Despite introduction of the new Gen 7 platform being delayed until 2022, NASCAR has recommenced testing of its prototypes, running at Dover International Speedway earlier this week. Development of the base car that teams will use (which will ultimately be fitted with manufacturer-developed bodywork and engines) was well underway before Covid-19 called a halt to racing and testing earlier this year.
John Probst, NASCAR senior VP of innovation and racing development, explained that one of the main goals of the Dover test was to sign off elements of the drivetrain. “We now have all production-intent parts and pieces for the driveline, from the clutch shaft to the axles. So that is a really big reason for us to put as many miles on it as we can.”
The Gen 7 will feature a very different drivetrain layout to the current cars, using a transaxle at the rear, and capable of accepting a hybrid motor rather than a traditional gearbox mounted to the engine.
Overall, Probst was happy with the outcome of the test, which comes in the midst of a highly compressed race season. “Dover is one of our highest load tracks, so we want to put heat in the car, and laps and mileage on the parts and pieces. Our goal is to get 500 miles on the car this test and we finished Monday at 226, so we’re on a good pace. The most important thing for us is to validate what we think is going to happen. It’s important that when the team adjusts the car, it responds in a manner that is predictable. We’re in a good place in overall development of the car and now we can focus on handling and driveability. So far, so good.”
The test also gave the opportunity for a new team to get a first taste of the platform. “Every time we test this car, we’re bringing a new team into the fold. Obviously RCR has been part of it from the start, but this was the first test for Stewart-Haas. It takes a bit for new teams to get up to speed, but by the second time on track we were running lap times comparable to the race on Sunday, so we’re happy with the speed of the car,” added Probst.
The test car was piloted by Stewart-Haas driver Cole Custer, who had some interesting observations on its feel relative to the current machines. “It’s been different getting used to some of the things on the car, but it’s not ‘night and day’ compared with our current car. The biggest adjustment to me has been the steering. Currently we have a steering box, the new car has a rack and pinion, it’s a totally different feel. You’re able to adjust it, and everybody will have their own preference on how they want it to feel. Overall, I’m really happy with how the car felt and handled.”
Though introduction of the new cars is to be delayed by a year, NASCAR is still striving to sign off the manufacturer-designed bodies by September 2020. The organization has a well-honed process for assessing the aerodynamic performance of each respective marque’s body design, in order to ensure near parity. “That is a really big milestone for us, and we’re on track to hit it,” said Probst. Meanwhile, in terms of on-track testing, he noted that the car was yet to run at a superspeedway. “We’re looking at something at Daytona after the season ends. There is also enough interest that we may look into doing other on-track tests.”