Over the last two days Joe Gibbs Racing’s Erik Jones took part in the latest test of the Next Gen Cup car at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Jones, the third Cup driver to pilot the prototype, shared his thoughts on the test while confirming the car has a sequential gear shift in place of the traditional H-pattern shifter.
“Obviously, it’s a lot different than what we’ve raced in the past, and a different way of getting to where you need to be,” Jones said in comments provided by NASCAR. “I was a bit unsure of how it was going to drive and how it was going to react.”
Jones described the test a “sort of a baseline systems check” for the car on an intermediate track after tests at Richmond Raceway (Austin Dillon in October) and Phoenix Raceway (Joey Logano in December.)
Of the vertical sequential shifter, Jones said: “The shifting has been fun, it’s been different. I’ve never done anything other than normal H-pattern shifting in my career. You can bang right through the gears. We did a restart at the end of the day (Wednesday) and it was fun learning about that and how you can push that gear box. That really gets you excited for the road courses and what it’s going to be capable of there.”
Jones said the Next Gen car, scheduled to debut next year, is a “big aero change” compared to what the Cup Series cars have now.
“We have a lot of sideforce in our cars now and there is a lot to lean on – when you get loose the car kind of corrects itself and straightens itself out,” Jones said. “This car doesn’t really have any of that. The quarter panels are so short and there’s no offset in the car – it’s very symmetrical – so there’s not a lot to lean on in this car.
“I think a lot of the aero changes they’ve done are going to help as far as racing goes, especially racing in a pack. Other than that, as we were working on things, some driving characteristics are similar. I think there is definitely more grip to be had as far as what the car is capable of. I think as far as development goes, there is going to be a lot more mechanical grip available than what we currently have.”
John Probst, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing innovation, discussed the car’s development after three tests.
“We continue to work in the wind tunnel, we’re developing rear diffusers to generate more rear downforce,” he said. “One of the big things we have here that we didn’t have at Phoenix is we added some of the lift-off devices that we’ve developed over the winter, including roof flaps. We also have a few other related items in development that aren’t on the car right now such as flap-down doors for the diffuser to get the liftoff speed even higher than what we run today.”
Of the reasoning behind going to Miami for the third test, Probst said the 1.5-mile track “has a lot of different lines you can take through the corner. The progressive banking here allows you to start at the bottom, and if the car is tight you can ride it up and complete the turn. This is a very forgiving track for us to come to and continue learning about the car as we develop it.”
During the two-day test, Probst said NASCAR learned that “some traditional ‘rules of thumb’ don’t apply to the new car.”
“We’ve got the parts to deal with that,” Probst continued. “But those are important lessons to learn as we go to new track types. Moving to a larger track, you really look at gearing to make sure we have the right RPMs, obviously safety is important when you come to a track like this and speeds get up in the 190-mph range. You really have to be prepared if something were to happen where a car gets sideways or backwards that it stays on the ground.”
The car’s next test is scheduled for March 2-3, the two days following the race weekend at Auto Club Speedway, the 2-mile track in Fontana, California, with wide, sweeping turns.
“There are some logistical reasons that make sense for us to stay and test,” Probst said. “But it’s also important to get some rubbered in conditions of what it’s like in a race. We want to replicate that as best as we can so when we go back to race, there are no new lessons to learn. We still look forward to taking this to superspeedways and road courses, we have a lot to learn there as well. We’ll go back and iterate on what we have now, but we feel like we’re in a good spot. We’re going to keep developing and working on what we’ve got, and we think we’re going to end up with a really good product.”
Probst said NASCAR has already begun production of a “Phase 3 prototype” that will include “all of the lessons learned” from the previous tests.
“Once that is built, we’ll probably start using (the cars used in the first three tests) as a ‘second car’ to start simulating cars in traffic to see what we can learn from that,” Probst said.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps said during championship weekend in Miami that the car is expected to be delivered to teams in July of this year.
Sources told NBC Sports’s Nate Ryan in December that at least three companies are being strongly considered to build the chassis for the Next Gen car, including Joe Gibbs Racing.
Got some new wheels to show you… pic.twitter.com/XGdgZviRlK
— Erik Jones (@Erik_Jones) January 16, 2020
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) January 17, 2020
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) January 16, 2020
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) January 16, 2020