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Counterpoint: Did INDYCAR make right decision delaying aero kits?

by
Paul Dalbey & Steph Wallcraft
| Aug 18, 2011

 

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?

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PAUL'S POINT:

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.

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STEPH'S POINT:

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.

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  4. 4 Woody Cumbie 21 Aug

    I like John's comment about opening up the 500.  On the other hand, would manufacturers today invest in creating a car just for the 500?

  5. 5 Gregg 20 Aug
    I have to agree with Paul.  If the rich did in fact have their way wouldn't they want to get a half year advantage on all the smaller teams? The ICONIC should be adamant that the areo kits be absolutely ready for 2013 no if ands or buts! I have a different question. I'm curious why anyone would want to switch engines?  Honda has the "has not had an engine failure" statement going for them (forgot the actual number of yearsI'm also not sure fans will enjoy having the different engines if it causes a lack of close competition that we have now.
  6. 6 JohnW 20 Aug
    Delaying the new chassis is another case of big money boys acting like spoiled children - no real interest in anyone but themselves. IRL needs to be interesting to the ticket paying public - the idea of a new looking car gained a lot of attention and delaying it says the IRL is in the minor leagues.  General interest in the IRL the last couple years is mainly because of Dannica.

    To get real diversity in racing, separate the 500 and the IRL series - semi-standard cars in the series but wide open to almost anything at the 500.  If in the public's mind the series cannot exist without the 500, then the series is not good enough to be a junior fit between F1 and NASCAR, and it prevents the 500 from becomming a strong international attraction (the situation 25 years ago?).

  7. 7 Rob Masters 20 Aug

    If team owners don't want to spend the money to play in the top league, then they should move to move to Indy Lights. The decision to put various body kits on the cars in 2012 was an inspired move. The plan to delay the project seems ill-conceived (and very boring).

  8. 8 David 19 Aug

    I agree with Pauls' assessment of the situation; and I also believe that the selfish owners have no real intention of EVER allowing the aero kits, not in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, etc, etc, etc. We the fans have been screwed again and we need to find a way to fight this crap and make the original plan happen. We should not have to be forced to sit back and take it!

    I grew up watching REAL indy car racing in the 60's, and 70's when we had the Novi, the Lotus and the Lola, the STP turbine 4 wheel drive cars, the Smokey Yunick side car indy car, the Eagles, McLarens, Chaparrals,etc. Those where the "golden ages" of indy car racing. Different chassis manufacturers, engines, drive layouts, etc. The Indianapolis 500 was a REAL event that lasted the whole month of May with speed trials, qualifying and then the race itself.

     Hard to believe that Roger Penske is going along with this,as he was a team owner back then. I am absolutely positive that Mario Andretti is furious about this, as I know for a fact that he thinks Indy Car should open things up the way they used to be.

     Shame on Indy Car and the team owners!!!

     

     

     

  9. 9 John 19 Aug
    I have no problem with the owners deciding they could not afford an extra aero kit. What I don't find too appealing is that instead of leaving it as team decisions and individually choosing to spend the money or not, they colluded together to make sure no one would spend the money to potentially get an advantage and they did it with the maximum amount of publicity even though they knew full well that the fans want physical diversity in the field.

    It is that kind of decision making that makes me think that reunification hasn't given us the best of both series, it has given us the worst.
  10. 10 Bikerbrent 19 Aug
    I agree with Tom. Spec car racing is a complete drag. It has not been good for Indy car racing (either flavor), it is destroying F1, it is destroying NASCAR (does NASCAR have even one stock part anymore on the "stock" cars?). Bring back real racing at Indy where you might see a Novi, or a Cummings Diesel, or a Turbine engine car. Why the horror of it, we used to have Eagles, Gerhardts, and Krafts, running. We even mixed in a little foreign flavor with Lotus (the real Lotus), McLaren, and Lola cars.
  11. 11 Tom 19 Aug

    I agree with John, NASCAR has become a spec series just like IndyCar, and how has that worked the last few years?  They have to run gimmicks to keep fans.

    Why was Indy the king of racing?  Because anybody could put a car together and run.  Different chassis, different engines, and at one time-different tires.  Open it up and allow true competition.

    And by the way, smart money sees Aero kits in 2015, when there are three teams left.

     

  12. 12 John Kimbrough 19 Aug
    Oh goody goody.  Now we'll have the IROT - the Indy Racecar of Tomorrow, just like NASCAR. Idiots.
  13. 13 Kyle 19 Aug

    I started paying more attention to IndyCar this year just so that I could really be up to speed with drivers and teams when they started real racing next year. Now they've sort of just pissed me off. Racing is damned expensive. Everyone who is even remotely a fan understands that. I will not feel bad for the teams having to spend money!

    The Honda/Dallara/Firestone cars are a JOKE! (And anytime I see a listing of all the cars with H/D/F listed for every single position I tell myself that it is honesty a joke, not some jackass account executive telling his boss those are extra "impressions". Really, I know I am wrong though. Sad day.)  They should have done the body change first, and the engine change could have been delayed. Unfortunately, with the path they have chosen (likely do to Chevy playing and aero groups failing) we still won't be able to tell anything apart on the cars other than some decals. 

    It looks like IndyCar will be the red headed step child of American racing (and open wheel racing in general) for at least one extra year. I hope they hire one hell of a marketing executive in the next few years because it is going to take a miracle to get people excited now that all the news turned out to be gutless hype.

  14. 14 inf1958 19 Aug

    Will aero kits help Boeing sell more planes than Airbus, and how? If not, why would Boeing management sink any money into a project that might generate only about $3-4 million per year in revenue and almost certainly be a net loss? Until I see one, I have little confidence that there will be any participation from that sector.

    Do we honestly expect that the different aero kits that all fit the same safety cell will look any more different than a Lola versus a Reynard in the mid-90's? The diversity of the 1970's was the product of design based on what makers thought would work aero-wise in the pre-CFD days.

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