Get Aerokits Right The First Time

Last week, the Performance Racing Industry trade show took place in Indianapolis. It was there that Will Phillips, IndyCar vice-president of technology, took part in a Q&A session regarding aerokits for next season. The other day, I went through and read the transcript of what transpired. I’ll admit – I learned something.

Unbeknownst to me, if one aerokit is more dominant than the other; the other one will have an opportunity in mid-season to redesign the areas they think are slowing them down.

Read that again and let that sink in…if you did a poor job the first time around, you get a do-over after you’ve had time to study the competition’s design and copy what they did right the first time.

My age and old-school thinking is going to come out here. I never understood rewarding everyone just for trying, while attempting to make everyone equal. To me, this goes against the very concept of competition. My thought is that you do everything possible to get it right the first time. If you don’t, you fail and suffer the consequences of failure. If you fail, you regroup and you do whatever it takes to get it right the next year.

If a football team is getting their head handed to them at the first half of a game, the score is not reset and they don’t require the leading team to give their playbook to the team that is trailing. They let the chips fall where they may. If the team leading at halftime goes on to win 40-0, well – that’s just too bad. The losing team should have been better prepared. Maybe they can regroup the next week and prepare better. If not, they’ll get blown out again.

That was what I liked about the concepts of aerokits in the first place; teams would have a leg up on some others simply because they had better equipment. If somebody missed the mark, those were the breaks.

In the nineties when most teams opted for the readily available Reynard or Lola chassis, Roger Penske chose to build his own chassis. Sometimes it was better, sometimes it wasn’t.  Likewise with Rick Galles and the Galmer, along with Dan Gurney and the reincarnation of the Eagle. In 1992, not only was the Penske chassis not very good – but the Chevy B engine, that was run exclusively by Penske was not very good either. Still, Emerson Fittipaldi was able to squeeze four wins out of not so great equipment.

In the late nineties, there were four different engines manufacturers (Ford, Honda, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota), five chassis (Lola, Penske, Reynard, Swift and Eagle) and two tire companies (Goodyear, Firestone). There were varying combinations of each throughout the grid. If a team did not have a Reynard/Honda shod with Firestone tires – they were out of luck. Such is the way in racing.

Reynard got into financial difficulty about the time that Lola got its act together in the early 2000’s, but make no mistake – Lola got its act together. They took their lumps for about five or six years, learned from their mistakes, worked their tails off and figured out a way to get competitive again.

That’s what competition does. It forces everyone involved to do their best. Anything short of that and you’ll be left behind.

That’s why I always had an issue with sole providers. It was not by design that Honda was the sole provider of the IndyCar Series from 2006 until 2012. They kicked the collective butts of Toyota and Chevy and ran them both out of the series after the 2005 season. With Honda powering the entire field for six seasons, they detuned the engines and focused more on reliability instead of performance; hence saving themselves and the teams a good deal of money in the process.

It was about that same time that the Dallara chassis became the chassis of choice over the out-of-favor Panoz/G-Force. Suddenly, every car in the paddock was a Dallara/Honda. Neither the chassis manufacturer, nor the engine manufacturer had any incentive, whatsoever, to try and improve on what they had. Instead, it was just status quo, year after year. As a result; the manufacturers, drivers, teams and fans fell into a tired state of stagnation and mediocrity.

When the new car was announced by the ICONIC committee in the summer of 2010; it was to be a tub built by Dallara, but able to have various aerokits designed by third party companies. This was a nice compromise to those of us that wanted Lola, BAT and Swift to be chosen to give the field some variety. But as we all know now, the aerokits did not come when the car debuted in 2012. They were to come a year later. After many delays, they seem to actually be coming for 2015; but provided by the two engine manufacturers – Honda and Chevy. There are no third party providers like Boeing, which was always the example given when the concept was first announced.

