In Counterpoint, Paul Dalbey and Steph Wallcraft of MoreFrontWing.com face off on topics related to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Neither reviews the other's argument until after the article is compiled for posting. It's up to you to decide who's made the better case!
This week: Did INDYCAR make the right decision by delaying the aero kits to 2013?
On May 12, 2010, I had the pleasure of sitting down to lunch with INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard when he had been on the job for just over two months. To say he was still a little wet behind the ears would be a massive understatement, although after 10 weeks of drinking from the fire hose it was obvious he was catching on quickly.
One thing he had already learned by that point is that the INDYCAR Nation is passionate about a change in the race equipment. Not only do they want a change from the current car, but they also want the return of competition when the new machine debuts in 2012.
Sadly, INDYCAR announced this past weekend that they've decided getting halfway there is good enough. While it is good that the IZOD IndyCar Series will have three engine manufacturers in 2012 and beyond, the lack of visual diversity has justifiably left the fan base feeling empty and unfulfilled.
May and June 2010 now seem like a long time ago, but if we spend a moment remembering where we were at that time, it helps us to understand why fans are so upset about delaying the aero kits. At the time, many were hopeful that the INDYCAR ICONIC Committee would recommend that multiple chassis manufacturers be allowed to participate, each creating a car that had both visual appeal and identity. Most, however, realized that the fragile economic climate of the IICS would ultimately preclude such a decision and that having a single manufacturer was the most prudent way to proceed. The committee’s decision to have Dallara produce the central safety cell while having other companies produce identifiable, low cost aero kits was seen as a compromise between affordability and diversity. Though many were initially somewhat skeptical, most fans eventually came around the idea of having a group of cars with some significant performance and aesthetic diversity for the first time since the late 1970s.
Sadly, fans will now be forced to endure at least one more year of watching an entire field of identical-looking cars on track. (At least one more year.)
Here’s the thing about open-wheel racing fans: we tend to have long memories, and we don’t easily forget when we’ve been wronged. When the current iteration of the Dallara INDYCAR was introduced in 2003, it was almost universally panned as an ugly car that had some decent oval-racing characteristics. While the racing proved to be good, many fans could not get past the unappealing aesthetics of the car and quickly began counting the days until a new car would be introduced in 2006. When that time came and no new car was introduced, some people began to get antsy. A similar story led into 2007, and it was becoming apparent that the number of teams that could compete on a level playing field was getting smaller and smaller. In 2008, open-wheel unification led to an extension of the current chassis cycle through at least 2009. Relief was in sight, though, when it was announced that INDYCAR planned to debut a new car for the 2011 season. Sadly, the people tasked with bringing the new car to reality drug their feet on the process, and as the months turned to years, it was obvious that a 2011 introduction would be impossible. Soon, the new car was officially delayed until 2012.
For six years now, INDYCAR fans have been forced to wait, and wait, and wait. If there is anything fans are tired of, it is waiting. So, when car owners floated the idea earlier this year that the aero kits be delayed further to 2013, the frustration level of the INDYCAR Nation nearly hit the boiling point.
While fans would have been upset no matter who proposed the idea, the fact that it came from the owners only added salt into many wounds. Open wheel columnist Robin Miller has never been shy about his general disdain for the team owners and is often vocal in his opinion that they are self-serving, lying, cheating snakes who have no interests at heart but their own. Given that their greed and arrogance caused CART budgets to spiral out of control through the mid 1990s and ultimately led to the downfall of that series, many people are reluctant to put the power of open-wheel racing back in the hands of the owners. With the owners being behind the push for a delay of the aero kits, people are now left wondering who is really steering the boat.
More importantly, if the owners have successfully pleaded their case that they will not be able to afford aero kits in 2012, what assurance do fans have that aero kits will indeed be on track for 2013? Will 2013 turn into 2014 or 2015? Will we ever see cars branded as Chevrolets, or Lotuses, or Boeings, or McLarens? Will 2016 come around with the same Dallara safety cell dressed up with the same Dallara body kit? It’s a thought that terrifies the average INDYCAR fan.
INDYCAR fans want diversity. They want to see different manufacturers trying different tricks to achieve maximum performance. More importantly, they want to trust the INDYCAR management and believe that this competition will in fact come to fruition someday. Given the many years of waiting, it’s no wonder that people are now in such an uproar about delaying the aero kits until 2013. For a small group, it may just be the last straw that drives them away. For others, it's the last concession they are willing to make to INDYCAR before they give up hope. At some point in 2012, when car owners recommend delaying the kits until 2014 (and believe me, that day will come!), Randy Bernard will rue the day in 2011 when he allowed the inmates to run the asylum again.
It's sort of a moot point to argue now. The decision has already been made to delay the introduction of the aero kits to 2013. But despite the outcry to the contrary, this decision was the right one, and isn't nearly as much of disaster for the IZOD IndyCar Series as some would have us believe.
For starters, and most importantly, the engine manufacturer competition coming in 2012 has already guaranteed that the days of INDYCAR spec racing are coming to an end. Yes, the cars will still all look the same, but they won't all necessarily sound the same, and it's very unlikely that they'll all perform the same. The reality is that disparity in engine performance will play a larger role in giving fans the on-track product they crave than the aero kits will -- with most of the downforce coming from the undertray, the aero kits could well wind up being a largely aesthetic addition. As long as the viewers at home have it well-explained that next year's cars are different under the cowling despite their identical outward appearance, that should be more than enough to pique their interest for a year until the aero kits can be rolled out.
And although many people aren't reacting well to what they see as the owners crying poor, the truth is that INDYCAR racing is expensive and it makes a lot of budgeting sense to allow the teams to spread the purchase of brand new cars over two fiscal years. As soon as it became clear that having aero kits ready for the start of the season wasn't realistic, that meant every team would need to buy not only the Dallara safety cell but also the Dallara aero kit in order to go racing early in the season. This wasn't part of the original ICONIC committee plan -- at the outset, teams were going to be able to buy the safety cell on its own and then buy the other kits separately without having to invest in the Dallara parts.
Remember, bringing in a new car is much more costly and work-intensive than it sounds. Every suspension piece, every spring, every damper in the shop -- and likely a number of the tools used to work on the cars as well -- will need to be replaced. Extra time and money will need to be used to gather every inch of data the teams can find. To do all that and also ask teams to spend money again to buy kits from other manufacturers is asking a lot, particularly from some of the smaller teams in the paddock.
On top of that, this gives INDYCAR another cycle of hype-building to draw more attention and interest to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Positive reasons to put the Series in front of the press are never a bad thing.
The frustration coming from fans is justified -- we've lived with these old, mispurposed cars for far too long. But if we can all just be patient for a little while longer, the path that INDYCAR has chosen to take with this rollout can reap plenty of positive rewards for this sport we all love.