The Delta Wing Quandary

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Before we actually knew that the Delta Wing project had a name, we just called it the “radical design”. Unlike most, I’ve already come down on the side of being against the Delta Wing. Not because I’m against revolutionary designs – any long term reader of this site knows that I am completely in favor of innovation when it comes to IndyCars. My problem with the Delta Wing car is that it isn’t true innovation when the entire Izod IndyCar Series is told that they must run this car. Innovation is about taking a chance on something that is a little “out there” in the hopes that it might possibly give you the all-important slight advantage. There is no advantage when the entire field has the same car. Then it just becomes a gimmick.

I don’t always pay a lot of attention to rumors. Sometimes they have merit but more times than not, they end up being just fodder for speculation during the off-season. One rumor that seems to be picking up a little steam is the potential bickering that might occur over the Delta Wing project. As with most things that have a lot of money at stake, politics are starting to become part of the story of the Delta Wing car.

For those not familiar with the story, here’s a brief synopsis: The current Dallara chassis has been in use since 2003. The Panoz (G-Force) chassis was also used for a while, but fell out of favor. Most Panoz teams had switched to the Dallara by 2006. A few teams used the Panoz only on road courses in 2006. By 2007, the Panoz was only allowed to be used at Indy. By 2008, the Panoz was legislated out of competition completely. As recently as 2005, there were two chassis and three engine manufacturers that a team could choose to use. By 2008, there was no choice. A Dallara-Honda sat in every spot on the grid.

The Dallara that has been in use since 2003 is finally slated for retirement after the 2011 season. That will be nine seasons for the Dallara – an eternity in a sport that used to see completely new equipment every season. Rather than opening up the series for several competitive chassis to be built for 2012, the league has once again decided that the spec (single) chassis is the way to go. They have allowed two separate projects to go down parallel paths to develop a new chassis for 2012 and beyond.

The league has given Dallara the go-ahead to develop an evolutionary version of the current car. It is widely believed that it is again something that will be totally recognizable as to what people think an IndyCar looks like. The other project is the Delta Wing project. Although the select few that have seen drawings have signed confidentiality agreements and are keeping quiet – word has gotten out that the car resembles something between a rocket and a motorcycle.

Where this story gets interesting is when you look at the power play behind the two projects. With varying degrees of involvement, it is said that Chip Ganassi, Michael Andretti and Roger Penske are all in favor of the Delta Wing project. Some of them reportedly have a financial stake in the project, while others are just solidly in favor of it. The kicker in the deal is that this group is starting to feel that Brian Barnhart and the league are more in favor of the more conventional and (probably) cheaper Dallara.

When we first heard of the two parallel projects a few months ago and we learned that they would probably only allow one to proceed, you knew that one group was going to be disappointed. History has shown us that when a group of egocentric car owners (and track owners) start feeling like they have lost control of a situation – things tend to get ugly.

When Dan Gurney, Roger Penske and Pat Patrick felt like they had no control over the direction that USAC was taking the IndyCar Series, they formed CART in the fall of 1978. Another divisive split took place when Tony George was given no say-so in the CART board meetings. When his nominee for CART Commissioner was shot down in the early 90’s, he announced the forming of his own league.

If the league sides with Dallara – a partner of the league since they started building cars for the IRL for the 1997 season – could that incense the three most powerful owners in the league to do something that drastic? I would like to think they wouldn’t, but remember that Formula One owners came very close to going down that path just a few months ago. Normally great and astute businessmen seem to lose their entire sense of logic when their pride and ego are ruffled.

I fault the league for this mess. This was certainly avoidable. The proverbial can of worms was opened when they encouraged both groups to spend a lot of time and money on their respective projects. Anyone could predict that the league was certain to alienate either a long-time partner or a powerful ownership coalition. To think that this would have a happy ending was foolish. You knew it had the potential to get ugly, no matter which way they went – and now it seems that it is about to.

Of course, my big question is…why not let them both run? The problem is that the cost structure laid out by the league is so low that a chassis manufacturer has to supply the entire field in order to be profitable. So raise the price. Even if they only get five years use out of the new chassis instead of the nine they got out of this one, the investment would be low over time. Have both manufacturers structure the cost where they can make money by supplying half the field. If one becomes a more popular design than the other, fine – that’s called competition.

