The Owners Won, After All

Lost in all the hoopla this past weekend was confirmation that the aero kits have been officially delayed until 2013. This wasn’t a huge surprise, since the owners voted to delay the kits back in early May – thereby dampening the euphoria we all felt heading into the magical month. Sunday morning, it became official.

I know many have grown numb and apathetic to the whole idea. Jimmy Vasser reasoned that it would give fans something to look forward to in 2013 after getting new cars and engines in 2012. I say baloney to that notion.

We fans have been sitting patiently since 2003 without anything new on the track to look at. Those of us who followed CART in the early to mid-nineties grew accustomed to several chassis manufacturers providing new designs on an annual basis. A 1993 Lola looked way different from a 1992 Lola, which was easy to tell from a Galmer or a 1992 Penske. The 1994 Lola varied greatly from the 1993 model. It was also vastly different from the 1994 Reynard or Penske; which neither of them looked much alike. You get the idea. Variety flourished.

Less than ten years later, the current car was launched. We had no idea that we were looking nine years into the future with that car. Since 2006, every car that has raced in the IZOD IndyCar Series (save for one Panoz in the Indianapolis 500) has been a Dallara-Honda. With the Tony George/Brian Barnhart regime, we wondered if these cars would be in use forever.

Enter Randy Bernard in 2010. He listened to the fans screaming for something new. He formed the ICONIC committee that listened to proposals from DeltaWing, Swift, Lola, BAT and oh yes, Dallara. Many of us were hoping that Swift, Lola and/or BAT would be selected. DeltaWing was way too crazy looking to be accepted by many of us.

Secretly, many wanted Dallara to be shut out for a variety of reasons. Some felt that Brian Barnhart had gotten just a little too cozy with the Italian chassis manufacturer. Owners wondered why a Dallara in 2010 cost the same as a Dallara in 2003. Very little, if any, development had gone into the old design. There was no incentive for Dallara to design a faster car because it would only compete against itself. The entire series had grown stagnant over the years. There was no innovation, no competition among manufacturers and consequently no excitement. The bigger teams had the resources to massage what little they could get out of the same car over the years. The racing had become bland, yet Tony George and Brian Barnhart assured us for years that they knew more than we did and we would just have to like it.

Randy Bernard gave us hope that the arrogance was gone out of the IndyCar hierarchy. He listened to what the fans were saying and assembled this “Harvard of Racing” to listen to the various proposals from the chassis manufacturers. They announced their decision on July 14, 2010.

To our dismay, Dallara walked away with the whole thing. The remaining four suitors were told “thanks for playing” and sent home. Many wondered if the deck had been stacked the whole time, just to give Dallara some new design ideas to pilfer. The one consolation prize that was offered to the fans was the idea that Dallara would build a tub called a safety cell. Various companies would design a variety of aero kits comprised of front and rear wings, noses and sidepods that would all offer different looks and aerodynamic advantages. We were placated with the thought of many different looking cars on any given track. Companies such as Boeing, Lotus, Penske and even Lola would be designing these kits in order to compete on track. Dallara would offer one as well that would come with the tub – sort of standard equipment, if you will. Even though the tub would be by Dallara, the cars would look and perform vastly different.

It was something we could live with, especially after looking at the same car since 2003. When Chevrolet and Lotus announced their plans to join Honda as engine manufacturers for the new turbo V-6, things really got exciting. By January, we were all speculating on who would be providing aero kits, even though Lola along with all the other chassis designers made it clear they had no interest in designing aero kits.

Then Chevrolet and Lotus said they would have kits. It was assumed that Honda was going to have a kit, but I’m not sure if I ever heard that confirmed. Suddenly, the politics of racing entered the fray. Everyone knows that Honda would never agree for a team to run a Honda engine along with a Chevy aero kit. Such pairings are just not done. A Boeing kit would be fine with Honda, but not Chevy…or Lotus. But all we heard was that the new engine manufacturers would be providing kits. Things were suddenly getting murky.

At São Paulo in May, the owners made it clear that they wanted to delay the aero kits for 2012 to save costs and run just the standard Dallara kit. Randy Bernard voiced his opposition to the owner’s ideas. Suddenly, we remembered names like Bill Stokkan, Andrew Craig and Craig Pook – men who served their time as CART commissioners, tried to stand up to the owners and quickly found themselves to be ex-commissioners. Randy Bernard had his vision. He had made a promise to the fans that the owners were threatening to break. From what we were told on Sunday, the owners got their wish.

