Max Chilton IndyCar

IndyCar 2018

Cars Culture

Five reasons why you should get your 2018 racing fix with IndyCar

Approaching the ISM Raceway in Phoenix, USA, is like approaching a moonbase.

The road is as straight a ribbon of blacktop as an ironed liquorice chew, and fires you directly at an imposing ring of rust-coloured mountains. Across open desert scrubland of washed-out greens and yellows, the silver glint of the semi-circular grandstand rises into sight first.

Set against the encircling mountains under a tie-dye sky of pinks, purples, yellows and blues, it is like driving into a sci-fi novel.

Then you hear the bear-like bark of engines staring up. The soulful whine of V6 machines at speed is as musical as an orchestra of violent mechanical trombones.

A two-day open test ahead of IndyCar’s 2018 season concluded on Saturday evening. It taught us one thing in particular: if you haven’t tried out the North American open-wheeled motorsport before, this is the year.

Here are our top five reasons why you should watch IndyCar in 2018:

1. The cars. This is possibly the most beautiful open-wheel racing car in the world right now, bar none. There is a gorgeous swooping simplicity to the aero surfaces, which are all-new this year (albeit mounted to the same Dallara chassis that’s been in service since 2012). All teams must use the same chassis and universal aero kit, which means close racing and performances dictated by mechanical set-up and driver ability rather than engineering innovations or aero tricks. The loss of downforce from previous iterations of the car is marked, with drivers at the open test surprised at how malleable the handling characteristics are. The loss of downforce didn’t slow lap times over the open test compared to previous outings here, however, with drivers making up speed along the “straights” despite having to turn in earlier and more cautiously. The protective rear fairings of previous years have been dumped, leaving a stubby-looking rear end that looks squat and purposeful.

IndyCar 2018

2. The engines. The spec chassis comes with a choice of two engine suppliers: Honda and Chevrolet. Both supply a 2.2 litre V6 lump, which has taken some repackaging this year after the air inlet was moved from above the driver’s head to one of the sidepods, to increase the sleek look of the car. The exhausts exit upwards and the sound is utterly, utterly glorious.

3. The tracks. IndyCar doesn’t just race at ovals. There are 17 races this year, which include “road courses” (ie normal race tracks with both left and right turns) and street circuits. Some races are run in the day but night-time events are also on the calendar. And about those ovals…we might scoff at the idea of driving in circles but it is not an easy prospect at all. At Phoenix, for example, the track is barely one mile long, yet drivers were hitting speeds at the open test of 190mph. Each corner has an apex which must be hit for maximum speed and there are no easy acres of run-off area here: the drivers are side-by-side with concrete walls. One mistake and that’s a 190mph meeting of machine and concrete. With all cars identical in chassis and regulated in engine output, the drivers’ input matters a whole lot more than other series when it comes to making passes.

4. The British team (and British driver). Surrey-based Carlin, a team known for its prowess in feeder categories, has stepped up into the major leagues with a two-car IndyCar entry this year. The team has always been very effective in spec-series but this really is another arena entirely. Team boss Trevor Carlin merely hopes for a decent showing this year but, elsewhere in the paddock, there’s quite a current of expectation about what this British outfit might achieve. The team has drafted in British racer (and contender for the racing driver most resembling a supermodel in the world) Max Chilton. British team, British driver: what’s not to like?

5. The Indy 500. An event even the Proclaimers might hesitate to attempt and the jewel of the IndyCar season, much as Le Mans is to WEC. The Indy 500 brings an exhaustive build-up of track and fan events, many additional entries just for this race and the opportunity to claim one of motorsport’s most-coveted prizes, the bottle of milk at the end of a brutal 500-mile slog.

IndyCar kicks off in St Petersburg, Florida, on 11 March 2018. If you like your racing fast and furious and joyfully uncomplicated, it doesn’t get much better.

Picture Credits: Andy Clary/Jamie Sheldrick for Spacesuit