Here’s a thought – allow this current old dinosaur Dallara to be run, also. That would give Dallara an incentive to make sure that the new car is faster than the old one. That’s the problem with this current set of rules. Dallara or Delta Wing has no incentive to build a fast racecar, since they are the only ones in the show. When this current Dallara was designed, they thought they would be facing challenges from G-Force (Panoz) and even the Falcon. Now, neither project is designing their car with a challenger in mind. That very concept simply goes against everything that motor racing was meant to be about.

Last night, I heard Curt Cavin offer one of the most rational ideas I’ve heard in a while. He said that the league should just put together some basic specs regarding width, length and weight; then let everyone build what they wanted. It wouldn’t be cheap, but it would certainly be interesting.

So with all of the problems that are facing the league for 2010, they’ve created this one on their own. Now, whichever way they choose to go – they’re screwed. Choosing either project could have massive consequences. To me, the most sensible approach for the long run is to run them both. Yes, I realize it is expensive for the short haul, but it keeps the backers of both programs happy and it generates some genuine fan interest when it is desperately lacking. Best of all, it would allow the decision to ultimately be made where it should be – on the track.

George Phillips

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40 Responses to “The Delta Wing Quandary”

  1. How can we be for or against something we only know rumors about? So much for getting the facts and then deciding.

    • P-Dog,

      Are you suggesting that internet blogs, and commenters wait to receive all the facts before offering up opinions? C’mon, what fun is that? The intertubes were made for speculation and scud missile attacks of strongly held, baseless opinions! Don’t spoil all our fun.

      Tom G.

      • imjustsayingisall Says:

        No Tom,
        I believe that Pee Dee, feels as though that sort of thing, outlandish speculation, personal opinon and tough talking homie throw down, are rights reserved for himself alone and certainly not the place of mere blog responding mortals such as ourselves. It, that sort of atttitude’ just kind of goes hand in hand with the mindset of a guy that would feel it necessary to name himself Pee Dee….

  2. Drayton Sawyer Says:

    I gotta disagree with ya’ on this one, I think a light weight ground effects car sounds like a good idea. F1 cars in the early eighties ran no front wing at all the fast tracks (drafting tracks if yer old school) and it was one of the best times for passing in F1. F1 banned ground effects in 83 because the tires couldn’t handle the cornering speeds. Wingless cars were just being developed before the ban, if they never banned it I don’t think any open wheel cars would have wings. When that technology showed up at America USAC and CART put limits on undertray depth and made rules that mandated wings so cars wouldn’t be dangerously fast for the time like in F1. I don’t know the IRL’s rules as well as I did CART and Usac’s but I’m sure they’re similar. Wings are a little passé from a technological stand point, you don’t see new Ferrari road cars with wings, they do it all in the undertray. But a design with less weight, less parts and a drastically cheaper engine could be the key to getting more chassis and engine manufacturers invloved.

  3. While we don’t know anything specifically about the two proposals, we do know that there are two proposals. One being heavily promoted by Ganassi and one by Barnhart/IRL. And we know that because of economics they only want to run one chassis. So I think that’s the question–did they approach this decision properly or in a way that’s ultimately going to lead to controversy?

    I do think that whatever the design, they should have evolved in a way that allowed to old chassis to still be run. This might have allowed new teams with tight funding to get a foot in the door, or allowed lower-tier teams to keep a back-up.

  4. Andrew Bernstein Says:

    There are so many troublesome aspects to these developments, and the rancor you suspect might be the worst of the lot. I also agree with your opinion about a single chassis series: it becomes a different thing, only kinda the same.

    Here are some other points to mention for consideration:

    The Chicago auto show may provide a first glimpse, but every description of the Delta alludes to its vast difference from the current IndyCar.

    There seems little likelyhood that Dallaras could compete along side an evolutionary design. Different performance characteristics would make that impractical, differences in vehicle dimensions would make it unwise.

    So adoption of a completely new specification brings with it some added cost. New setup and maintenance equipment will be required. And the Dallara chassis will immediately be devalued to nil when the orders are placed for its successor.

    Lacking an engine supplier, or even the specs to define its configuration, many essential design elements of the Delta cannot procede. Stressed engine installation or not? V6 or I4? Where is that darn center of gravity?

    A sense of continuity in the look of an IndyCar is important to me, but selling the new fan is what closes the deal. Who’s in charge of that market research is another mystery from the Delta.

    I’ll stop the list for now, but it all points to my preference for an evolutionary replacement. The fragile finances of many of the teams makes my best argument for a gradual transition: perhaps an equivalancy regulation will be required, but the mandated purchase of new equpment should not be.

    This course enables the Dallara to run, until all competitors have the means to replace it.