Some will say Randy Bernard caved. Others will reason that cooler heads prevailed. I’m not sure what I believe. I know that we fans were promised one thing in July 2010, and that has been taken away, er…postponed for 2012. I also know that the IZOD IndyCar Series is far better off since Randy Bernard took the helm. It now has a direction, a set of goals and a purpose that it lacked with the previous regime. It wouldn’t surprise me if Randy Bernard took a hike after this season. He has raised a lot of eyebrows in the corporate and sporting worlds. He has proven himself to be quite a capable leader and I’m sure he could do without a bunch of egocentric owners trying to reclaim control. The concept of owners calling the shots failed with CART. Why do they think it should work now?

The aero kits will cost $70,000 each. I don’t like trying to tell other people how to spend their money, but in the grand scheme of things – $70,000 is nothing. Yes, everyone is already forced to buy new equipment for next year, but they haven’t had to for nine years. If $70,000 prevents a team from fielding a car, they don’t belong on the grid to begin with.

One more thing is certain. Car count will be down next year, whether there are aero kits or not. The owners should have stuck with the deal that was presented to the fans last summer. Instead, it looks like we were sold a bill of goods. Now we get to see identical cars again next year. They will all look the same, drive the same and race the same. The only difference will be the engine – unless the owners decide to do away with that plan too.

George Phillips

22 Responses to “The Owners Won, After All”

  1. Ben Twickerbill Says:

    One thing is for certain, if things continue on the same track they have taken for the past several years, the IRL will not be around for much longer… We had all better hope that the three engine choices produce some renewed competition and that a real group of racing professionals are hired to run race control, that this series comes up with a way to attract some additional talent, in the engineering, pit crew and driver departments, or it is only going to be more of the SOS next year … I think the fat lady is warming up in the wings… I hope she doesn’t get up to sing…

  2. I’d like to vote ‘I don’t care as long as Team Penske kicks everyone’s ass’.

    They can race Flexible Flyers for all I care.

  3. This was disappointing news. I still don’t understand how $70K is such a financial burden on the owners. I think the real reason is a fear inside the team owners that one kit will far outperform the others. For Penske & Ganassi, this is the only reason I can think of that would make them favor a single spec kit.

    I sincerely hope that they aren’t just blowing smoke about the 2013 introduction to pacify us.

  4. It’s disappointing, but understandable. Indycar budgets are much lower than Nascar and a fraction of F1. Back in the open-wheel heyday, big money sponsors were available but not so much now. And the 70,000 pricetag–at least according to owners–is deceptive because of the number of kits you’d have to buy for each vehicle. The owners were claiming it’s more like several hundred thousand dollars per car. (Or possibly several trillion if Viso is your driver.) Also, even though the Dallara chassis looked the same over all those years I think there were many (unseen) changes in terms of safety and weight. (Otherwise Simona’s “Porkchop” wouldn’t have earned it’s name.

  5. So George whose credit card are you going to use to…

    Double your spare parts inventory
    Double your stock of peripheral parts when you discover that the different kits run better with different shocks, springs and gear ratios
    Double your trips to the Carbon fitting shop
    Double your testing time, including the number of tires you use, race grade ethanol you use manhours you need to pay to mechanics and engineers
    Double the time on the shaker rig and in the wind tunnel

    Aero kits were a dead issue for me once I heard they would NOT be available at the first race of the year. Coming on mid stream through the season was silly.

    I do think the excitement of the cars and engines is enough tech to interest people in 12. Kits (and a new badged cosworth) in 13 and then I am really hoping…new versions of the kits in ’14 will keep up entertained for the foreseable future when in 15 we repeat a development cycle.

  6. The aerokit concept was always weak, and IMHO, just a cover to allow Dallara to continue as sole supplier. The CFD solutions, given they must all start with the weight and dimensions of the safety cell, will likely end up being fairly similar. There probably will not be much of a performance difference for long, if it ever exists.

    If there is a performance difference, there will be even more domination by the teams with the “right combination”, and you can bet that isn’t what the PTB wants to see. If that were the case, the engine specs would be simply displacement and boost limits (just as in the “good old days”) and there would be no talk of performance equalization.