It may be a watered-down version of what we were expecting, but it’s better than another year of identical cars. I’ve heard people say they’re concerned the racing may not be as good when the aerokits come out. One reason why the racing has been considered “good” is because the cars are all equally matched. I have no problem with one manufacturer being dominant over the other. It shows they did their homework and they deserve to dominate. That’s their reward for developing and building a better mousetrap.

But now we’re told that there is to be no reward for building a better mousetrap. In fact, if you do – your competition will be given the chance to correct their flaws and catch up while you can do nothing to change your superior design. To me, it sounds like in their desire to be “fair”, the series has come up with a very unfair solution.

Every month, I’m judged against my peers on how well I do my job. What’s the point in trying to excel and outshine my peers, if my superiors will handcuff me while giving full support to my peers that have not worked as hard? It completely defeats the purpose. Should Honda come up with an aerodynamic device that cuts off a second per lap, is it really fair to give Chevy the chance to copy the device so that their teams can also shave that second off of their lap times? Apparently, so.

I try not to be a constant naysayer, but count me as one that does not like this “catch-up” policy for which ever manufacturer comes out with a bum aerokit. I’m not allowed a do-over in my job. Why are the designers that go the wrong way given a chance to right the wrong, when those that got it right the first time have to sit and watch them play catch-up. They need to get it right the first time.

George Phillips

15 Responses to “Get Aerokits Right The First Time”

  1. This is more F1 like where the car is evolving through the season. I know this is not what you want to hear George that IndyCar is trying to be more like F1 but I would argue In a way it keeps the car more fresh and leaves an impression that they (the cars) are under constant improvement. I like seeing tweaks pop up through the season. It makes it seem more relevant and progressive. After all ,the “better mousetrap” is a constant work in progress. I see what you are saying though. Could the original intent from the ICONIC committee (if that was when this rule was devised) be to keep the competition tighter? A good example would be when Simona DiSylvestro was stuck with the Lotus engine for a season and was a constant back marker. That engine never evolved, and she was never competitive. Had Lotus had the wherewithal and improved the engine through the season eventually landing her a top 10 finish,that would have been a good story.

    At this point I would hate to see either Chevy or Honda have to struggle all year, if one had a slower aero kit, being only one of two manufactures in the series and not have a chance to make changes to be more competitive. This close competition between the two manufactures is an asset to IndyCar at the moment and the series cannot afford to lose it. IndyCar has the closest competition and they have to capitalize on what little innovation is allowed.

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      Dan, what you say would be fine if they let them ALL tweak their product; the way I read it seems like if Honda is way out front then Chevy gets to make tweaks but Honda is frozen out. That’s NOT COOL.

      Phil Kaiser

  2. When aero-kits come to fruition, we will see a big change in racing. As Derek Walker said earlier, this is the game changer. I will be very surprised if we see an Indy 500 like we saw last year. Lap after lap of the snake coming out of turn # 2, down the backstretch into turn # 3. We may see 3-4 cars in a pack, but not a whole field like last year. I have guarded optimism we will see a great race again, however I have become some what spoiled with the tight racing we have seen recently. Here is hoping for a great product.

  3. Doug gardner Says:

    The big problem with all of this is lack of $$. If one group is so far off that they are not competitive then their sponsors will pack up and leave. Some sponsors don’t even pay up as agreed to. It is the same reason NASCAR used to constantly tweak rules to keep manufacturers in the game. Remember if Honda gets trounced they will just pack up and put their eggs in the F1 game. It is imperative for Indycar that they get this right

  4. so if A is faster, then B will make changes. so I assume once B is faster, then A will be allowed to modify. and then B again. so with constant modifications, how exactly does this make Indycar cheaper for owners?

  5. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    One thing I was wondering, maybe you have info on this, my understanding is that aerokits wouldn’t be available to use until (or after) Indy ’15. If so, a mid-season adjustment then won’t happen until mid-july? Then just a handful of races left.. Doesn’t make any damned sense to me at all.

    I’d side with you totally that you get one shot for the (already quite short) season and you can adjust in the (all-too long) offseason.