    It’s a vote I will lose.

    Andy Bernstein

  5. George,

    Hats off to you for making a slow week entertaining. Posting on both the Oval-vs.-street debate, and the Delta-vs.-Dallara debate in the same week has made this a fun one. I half expect to open up Oilpressure on Monday morning to see a posting on Roe-vs.-Wade. :-)

    As much as I would love to see what Cavin suggested, a basic length-width-weight spec, and a “race what you brung” approach, I think the economics of today’s race industry just couldn’t support it. While the bigger teams like the Gannasi’s and Penske’s have the money (and more importantly, can hire the engineering talent) to develop and build their own car, I think that the bulk of the field that struggles to scrape together enough money from ride buyers to field a spec car, would be forced to fold up shop. Now I know some would say “yeah, but the big teams would offer to sell their cars to the little teams to offset development costs”, but in my mind this is the Fox offering to sell security systems to the Chickens. In my business career I would love for my competitors to be forced into a position where I could sell them my product, and keep them weak but still in business. It’s the best way to prevent real competition.

    I too worry about the massive ego’s involved in the sport leading to another split. But I also think that a lot of what we are seeing (specifically the Chipster’s comments this week) is posturing for position. I think that either approach, whether the Area 51 Delta project of Bowlby, or the Darwinian-Evolutionary-Dallara, are ultimately just two sides of the same coin. Both are targeting a low cost, spec car, to be built in Indiana. What is really at stake, and what really interests the powers that be (Barnhart, Dallara, Chipster, The Captain, etc.) is who wins the contract to build and sell the chassis to the league. Dallara has had a lock on this business for 9 years. I think this ownership group is really interested in getting that share of the pie. They would basically get to design and build their own car at cost, without having to pay a manufacturer markup. They would also have a guaranteed monopoly for their product.

    I may be cynical, but if the splits have taught us anything it’s that the powers that be are interested in one thing, and one thing only. $$$$$$.
    So fans like us can wish for innovation, and competition, and more ovals or street courses, or whatever we dream of, but in the end the folks running the sport are most interested in making a buck.

  6. Andrew Bernstein Says:

    To avoid creating rancor myself, I’ll apologize to the posters above who beat me to the “send ” button. But as you can see, I agree with those who preceded me. But…

    Downforce generated by ground effect is a risky proposition, and F1 cars have have been regulated to flat bottom designs for many years now.

    From the design point of view, it is relatively free downforce: vast amounts of grip is generated for cornering, and the drag penalty of wings in free air can thus be negated.

    In practice, it all works splendidly: until a curb, or a skid (pitch or yaw incidence), or other contact disrupts the air flow through the tunnels and a causes a sudden loss of downforce occurs. When you’re sideways, tunnels give you zero.

    IndyCar reduced the size of the tunnels, and raised the ride height to limit their effectiveness, in 2004.

    As for this subject, it’s one vote I hope not to lose.

  7. bickelmom Says:

    I know it is probably a pie-in-the-sky dream, but I’m all for Curt’s idea. When you hear the “old-timers” of the racing community talk about Indy when folks were building cars in their garages at home and showing up to race, that sounds fantastic. I know the cost involved would never allow such a thing now, but the spirit would be there. I think the cost would also keep things from being too crazy or dangerous. Give some specs and let folks at it!

  8. George, why would Honda Motors contribute to this major project, when Honda Motors is the monopoly in the series?
    The Formula-one series has the rules for innovation “hands down.”

    We have 3 shuttles for sale at K.S.C. starting at $43 million dollars…they are obscelete. They have had the new design already for years …it is sitting there waiting but they have to wait because of the current financial issues. The original plan is still intact, the Aries is probably sitting in the VAB right now….but it is ready to go. The plan was made years ago.

    If you could get another Motor Company to design a chassis like VolksWagaon or Audi, or better yet….Something left from the American motor company that would work….Saturn, for instance is gone, SAAB (the car I drive)…gone. (So sad because Saab was an airplane& jet manufacturer first. (Saab’s are half price now….soon to be on the list of extinction.)

    Roger Penske may have been thinking about buying Saturn for the very reasons that you just laid out. Saturn probably would have offered an opportunity for innovation. The GM thing.. too expensive, he said.

    The Team owners are’t rocket Scientists and Indy racing is not an engineering competition. Maybe it was once about the car…No matter who wins, it’s always Honda at the podium…

    Honda got exactly what they wanted….a monopoloy.