    What can we expect when the CEO of the series has zero understanding of the technology, the committee was chaired by someone without racing experience, and the owners’ rep had to leave the sport because he couldn’t even make a good enough presentation to win over any sponsors at all? Pretty weak basis on which to build a foundation for real growth, IMHO.

    Sure the new car and parts will be cheaper, and so will the engine lease…but that does not translate into immediate savings! Team salaries, transportation and travel, overheads to maintain the shop and fixed assets, etc. etc….those all remain the same or go up. Ride buyers are being told that what they brought to the table this year ain’t gonna cut it in 2012.

  7. I am extremely unhappy about this. If I could remember the URL for the blog that I supposedly write for, I’d write a blog post about it, but until then, here’s what I wrote my buddy Rick in an e-mail on this topic 3 months ago (right after the Sao Paulo “vote”):

    Yeah, I know the alternate kits will be expensive for 2012, should you choose to buy one. If you don’t have the cash to CFD a new kit, and you’re worried that you’ll wind up lost in the set-up forest with it, then just do not buy one. Persevere with the Dallara kit, learn all you can about it, survey the aero landscape for 2013 and then buy your new aero parts then. There is no guarantee that Roger and/or Chip will kick your butt with their Chevy or Honda kits (which is why I think Chip and Roger voted the kits down; they don’t want the chance that they’ll wind up behind everybody, should they pick the wrong one). There is no guarantee that Dallara won’t come up with an updated kit for 2013 that beats the pants off of the Chevy and Honda kits, and then you’ve got an edge on THEM.

    It has always ever been thus in motor racing. In 1990, if you did not have the money to buy a new Lola, you ran your 1989 Lola and did the best you could (this is effectively what Sarah Fisher Racing does every time they take the track, anyway). If you did not have the cash to front a Chevrolet (and few did back then), you stuck with your updated, though ancient, Cosworth DFX (in fact, teams did this until 1992, because I distinctly remember Lyn St. James trying to qualify her rookie year with a “Ford sponsored” DFX, which I thought was incredibly stupid because 1) the DFX was a boat anchor by then and 2) they had a kick-@ss, brand-new Ford XB which had 3 examples in the front 2 rows, so why are you trying to convince me that that old thing is a “Ford”?). Or, you scraped together a few pop cans to turn in at the recycling center and bought a Buick hand grenade and crossed your fingers. Meanwhile, sometimes your year-old stuff could beat Penske’s shiny new stuff, in the event that something went awry at his wind tunnel. This is what the fans want back. If you only have $70k to spend, you buy ONE new aero kit and try it out. You do not HAVE to buy three for each car, plus eleventy million spares for EJ to pulverize back into carbon molecules, which is what the owners are having us believe. If your driver crashes your ONE new aero kit, you put your original Dallara kit back on the car and do the best you can (the 1989 Lola scenario from above).

    Sorry to commandeer the webspace here, George, but I am really not happy about this. I’m a happy-go-lucky guy when it comes to my IndyCar fandon, but the team owners and the Series blew it on this one.

  8. redcar, by most accounts you’re right on w costs… Say a chassis has 2 kits primary and spare, and then mulitply by road and ovals, that’s 4, multiplied by say 2 different suppliers, that’s 8 kits at 70k (less the ‘free’ Dallara one that comes w the chassis). so $490k per car just for aero kits, so I understand how it can be a half million per car, which is certainly not insignificant, in addition to maybe some new tool costs to work w the chassis… BUT

    If the fans (who are ultimately the ones for whom the sport exists and who by many accounts are among the most passionately loyal in sports), are telling you what they want to see, wouldn’t you think you’d try a bit harder to give it to them?

    For example, I still buy Purex laundry detergent and Pennzoil and Firestone tires and Venom energy drink and shop at Target to this day because I wanted to choose to reward those sponsors who choose to be involved with Indycar. I feel a bit more respect is due us by the owners and the league. Not ‘a bit’ actually, a LOT more respect.

    I once thought RB was the man who would go to bat for we, the fans, the people, and mostly he has, but the owners have managed to ‘wall it’ again.

    So tired of being ignored are many of the few remaining fans, you’d think just ONCE they could see beyond the pit box far enough to consider what would be in the best interest of the fans who currently watch the races and what might attract new (or former) fans to the sport. Single look-alike chassis isn’t it.

