What started after the 2018 season as a clean sheet of paper in NASCAR’s Research & Development Center is now delivered, dressed and ready for its close-up.
NASCAR’s three automakers released their Next Gen models for Cup Series competition in 2022 on Wednesday at The Park Expo in Charlotte, North Carolina, ushering in a new era of the “Rebirth of Stock.” The model that began its life with a Gen-7 codename and was previously seen in testing prototypes with camouflaged or generic wrap designs has now emerged with three sleek bodies specific to each Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM).
Wednesday’s public debut of the Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, the Ford Mustang and the Toyota TRD Camry for 2022 showed off some of those car-specific characteristics. But in dialing back toward more of a stock feel for better relevance to their production-car counterparts, the Next Gen car also showed off plenty of new components — some that had shown up on test-mule prototypes, but some that the NASCAR industry and fans saw in detail for the first time.
“I think that at the highest level, one of the main goals is just that the sport remains healthy and strong, that it remains attractive to our current OEMs, teams and fans, but also attracts new ones,” said John Probst, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing innovation. “As we kind of dive into that, it’s sort of your overarching goal. Then we know to be attractive to our OEMs, we need to be relevant to them.”
Competition officials worked in tandem with the manufacturers in that search for product relevance, adding bigger wheels, a more muscular coupe-style look, the potential for hybrid power in the future and a closer resemblance to each car’s road-going version (think sinews over stickers). But the project also included a heavy focus on the competition side, developing a symmetrical car with features that decrease the dependence on aerodynamics and increase the emphasis on car setup in the hands of teams and drivers.
“If you look at where Gen-6 is today, there’s a big component of it that’s around wind tunnels and simulation,” Probst said, referring to the Cup Series’ current model, which made its competition debut in 2013. “And while that will always be in our sport and rightfully so, we felt like we needed to have that at a level that’s commensurate with the amount of attention that the fans get out of it. We don’t sell tickets to the wind tunnel or to watch engineers run simulations, so just trying to keep things focused on the race track. …
“I think now that the range of adjustment (teams) will have on a week-in, week-out basis will exceed what they have as an opportunity with the hardware they’re running today.”
Wednesday marked the next phase in the path to its 2022 competition debut, a timeline that was delayed by a year after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last season. The Next Gen prototype has undergone significant testing, and the OEM unveiling coincided with the model’s 12th on-track test — with Ryan Blaney at the controls of the P3 test car at Texas Motor Speedway.
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In the meantime, there’s plenty to unpack from Wednesday’s launch. Car specifications, a list of parts suppliers and other details were released, all ranging from larger, fundamental shifts to smaller but still significant nuances that have gone into the build-out process.
Front and center in the unveiling were the bodies and their coupe-like stance — a shorter rear deck, a lower roof and wider dimensions. The body materials have changed, going from the well-established sheet metal to a durable composite body. Five Star Fabricating, Inc., produces the composite body panels, which were phased into the Xfinity Series starting in 2017.
The resilient nature of the composite, flange-fit bodies has reduced some of the negatives of full-contact racing in the Xfinity Series, a trait that’s expected to carry over with even stronger material for the Cup Series’ new model next season.
“This new car’s going to allow them to get into the wall a little bit, get into each other a little bit, without really any worse for the wear as far as the performance of the vehicle,” Probst said. “We’re really hoping that this encourages them to get a little bit even more aggressive, if that’s possible. Our drivers are pretty aggressive already, but we think this composite body will really allow them to bump and bang a whole lot more.”
Other notes and facets that were released or featured as part of Wednesday’s reveal:
- The body of the Next Gen car is designed to be symmetrical, removing the skew and tail offset from the centerline that teams have used to create right-side sideforce. “Again, back to putting the car in the drivers’ hands,” Probst says. “Bigger tires, we’ll have more mechanical grip for them to lean on the tires vs. lean on the body, if you will, through aero.”
The car will also be two inches higher off the ground, with a new splitter up front, a flat underbody and a rear diffuser that channels and transitions airflow moving under the car and reduces the effects of more disruptive “dirty” air behind it.
- With safety at the top of mind, the redesigned chassis will feature energy-absorbing foam bumpers in front and back. The reinforced tubing will be rectangular, a shift from the current circular design. Roof flaps will carry over to the new-generation car, but it will also include a lower-mounted diffuser flap that deploys to help keep cars on the ground in the event of a backward slide at the series’ faster speedways.
- The Next Gen car will feature increased connectivity, with in-car cameras expected for every car in the Cup Series field — a boon for broadcast and online partners, and ultimately fans. “Our goal is to have more cameras and more camera angles than ever, so that we can engage our fans and get them inside the car with their favorite driver,” Probst says. “We’re working out how to get more data out of the ECU (electronic control unit), getting more camera angles, higher-definition cameras, 360 cameras — you name it — so that when this thing goes live in 2022 that we’re bringing our fans something they haven’t seen before, from the car perspective but also from the broadcast perspective.”
- Officials anticipate having two rules packages with the Next Gen car — a low-downforce, low-drag, high-horsepower package for short tracks and road courses, and also a high-downforce, lower horsepower package for intermediate-sized tracks (1.5 miles) and longer. Target horsepower figures for the rules packages are still being determined.
- The Next Gen car features a new sequential five-speed shifter, which allows drivers to bump forward and back to change gears — a departure from the traditional four-speed H-pattern. The new transaxle is expected to better accommodate the potential for a hybrid engine combination in later models, a timetable that remains uncertain for now.
“I think right now it’s something that we are certainly having a lot of discussions with our OEM partners about,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said April 25. “The Next Gen car will certainly have the opportunity, if we decide to go to some form of electrification in a hybrid vehicle or hybrid engine, that the Next Gen car has the opportunity for us to drop that engine in there. The timing of it, it’s a difficult one, right? I would have said before COVID, we’re maybe looking at ’23. Timelines are tough just because we need to make sure that all the stakeholders who matter in this discussion, which are our race teams, our OEM partners, that they’re all aligned on what that would look like. It could be ’24. I think frankly the opportunity to have a new OEM partner will largely depend on what happens with that hybrid engine.”
- An independent rear suspension replaces the solid rear axle, and the Next Gen car will no longer have a track bar for adjustments. Teams will tune with five-way adjustable dampers and there will be a travel limiter to retain the higher ride height.
- The Next Gen car will move from a 15-inch wheel to an 18-inch diameter, and the material will be forged aluminum rather than the current steel. Tires will be wider, up from 10 inches to 12, with a smaller sidewall. Those new dimensions will emphasize mechanical grip with a larger contact patch, and Goodyear officials can build in softer tire compounds for increased grip and fall-off.
Even with a single, center-locking lug nut instead of the current five-lug configuration, tests have shown a half-second is needed to fasten the larger single lug, compared to the 0.8-second speed that a capable tire changer needs to hit all five. No dramatic changes are expected when it comes to the essential choreography of a pit stop.
- Each of the three Next Gen models will have manufacturer-specific hood louvers, a release point for ducts that transfer air out of radiator. The system is intended to decouple engine performance from aero performance, offsetting the practice of teams taping off air intakes and placing undue pressure and heat strain on the car’s engine.
- With the lower roofline and the potential for a decrease in rear visibility, drivers will be able to see behind them with the aid of a rear-mounted camera.
- The Next Gen car will feature larger brakes with a better thermal capacity, rack-and-pinion steering and a 20-gallon fuel cell, up approximately two gallons from the current model.