    Tony George just left the building….
    His Mom should be respected for her decisions, BTW…

    Good luck with an apparel company and the “GoDaddy” culture that currently has to be monitored for cable.

  9. I truly believe that if the owners go ahead with the Delta Wing / Matchbox Hot Wheels Car, it will be the death of Open Wheel. There will be a new war that will destroy what’s left of the sport. This proposed formula has absolutely NOTHING to do with the history of Open Wheel in North America.

    As a long time CART and Champ Car fan, it’s been hard enough watching those Crap Wagons on the track. Evolution, not revolution. A cost effective 800 HP GP2 type car would be fine with me, or just bring back the Panoz DP01’s and go with a new engine formula to get manufacturers interested.

    Please, no stupid Delta Wing / Matchbox Hot Wheels Car!

  10. Our motive for the Appollo Space Craft was being in competition with the Soviets….(the USSR and the US were on the brink of nuclear war.)

    Competition is the American spirit of innnovation, first principal of innovation…

    George Low, who was the manager of the Appollo Spacecraft Program Office in 1975 wrote “If you had to single out one subsystem as being the most important, most complex, and yet most demanding in performance and precision, it would be guidance and navigation.”

    Just hope that Roger Penske is in charge of any “new design” and give Ms. Hulman-George some credit for being smart enough to mange her losses…just like Roger Penske said, before he walked away from Saturn….”It is just too expensive.”

    The Delta Wing thing is laughable…I agree with Don.

    I’d be interested to know what the developers of the Delta Wing read on a dailey basis.

  11. That was an entertaining poker game until Buzz Aldrin puked on the table.

    • Since it’s almost 5:00 et and redd didn’t come up with the second “rule of innovation”….
      Target Chip Gnassi is already saying
      “There are no Guarauntantees….cher”
      ““We in the racing industry need to be bold in meeting and demonstrating tomorrow’s technology and innovations”… “In order to keep the sport of auto racing healthy, it’s going to take our collective efforts.”

      You already have one team with 4 cars, the poor Team Captain with ‘0’ (Zero) cars, “Larry the Liquidator” has already been on call,
      and rule #2 for innovation is …Cooperation.

      Whoever is in charge of rule #2 is going to need to speak Portugueese, obviously. (Japaneese used to be the 2nd language of choice….)
      A collective effort might be hard to find in 2010.
      – Without
      genuine competition
      and very little cooperation between the Team owners (To be expected because they compete against each other..)

      And the need for multiple languages, Japaneese and Portugueese….
      Honda and Apex Brasil! Doing the cha-cha-cha of couse…
      A collective effort is an understatement!

      BTW it is always easier when it is “Other People’s Money”.

  12. Chassis development left to the big 3 team owners is enough to make most people heave “big chunks”,

    First rule of innovation is competition,
    … and the second rule is?
    Let redd have a shot-

  13. I think that it’s unfortunate that hardly anything has been made of the idea of allowing both the Delta Wing and Evo-llara into the League in 2012, as George suggested here. It sounds like turbo-4 cylinders are sort of the universal idea for the next engine, no? Then how about using fuel, revs and boost to “equalize” the performance of the two cars? A turbo-4 cylinder can be tuned to just about any power level, given the variables I just listed. 2.0 liter Mazda ALMS engines make in the 400-500 HP range, but 1.5 liter BMW F1 engines made anywhere from 900-1200 HP, depending on tuning. You can basically name your power level for a 4-cylinder turbo, depending on which chassis it’s riding in.

    OK, by all this I mean, if the Delta Wing is going to be low weight, low downforce, low drag, let it capitalize on its straightline advantage by giving it some extra power. If the Evo-llara is going to continue in the vein of the current car, then it’ll be more of a downforce “handling car”, which will make its time in the corners, and so would be given less power (less boost, probably). The Delta Wing will likely be the car to have on the superspeedways, the Dallara would be the car to have on short ovals and road courses, though this could also vary as well given weather conditions and who’s driving which car. Of course, you’d also have to introduce a rule mandating that every team would have to commit to one car or the other for the whole year, to prevent everybody from having to buy both and run whichever will be faster on a given track, but the resulting racing would be fascinating. I know that people get skittish about equivalency formulas and incessant (NASCAR- and GrandAm-esque) rules tweaking, but with some thorough computer simulation, I think the League could come up with the right set of specs.