    • Another point that was mentioned is car count and how there may only be 16-17 cars if they’re “forced” to go with aero kits. (Then again, they didn’t mention they could just go with the “free” Dallara.)

      This would be a good time for a press conference so R. Bernard to speak to and be questioned on the decision, I suppose.

  9. Recall if owners had their way there would be NO new car at all in 2012. BAD ECONOMY was the repeated reason they wanted to delay it all another year … and another and another. There’s a very real possibility (how great of possibility, I am not sure, but a real one) that they’ll throw a party with their new cars and nobody will show up. Owners might find it challenging to sell sponsorship for cars (in other words, generate revenue) that run in front of 9 people and generate 0.01 ratings. They seem to take their fans for granted, which is a tremendous way to lose them given all the other things competing for the time and money fans now put into IndyCar racing.

    • It is also a possibility, not sure how high the probability is…that 40,000 people show up at St Pete next year, 2,000,000 people tune in to see 5 cars on track because the rest of the owners chose to take their sponsorship $ to a more cost effective series like Nationwide.
      At the end of the day, this is a Franchise based business model, and no matter how many fans there are, there will be no participant teams if the teams can’t MAKE MONEY.
      If Quizno’s can’t support their franchisee with a product and marketing support combination that allows him to make $ then that franchisee will buy a Subway kit and sell a different product. Same thing here.

  10. It’s pretty pathetic, 70,000 is not a lot for a professional level racing team. 140,000 isn’t a lot for a professional racing team. And if it is too much, teams aren’t required to buy an optional aero kit, either. So what’s the problem? Now that teams have won this fight, what other fights are they going to try and win?

  11. It just seems to me that most of the above advice on how the owners should run their business comes a little too easy when it is not your money being spent. I am of the opposite opinion that many fans take the owners for granted.

    Go to any midget, sprint, or silver crown race and there is not a nickel’s worth of difference in the appearance of the cars. So what? People still enjoy the racing. Why? Because the cars sound good, go fast, and are exciting to watch. Anything else is just cosmetics.

    What will sell these new cars to the fans in my opinion will be the racing experience. Will they be faster, will there be more side by side racing? If one of those gorgeous looking Swift designs turns out to be a backmarker, fans will lose interest swiftly.

    I had the good fortune to be able to visit the IMS museum in June when they still had all the cars on display in order beginning with the first winner right up to the present day. It was fascinating to see the design changes through the years. But those design changes were made in an attempt to make the cars go faster (along with safety modifications), not appearance for appearance sake. The addition of wings resulted in an immediate average qualifying speed increase of almost 20 MPH. But I don’t think anyone involved said: “Hey, maybe some wings will make them look cool!”

    If we have to wait a year for additional aero kits, so be it. Hopefully there will be many interesting and exciting looking variations in 2013. But from an owner’s standpoint, if those kits don’t make the car go faster, then it’s just all hat and no cattle.

  12. I believe that every single one of the groups that presented the new designs for 2012 wanted a sole supplier agreement. The aero-kits were the only way to (potentially) get the different looking cars that fans wanted.
    Who is going to make these kits? In the racing world, we can almost completely count out all the manufacturers/designers who weren’t chosen (Lola, Swift, Bowlby-Deltawing and BAT). There might be some interest from Oreca, Dome, Wirth Research (who would likely partner with HPD/Honda), Panoz/Elan Technologies, and maybe others from the world of sportscars and F1. Airplane manufacturers seem like an interesting idea, but one needs a good rolling road to get the most of the designs and not a six-story tall wind tunnel built for planes.
    Marshall Pruett had a conversation with Bruce Ashmore (?sp) after the announcements last year who said that as Ashmore Designs, and not as BAT, it would take him at least 6 months of CAD before something goes from design to a model for testing. This is after he got the drawings from Dallara. The costs would be in the millions of dollars to design and produce the kits. If he got a sizeable chunk of the field using his kits, he might be able to make a profit at the end of the four-year period they would be homologated for.
    This might be more a case of Indycar lacking partners interested in designing these kits rather than the owners not wanting to spend money. Who’s heard anything concrete about aero-kit manufacturers outside of passing interest and an expectation of Honda, Chevy/GM, Lotus named kits? If it costs in the millions of dollars to design an aero-kit, which are then sold at a maximum of $70k and limited to two different kits per team/car, the economics of this doesn’t really make sense to the manufacturers.