    I really don’t see either being so far off that there will be significant, sport-ruining difference in performance, so the point is likely moot.

    Secondarily, I’ve also never equated close, equal racing cars with good racing. Some of my all-time favorite races were when there was little drama initially due to dominance only to have the script flipped due to late mechanical failure, fuel/tire strategy, or brain-fade.

    With spec-era, you’ve all but eliminated mechanical failure, and with such minute difference in cars very little fuel/tire strategy is available, leaving brain-fade as your largest variable. Not a formula for exciting racing in my view.

    Also, am I right in surmising there will likely be no changes to aerokits in ’16, ’17, so the manus can recoup their costs?

  6. This is why “managed competition” is an intractable contradiction in terms and destined to fail.

    As far as I am concerned, there are only two ways to properly run a racing series: “the old way” of setting nothing more than dimensional specs, so the competition is between the team of designer, crew, and driver as a whole, or a total-spec series like IROC where the competition is solely between drivers.

    Anything else is just BS. It might be entertaining BS for a while…but in the end, it’s still BS, and the 2005 scenario will likely repeat itself.

    Which is why I’ve never been able to jump wholeheartedly on the “DW12 provides awesome racing” bandwagon. Take REAL tech innovation out, and my interest level drops. On top of that, I know that I am not the only one who has heard privately from a driver that the car really has been a disappointment to them, as it isn’t that challenging to drive. Of course, none will admit that in the public forum…

  7. I don’t think comparing it to football is a particularly apt comparison. There is no sport like racing. The analog to resetting a football score at halftime would be coming in for a pitstop and leaving with a new engine. If a football team is down, they can make adjustments to their offense or defense (a race team can tweak its strategy). If it continues week after week, a football team can make trades, change their practice regimen, fire coaches, release players, etc, much like a race team can hire a new driver, new engineers, change directions in shock programs, etc. In football, you don’t have an inherent disadvantage due to equipment, ie, you picked the wrong helmet. And if that were the case in football, I don’t think it’d be fair that a team is struggling because a required piece of equipment is causing them a disadvantage, much like I don’t think it’s fair a team is relegated to an awful season because their aero kit is deficient. If they were something prepared by the team, I might think different, but we’re taliking about bolt on pieces the teams ultimately have no control of without switching suppliers, which is harder to do than allowing a deficient manufacturer a one time upgrade per season.

  8. I disagree, I think allowing areo kits to be tweaked if needed is a good compromise. Originally there were supposed to be multiple styles of areo kits per team, so if one was bad they would have other options. Alternatively, if areo kits were open to development at any point in time that would be both fair, and expensive. But to me allowing areo kits to upgrade if needed is both cost effective and fair. More importantly it prevents a Mercedes 2014 where there’s no parity or a 2009 Indycar situation where everyone falls asleep during half of the races. In my opinion 2014 wasn’t as good of season as 2013 or 2012, an aero kits could make 15 worse. This news makes that less likely, though still possible.

  9. I agree with those that would like to see tweaking on both sides throughout the year. Have at it!!!!

  10. Mike Silver Says:

    I agree, George. both sides should be allowed mid-season tweaks if they choose. If one side is dominant, the other side needs to figure out a race strategy to over come it. I hope this is the first step toward more allowed innovation.

  11. You know it is a slow news day when we are writing about comparing tweaking aerokits to football. Rumor has it that A.J. is having Caterpillar design a aerokit for his bulldozer.

    When I go through the museum at Indy it is fun to see and comtemplate all the design changes that took place through the ages. At least until you get to the cars of this century.

  12. I wish we could have F1 style development with the chasis and aero kit. Of course that costs money, which just isn’t there.

    Does Dallara still have a kit? Is it just Chevy and Honda or is it Chevy or Dallara and Honda or Dallara for each car? Will all two (or three) kits be updatable At the midpoint? How do we really know which kit is better? Could we see sandbagging for some races to be deemed “not better” and clean up the second half of the year?

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