    All’s I’m saying is that if the cost target is currently the same for both options (and it sounds like it is), the cost target could be made 10-20% higher than what they’ve proposed and the manufacturers should be able to make a business case for supplying half the field instead of the entire field. Anyway, it’s an idea that could make the manufacturers happy, but would most definitely make just about every fan happy.

    • I agree, it would definitely be fascinating to see the two concepts run head to head a la LeMan prototypes. However, I think Cavin covered the reason that this isn’t an option. Both groups want all of the sales to recoup their investment in development. If they are limited to half the field, I think both sides would lose interest. That’s was Cavin’s argument. Now, I know that “back in the day” CART ran multiple chassis and engines, and everyone seemed OK with it. All I can guess is that the economics have changed and Dallara, and/or the DeltaWing group would need all of the sales to turn a profit, or break even.

      • True, and I understand Curt’s reasoning, but I just wonder if it’d be possible to ask the two groups to look at how their business model would change if they were only selling 15-20 chassis per year (that’s primary plus spare cars) instead of 35-40, as they would as sole supplier. Don’t tell them to change anything, just ask how expensive the cars would be if they were one of two suppliers. The resulting prices would probably be too expensive, but it’s worth asking.

        You’d open up a can of worms, I suppose, by also tacitly inviting the manufacturers to change their fundamental designs (for instance, the Delta Wing guys would probably add a bunch of downforce, if they knew they’d be potentially be racing up against a high downforce Dallara), but the entire exercise is completely theoretical at this point, right? Well, unless you’re Brian Barnhardt or Chip Ganassi…

      • Another option might be to have the two groups work together. For instance the Bowlby team could handle the design, and Dallara could contract manufacture the chassis for them. So everyone gets a slice of pie. And who doesn’t love pie?

        Of course, there’s also the possibility that the mysterious DeltaWing project is just an elaborate bluff by the Team Owners to get Dallara to drop their prices. Because without a viable competitor in the game what incentive would Dallara have to lower their price?

        O, I could go on like this all day! sorry!

      • Tom, that is quite an idea you have there….

  14. John McLallen Says:

    I am all for the Delta Wing IF Dallara is allowed. I also voted to build a car following basic spec guidelines. What I want more than anything is another Andy Granatelli.

  15. tim nothhelfer Says:

    It’ is simple….let the market decide. HotWheels builds and sells all kinds of futuristic cars, have them make some pretty Evo cars and Delta cars and see what sells the most to gauge what the public really wants. This also makes the cars tangible because see touch and hold them.

  16. Oh, boy. A quandary. Good or bad? That remains to be seen.

    I am not a mechanical engineer, so I really can’t comment on the aerodynamics of either project. I’ve gone back and forth on this since the Delta Wing project was announced, and now I have reached a conclusion: the same as Tim Nothfeller: Let the market decide. Provide-as Grand-Am seems to do-a set of specs and let Dallara, Delta Wing, Lola, Swift and anyone else build a car to those specs. As long as the chassis was safe, let the performance decide the best of the chassis. I would also insist that the cars be built here in the USA, so that the transatlantic shipping costs incurred by Dallara and Lola shipping the chassis and parts from Italy and England respectively, can be reduced or eliminated entirely.

    The bottom line to me, though is that IndyCar has boxed themselves into a MAJOR corner. Alienate your long-time partner, or alienate your major team owners? We’ll just have to wait and see how this plays out.

  17. Scott Kuhar Says:

    I really don’t see how we have enough information to pick a design now. As a fan of the technical side of the sport, I’d love to see many chassis and engines on the same track. Let’s face it though, how many like minded people aren’t watching now? It is the league’s job to increase viewership. Technical innovation will not bring as many viewers that close racing and a close championship will. The full field D/H/F formula has given us both for how long now?

    While I can understand Robin Miller’s and others’ lust for “the good old days”, the league has to put butts in seats. A formula similar to the last 4 years can do that. Close championship races are about the only advantage the league has against nascar, F1, and even NNS.

  18. Scott Kuhar Says:

    I also wanted to comment on the inclusion of the current Dallara chassis: That would be absolutely great for the small / new teams, and could certainly add spice to the championship, but there are technical issues.

    By allowing the current chassis, it would put new limitations on the Evolutionary and Delta Wing designs. For example, the anti-intrusion panels Dallara added a few years ago could be rendered useless if a chassis with a higher, lower, wider, pointer, etc. nose hits the old chassis. For this you would have to mandate a similar dimension to the new designs. Wheelbase: it is possible that the new car could have a wheelbase that is more dangerous when in contact with the current car.

