. We … want to pull the radius off the bottom of the splitter. Visually, you won't be able to notice that. There is some talk about step splitters or basically carving channels in the bottom of the splitter that we're looking at."
While NASCAR officials haven't publicly discussed what is on their to-do list for the test, many in the garage say another area under discussion is the elimination of ride height limitations for today's Cup cars.
Currently, cars must meet a minimum height in pre-race and post-race inspections. Shocks, springs and sway bars determine how much the car "travels" during the race and can vary among teams. Getting the car low on the track is crucial, but it must return to the specified height after the completion of the event.
The effort "to make it more exciting for the fans and to get them more engaged in the competition," Roush Fenway Racing's co-owner Jack Roush said, "is certainly a good motive.
"The problem of taking the ride height requirements off the car is that, first of all you're going to have much more trouble with the cars hitting the ground and wearing out components of the car. But the main thing I see is the difficulty you're going to have getting the jack apparatus underneath the car to jack the thing up.
"Everybody's got their heart in their throat when they go back through inspection after a race to see if the cars are exactly where they are supposed to be for ride height. If NASCAR would eliminate that and give us more freedom to be able to use shocks and other devices, other considerations, to be able to get (the car) down and you'd still have enough ride height to get a jack under it, I think that would be the best."
Doing away with the minimum ride height should allow teams to use springs, shocks and sway bars for their intended purpose.
"It will take a lot of that monkey business out of the equation," said Pat DiMarco. "Because that's all they're trying to do out there, manipulate the car into an attitude that they want to run on the race track. Why not just let them run on that attitude (without using those tools to achieve that)?
DiMarco, NASCAR program manager for Ford, said the change could improve competition by putting "disparity between cars."
Some feel, he said, that "you can get back to if your are using shocks for grip, some guys may get it right for the short run, some for the long run. You may see some of that tire falloff relative to each other."
Graves said how potential changes impact the aero when cars are around one another on the track "Is a way more complex issue.
"How do we numb up that sensitivity?" he said. "How do we make it where a lead car does not have an advantage over a trailing car? Obviously we have to work to make sure that that stays in some proportion or some ratio that the leader is not a sitting duck either, because that will create other problems.
"It's a balance and we have to figure out how to get there."
Two teams from each manufacture will take part in Monday's test – Penske Racing and Wood Brothers Racing (Ford), Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and Richard Childress Racing (Chevrolet) and Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing (Toyota).