Roger Penske says it’s time for IndyCar to follow NASCAR’s lead and remove downforce in order to emphasize driver input, especially on ovals.
The team owner cited the 190mph lap speeds in testing at Phoenix and Juan Montoya’s suspension breakage at Iowa last year as prime indicators that Indycar's downforce levels had reached a critical stage.
He said: “[Team Penske advisor and IndyCar legend] Rick Mears has been saying this for 10 years now – you’ve got to take downforce off. He’s an advocate of that.
“For us to be going around Phoenix in 19 seconds pulling 6G is ridiculous. If something happens, there’s no human being who could catch it. But if the car is slipping and sliding, the accidents aren’t as violent, are they? The driver has taken most of the slide out of it by the time he makes contact.
“Remember, just the shock loads at Iowa broke Juan’s suspension last year.”
Aside from the safety aspect, Penske also said IndyCar should reduce downforce to better emphasize driver skill.
“I think we have to do it with tires and by taking some downforce off. The driver’s got to put the brakes on going into the corner. And we need tires that degrade.
“The racing product is pretty good already, but you’ve seen in NASCAR that the lower downforce has made the racing even better. We need to do the same thing in IndyCar so that we put the driver more in the car.
“I think that’s the next step – and it doesn’t cost a lot of money, so hopefully we’ll look at some changes.”
Secondhand car options
Penske admitted he was also skeptical of the aero kits from the cost effectiveness point of view.
“Ask Honda and Chevrolet how much they have had to spend on the aero kits, and ask the average fans if they notice the difference between them,” he said. “Bring 30 people from the grandstands and ask them which is the Chevrolet and which is the Honda, and I don’t think they could tell you.”
On the subject of costs, Penske also suggested grid numbers would increase if new teams could gain entry by buying equipment that is not rendered obsolete by significant rule updates from year to year.
“IndyCar needs to establish stability,” he remarked. “I think the option of second-hand equipment is important, whereby a team owner can get into the series by buying a used chassis and can go lease an engine.
“We need to have that. If you have to write a big check to get in, that’s gonna hurt [newcomers]. So we’ve got to keep the cars simple.”
No to canopies
On the subject of safety, Penske said he was not an advocate of full bubble canopies because of both the active and passive safety implications.
He said: “I want to see the cars as safe as we can have them, but I’ve seen Helio upside down one time when were testing at Richmond and he couldn’t get out and had fuel running all over him. Just a spark could have lit the place up.
“Also, if you have a bubble canopy, how are you going to keep it clean? You wouldn’t have the same vision.”