    My point here is that I could see the new design (whichever it may be) having to be so much like the old car that this whole exercise of design becomes useless.

  19. Andrew Bernstein Says:

    There ya go scott, that’s the point I made in post #6

  20. Just saw some photos of something that looked like a delusion from Lost in Space. Since I come from a family of NASA engineers and MIT graduates…I have to say this.
    Racing cars is one thing…Designing them is another.
    Having A High School Education on your resume with “Race Car Legend” does not give qualifications as a designer. Driving a car and designing one…?
    It sounds like a real problem for an advanced college M.E. competition (Which they have every year across the country.) I thought Honda claimed to hane all the answers to advanced engineering.
    Kick the ladder, as they say!

    LOL when I read about the secret tunnel.

  21. As long as the driver lineup continues to be as lame and uninteresting to the American public, it won’t mean jack squat which goofy, formula car they choose.

    But continue to argue about it, like a bunch of 20 year old college engineering dorks.

    Its only the 100 or so CART fans out there still with their panties in a wad, that care about this subject anyway. Or maybe they still are of the ignorant opinion, that people used to follow Indy Car racing in this country because of the March or Lola chassis’s. Uhh, sure.

  22. Good call, Jim Bob. I guess I’ll take my engineering degree and my wallet full of disposable income and do something else. IndyCar sure doesn’t want my type creeping around here.

    On the other hand, if YOU don’t care for the “uninteresting driver lineup” or the “goofy formula cars” that IndyCar utilizes, what are you doing here?

    • “On the other hand, if YOU don’t care for the “uninteresting driver lineup” or the “goofy formula cars” that IndyCar utilizes, what are you doing here?”

      I enjoy reading comments from geeks like yourself (settle down, its just a joke).

      Folks like you and others here want to change the cars and change the TV networks and change the leadership and change the month of May and change everything back to like it was in the swell ole’ days of the early 90’s, when CART was the bestest racing series that ever lived and all of their races were sold out and NASCAR and F1 was on welfare trying to keep up.

      Lets just change everything, throw it all up against the wall and hope it sticks. Then repeat after the finish of the season. And if it doesn’t work (and it usually doesn’t) we can always blame Tony George (since we can blame Tony George for everything except the War on Terror).

      Unfortunately you are all missing what has TRULY been wrong with the sport for a couple of DECADES now. The driver lineup. Racing has ALWAYS been about the drivers. It always will.

      Forming the IRL was a mistake. Tony made a ton of mistakes. Goody. We get it. CART was a mess too with owners running the show and looking out for their own self-interests first, second and third. They had bad leadership, with CEO’s coming and going and a business model that was flimsy long-term. Both entities sucked and both were losers. OK, lets move on. Continuing to beat this drum got tired about 8 or 9 years ago. We were all fans of a LOSER and are still fans of a LOSER. Even the Detroit Lions have fans.

      Here is the real deal…When Indy Cars had American heroes and legendary American talent (and kept them in the sport for more then a few years), they were a legit American series with LEGIT fans (not just “event” fans and street racing gawkers and Marlboro employees pretending to be fans) and back then Indy Cars could compete with NASCAR. When they started losing these legends and started replacing them with Formula 1 dropouts and guys that nobody had ever heard of before they got here and their leadership started becoming more interested in being a F1 Lite series instead of a REAL American Racing series, the eventual decline of the sport was on its way. The IRL had nothing to do with this. The Dallara had nothing to do with this. Kevin Kalkhoven had nothing to do with this. Tony George had nothing to do with this. The DP 01 had nothing to do with this. This started happening long before 1995 and is still going on in 2010.

      It won’t matter a hill of beans how many races Scott Dixon or Vitor Meira or Will Power or Ryan Briscoe or Tony Kanaan win in Indy Cars. They might all be nice guys and good drivers. But unfortunately nobody cares. They don’t sell and they aren’t going to spur folks to suddenly watch the sport again. Now, if Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, AJ Allmendinger, Alex Gurney, Sam Hornish Jr, JR Hildebrand, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Townsend Bell, Kasey Kahne, Jason Leffler and Buddy Rice were winning races and battling with one another and running into one another every-now-and-then, at least (with proper marketing and a decent TV contract) you MIGHT lure some American eye-balls to the sport again. At least you would give yourself a chance. And that’s not being “xenophobic”. That’s just being a realist.