    • Simona Fan Says:

      I was about to say something similar, but you said it so well. People think that you just go to Wal-mart and buy an aero kit. These things have to be developed if they’re going to improve your lap times and that development costs hundreds of thousands if not millions of money. Heck, one of our steel and aluminum wind tunnel models (aerospace industry) costs $300,000 and that doesn’t count design time or wind tunnel time. Just the model.

      The problem with the aerokits is the artificially low price. I can’t see any reputable outside company wanting to develop them for that price, and the race teams don’t have the money to do it themselves.

      Sadly, I think we’re stuck with spec chassis and spec aerokits for the foreseeable future. And with the engines being performance matched, it’s hard to get excited about innovation being back in IndyCar.

      If we were going to go spec, why couldn’t we have the Swift 23? That was so beautiful…

      • Very true, SimFan, but I think that one of the selling points of the kits wasn’t that it would make the maker a Brinks truck worth of money from the sale cash, but that they would be valuable from a branding and marketing standpoint. If, say, GM (although this could be Bombardier, Oreca, BAT, heck, even MIT or Cal Tech, if they were so inclined) wanted to make a kit, they’d likely only make back a fraction of the cost of development from the sales to teams, but they could theoretically make back the rest of that outlay in advertising (this is the whole “you could brand your entire car a “Chevy” instead of a “Dallara-Chevy” scenario). It’s very true that you’d have to sell nearly 60 kits at $70k a piece in order to recoup a $4 million development price (if the price to the kit maker was that high, I’m just making up numbers here), but if you could sell 30 kits and then get $2 million worth of mentions on ABC/ESPN/Versus, then maybe the numbers make sense. It’s just an idea.

        Meanwhile, I think the teams are overselling the “we have to run our kits in our own CFD tubes/wind tunnels/shaker rigs/coast down tunnels” aspect. Most of that cost is baked into the development by the kit maker. The kit maker won’t just slap a few pieces of balsa together to make a set of sidepods and an engine cover and say, “OK, there you go, you have to do the rest yourselves”, they’re going to do most of that work up front, before the teams even get the first crate full of carbon bits. Of course, if Chip or Roger wants to go spent $5 million to go figure out if there’s a better way to counter-sink the Dzus fasteners, then there’s nothing stopping them, but really, that’s just like today. Or the same scenario as we’ll have next year with everybody having the same kit. Different kits just opened up the possibility of smaller teams getting the drop on Chip and Roger by having something special that they didn’t. It’s a disappointment to hear that the smaller teams didn’t see any value in that.

  13. I am with the “If you have the money to buy a different kit then do it, if not don’t” crowd. How many “free” Dallara kits do you get? When you get Viso’d the replacement/spare kit won’t be free so why does it matter where the owners pay the money? They will have to spend the money anyway.

    Unless, if they all have the same kit, the replacements for next year won’t be $70k since Dallara will know that they will sell 100 of them instead of 35 and they don’t have to develop a competitive design. If this isn’t the case then the owner’s argument is invalid.

  14. Unfortunately, there way too many negatives with this league right now. I am simply in awe that an organization that too pride in it’s product (REAL RACING) has fallen so far off the mark that it is unbelievable …….. Just to ponder, what happens when the new car fails to reach it’s potential? What (We still haven’t learned our lessons yet!) happens when ESPN treats you like an ugly step child? What happens when there are no Darios and TKs and Dixons and HCNs driving their cars? ………….. Can you say, we don’t need others to screw us, after all these years, we have become some of the best at screwing ourselves!

  15. Trying to revive mainstream interest in open-wheel racing in the U.S. after the disaster of the split and the subsequent flight of sponsors to Nascar is not a job for the faint-of-heart . There are many hiccups along the way but I think it’s slowly getting interesting in terms of tracks, new drivers, sponsorships, equipment and leadership. But it’s not going to happen overnight so let’s not overreact–unless you’re one of the many who exist to overreact–and throw out the baby with the bath water.

  16. Initially, and IIRC, the kits weren’t going to be ready at the first of the year anyway, so everyone takes a breath and resells the manufacturers on the deal. Lets see what teams are going to get what engine and if Lotus comes in.

  17. […] Oil Pressure Blog: The Owners Won, After All […]

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