The Forgotten Chassis
With everyone – myself included – making so much fuss over having multiple chassis in the Izod IndyCar Series, we forget that this current rules package of cars that was introduced for the 2003 season, once contained three competitors. Besides the current Dallara which “graces” every spot on the grid nowadays; there was also the Panoz, which most teams abandoned after 2005. Then there was the forgotten chassis – the Falcon – which was approved by the IRL along with the other two in May of 2002 for use in the 2003 season, yet never saw its way to a starting grid.
The Falcon chassis was the brainchild of Michael Kranefuss and Ken Anderson and was to be built in Concord, NC, near Lowe’s Motor Speedway. From the approval stage in May of 2002 to production of the first rolling chassis in late October, the sole focus of these two men was to bring about the fastest, yet safest racecar in the IndyCar series, all from a completely clean sheet of paper.
What they produced was by far, the best looking of the three chassis that were approved for the 2003 season. The trouble is, no one would buy it. The Falcon was new and unproven. Dallara and Panoz (formerly known as G-Force) were on their third generation IRL car and the general consensus was; they knew what they were doing. In the six years that they had competed prior to the 2003 season, Dallara had won Indy four times compared to twice for the G-Force. The only team to even place an order for a Falcon was Ron Hemelgarn.
Unfortunately, the Falcon never made it past the very first test session. To this day, many theories abound as to what made the Falcon disappear. Some say Michael Kranefuss simply ran out of money. Others say that there was an inherent flaw in the design that rendered it obsolete before it turned a wheel. Some of the more creative conspiracy theorists have decided that the Falcon was nothing more than a ploy to keep Roger Penske from building his own car as he did in CART for many years. The theory has it that when the IRL announced they would allow three chassis manufacturers for the next generation car – Roger Penske submitted a bid to be one of the three manufacturers, assuming of course that he would provide equal chassis to some of his competitors.
The IRL didn’t care for the potential conflict of interest, said the conspiracy dwellers. The IRL would only need to point out that the cars that Penske had provided to Tony Bettenhausen for years in CART were no match for the same chassis out of the Penske stable. The IRL feared that Penske would not provide all of the necessary support for other cars other than those carrying Penske colors. So when Penske submitted a bid to be a supplier, the IRL needed an alternative – even if the car only existed on paper – to award the last slot to anyone other than Penske. Enter the Falcon. Some would say that the IRL and Kranefuss knew that the Falcon would never race, but it had performed as expected – it kept Penske Cars of Poole, England on the sidelines.
Some will say that the above story is a little far-fetched, that the story is more like some CIA story out of Hollywood. I’m not convinced – either way. I know that many IndyCar teams saw Penske’s arrival in 2002 as the beginning of the end of their existence. Although the presence of Marlboro Team Penske brought a whole new level of credibility to the league, it also meant the stakes – and the cost of doing business just got higher. They thought the presence of the CART juggernaut would instantly create an unlevel playing field and they felt threatened by anything the man did. Of course, even though Roger Penske has won four Indy 500’s since his full-time arrival in 2002, his teams have only produced a solitary league championship – in 2006 with Sam Hornish.
It’s an interesting idea, but I have generally tended to shy away from theories like this. So what if there is no truth to that premise? What if the Falcon was legitimate and just simply ran out of cash? What might it have been like on the track? We’ll never know the answer to that question. Only one full chassis was ever built and as far as I know, it is still in the possession of Michael Kranefuss. I do know this…it was a beautiful car. More so than the Panoz which hasn’t run since Indy of 2007 and a far sight better looking than the hideous Dallara we have had to look at for the past seven seasons and for at least two more going forward.
The Falcon looked an awful lot like the Panoz DP01, even though it was built several years before. I have found a couple of pictures, but it is tough finding much information on the Falcon these days. I remember seeing many pictures when it was first unveiled, but they seem to have disappeared as quickly as the whole car did.
Now that the IndyCar Series has devolved into a spec series and we are forced to endure the Dallara exclusively; the Falcon has faded into obscurity as nothing more than a curious footnote. We are left to only wonder what really happened to it and what might have been.