      NASCAR didn’t get huge because of cool cars or close racing or marketing gimmicks or TV coverage. They took off and continue to lap the field, because they had Gordon and Stewart and Earnhardt and Earnhardt Jr and Wallace and Elliott and Labonte and Busch and Busch and Waltrip and Martin and new talent ALWAYS coming through the pipeline to add to the show or eventually replace the legends when they leave. They figured out LONG ago its about the drivers. And when Indy Car basically lets them have whoever they want and choose all the best American drivers, then it makes it even easier for them to dominate the scene.

      When AOW figures this out again, maybe they will have a chance. If they don’t, they won’t.

      • Hey, thanks for staying on topic. And thanks for reading my blog, since you apparently know everything I’ve written over there, plus everything that everybody else writes.

        The topic here was the cars, not the drivers. Of course those two topics MIGHT be intertwined. You do (correctly) point out that the entire situation began to spiral out of control even before the split. We couldn’t see it very well back then, because the circles around the toilet still felt like it was just the current of the ocean (I’m being a little overdramatic here for effect). This was around the time when the driver lineup swung from primarily American to increasingly foreign. Why did this happen? It was because the cost of the cars and the cost with running an IndyCar team took off, from $1-2 million per car or whatever it was in the early ’80s to $10-20 million per car in the mid- to late-’90s. The question was: who had this kind of money? It wasn’t short track stars, it was “F1 dropouts and guys you never heard of”. That kind of scratch wouldn’t get you much in the way of an F1 drive, but it’d get you topline equipment in IndyCar. We’ve been through several iterations of that same situation, but we’re basically in the same place. Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty toil in a paying gig in GrandAm, meanwhile we get non-superstar types like Mario Moraes, Milka Duno, EJ Viso and Vitor Meira (ignoring the nice stuff I said here about Vitor a month or so ago). Those are all folks who I’d either never heard of before they got in an IndyCar or people who do not belong in an IndyCar (I’ll leave it to the imagination who belongs in which column).

        This is where we come back full circle to the new car. If the new car is much cheaper to buy and run (as they’re targeting), then a $1-2 million budget will allow you to hire whoever you want to put behind the wheel. You want Chad Boat and Levi Jones? Sure, go gt $2.5 million, go write your check to Dallara or Delta for your cars, buy your hauler, hire a couple of engineers and some mechanics, and away you go. With a revamping of the price structure of the 2012 car, there’ll likely need to be a ravamping of the price structure of the Lights cars (who would then be in direct competition with the big cars, budgetwise), and a revamping of the cost structure of the entire rest of the ladder. You make the cars cheaper and you can put anybody you want in there. Everybody (and I mean that completely literally) wins. THAT is the point.

      • Andrew Bernstein Says:

        Whay a hilarious monologue…the outstanding part is that you wrote your own best argument against it, and thought a pair of parenthesis would make it invisible:

        “(with proper marketing and a decent TV contract)”

        Get it straight. If few people had radios, and newspapers didn’t devote much attention to baseball, then nobody ever names a candy bar after some dude named Babe Ruth.

        Michael Schumaker was once a nobody. If he never gets a seat in good equipment, he’s a nobody. If his races aren’t broadcast on a network that is easily accessable to the masses, he’s a nobody. If corporate sponsers see no gain in an association with him to promote their brand, he’s a nobody.

        Guess what? Thanks to driving like a hero, and “(with proper marketing and a decent TV contract)”, he’s the richest and most well known racing driver in the world. A hero. Made, not born.

        Every racing driver on a real hero list was a nobody. It took the exposure of their skill, and the backing of their supporters, to put them in the position of earning the reknown and respect the title implies.

        So how many heroes might be racing in the IndyCar Series today? None, if the availabilty of major network broadcasting does not improve, and the marketing of individual drivers is not undertaken by corporate sponsors.

        Even then, your new list contains a lot of dead wood. Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti will never be heroes. Not until either kid learns to drive like one.

  23. I’m torn. On the one hand I like the idea of something revolutionary–something that’s new and different from anything else out there. Something that says we’re exploring uncharted waters.

    The other hand worries that it’ll end up being like hydroplane speed boat racing: something that’s even more remote from normal life and only a handful of people will be engaged by it. We’ve already moved well-away from the era when you could go down to a speed shop in Indianapolis or Los Angeles or Daytona Beach (or fill in your favorite locale) and build a car and maybe it’ll make the 500. I think a no-matter-how-tenuous “I could do that” dream is necessary for popular sports. You don’t get that in auto racing any more.

