Test Drive Tuesday review #43: 2012 Dallara DW12
The 2011 Dallara DW12 is the direct result of Indycar’s ICONIC (Innovative, Competitive, Open-wheel, New, Industry-relevant, Cost-effective) project, with the goal of providing the sport with a single core chassis to all teams. Dallara was the chosen design, amongst other proposal such as an early version of the DeltaWing. It’s most striking feature is of course the partial enclosure of the rear wheels, to avoid cars flying after tire-to-tire contact. It was named DW12 to honour 2011 Indianapolis 500 winner, official Dallara test-driver and Simraceway friend Dan Wheldon, killed in a crash just before the official presentation of the car to fans and teams.
The idea behind the ICONIC Project was, in addition to enhancing safety, to limit costs. To do so, it was agreed that a core and bare chassis would be shared amongst the teams (the “Safety Cell”) who would in turn pick an engine provider and an aero-kit provided by constructors willing to invest in the sport. Originally planned for the opening season, the introduction of these different aero-kits was postponed until this year to avoid increasing costs.
The turbocharged V6s produce a maximum of 700bhp (the configuration chosen by SRW), in a car weighing a little more than 700kg. Thanks to a huge rear section and the ad-hoc diffuser, it also makes a lot of downforce.
The result is, surprisingly, an incredibly easy car to drive. That’s not exactly what you expect going into F1 territory like that. Agreed, the DW12 is slower than an F1 in most tracks (though scoring an impressive 5th overall at COTA, in front of both the MP4-26 and the MP4-29), but the car’s approachability is simply mind-blowing. It seems it can forgive most of your mistakes without any scary and unpredictable movement from the front or the rear. In most cases, it will just go on along its set course, even if you do something stupid enough to kill you in an F1. That can be explained by a number of reasons. First, the tires: these are not the spiky Pirelli tires that will die in 10 laps and overheat in 3 corners. They provide excellent grip and control over a number of situations, which is most reassuring when going around Watkins Glen at 190mph. Secondly, the engine is very easy to use: it doesn’t make enough torque to spin you around, but well enough is sprayed around all of the rev-range so you don’t feel like you forgot the handbrake if you’re not within a 100 revs of the optimal range. At worst, if you really smash the gas pedal exiting a 2nd or 3rd gear corner, the car will slide gently beneath you, leaving you enough margin to react adequately. And finally, I suspect this car produces at least as much downforce as an F1 car (although at a high drag cost, which does impair straight-line speed).
Combine all of these and you get easily the most forgivable single-seater in SRW, and a perfect tool to practice your high-downforce combos. The DW12 allows you to push it extremely hard, approaching your limits, and sometime going over them. Agreed, an easy car has its drawbacks (namely a certain lack of thrill and excitement), but this is hugely rewarding. When testing it around COTA, I did about 20 laps in a row without crashing, and improving my time consistently.
Of course, this all makes for very good racing action. But it’s also worth remembering that most real-life Indycar races are held at tight, short, bumpy and very challenging tracks, the likes of which would scare a modern F1 driver away. Imagine a Grand Prix held at Sonoma: that sounds like pure madness doesn’t it? And at these tracks, an easy, high-downforce car is more than comforting, it’s a necessity.
In memory of Dan Wheldon and Justin Wilson