    If I have to pick something, I like the idea bandied about by Cavin & Lee on their podcast–the basic Dallara chassis with a lot of room for adjustments and experiments, so maybe, just maybe Sarah Fisher’s engineer might hit upon a combination that makes her competitive in a year when Penske misses, and you end up with a greater degree of uncertainty.

  24. Andrew Bernstein Says:

    In years past, some guys got famous because they were fortunate enough to be driving the best equipment. Or produced exceptional results with pig car. Cogan only got famous for how little he achieved in a Penske, Mears might not be a legend if he was driving anything less capable. Same for J.R.

    That’s one reason why the car matters, and how it affects who we pay attention to. But none of them were famous when they showed up.

    That takes a lot of fans watching a lot of races. Me, I watched a lot of races this year. So when Mario Moraes and Mike Conway both picked up like 15 positions to get on the podium, I started paying attention to how they did the rest of the season. Never had heared of them before, I bet you haven’t until now.

    In the old days, that’s when a better team with a bigger budget would hire one of them, and see what he could do in good gear. Not so much now: few teams can hire drivers, and the cars are all far too close to equal.

    No fans = no exposure = no heroes. Simple enough.
    Same cars = less challenge = predictable results = no heroes = no fans. Wait, I’m seeing a trend.

    Of couse the car matters, used to be that even the CARS had fans. When there was variety, and a lot of people paying attention.

    So, I’m a 52 year old mechanic. There’s a whole lot of reasons why a new chassis design means jack squat to me. I hope for variety, and a design that limits downforce and puts a greater demand on car control.

    Maybe then some young kid who you never heard of gets a chance to become a hero. Because he shows the people watching he can drive like one.

    Unless you’re a hot chick, that is – that makes it a little easier to become more than ” lame and uninteresting to the American public”.

    Peace out, Smokey

  25. Andrew Bernstein Says:

    James O:

    An awful lot of that “go down to a speed shop” element can be rekindled if they choose the right engine spec, and let independent builders and teams screw together the best piece they can devise. That just takes an announcement of number of cylinders, displacement, and boost level.

    Instead, they have been sitting in wait for manufacturers to invest millions, and come up with an engine that everybody has to run and nobody is allowed to tune.

    And they can’t design new chassis until they set a freaking engine spec anyway. It took all of two days for me to identify what the choice should be, and find a list of engine builders who were already building racing engines to fit the spec.

    With some of these choices they make, it comes down to a lot more than wasted time and opportunity. Maybe the bigger roadblock is the time it takes to line up big money deals between the right set of power brokers.
    That makes for doors which are harder to unlock. At the speed shop, all it takes is a simple key.

  26. Hi George,
    Interesting idea, and I’m certainly of the notion that the DW car deserves a more thorough examination; having the Red Cars’ guy engineer the next entrant is akin to the fox designing the henhouse.

    Quick point – the Panoz was never legislated out…Phil Giebler crashed trying to put one in the I500 field in 2008.

    But it was/is at a significant weight disadvantage to the newer Dallara evolutions. The last team to use the Panoz full time was Rahal Letterman which switched in Texas 2006 (as you noted in an earlier column) which pretty much torpedo’d that team’s competitiveness for the remainder of that season. (although Dixon had won at the Glen in a Panoz the week before, if memory serves)

  27. Everyone should read “Winning, the Racing Life” By Paul Newman.

    As a nice bonus at the end, we get a chapter devoted to Newman’s street cars over the years. Not only was there the Porsche Super 90-powered ’53 Beetle in the early days; Newman decided that wasn’t enough, so in 1969 he commissioned a Ford 351-powered Beetle. In the 1980s and 1990s, Newman drove some hot engine-swapped Volvo wagons. How about an ’88 740GLE with a 400-horse turbo Buick V6? Or a supercharged Ford small-block in a ’96 Volvo 960 wagon?

    Most Americans want to win again…it’s not about failing, it’s about winning but there has been alot of losses all the way around. If the IRL cou;ld stimulate some American innovations like an American Hybrid,(Maybe a new battery or some real engineering for our failing American automobile industry, encorporated into an Indy race-car.) Honestly hope that the guys in charge are reading some of the books that George has on his site, because they need some real American inspiration and less selfish ambition!

    …I would love to see more American engineering that address our real-time problems on the road. Safety first!

  28. If research into the general public’s opinion was carried out we would find that production cars are way hotter to the general public. They also would have all the innovation back again, and records will actually mean something, because right now records mean nothing. A production car can turn laps at Talladega at 250+ MPH. WHY ARE WE RACING UGLY SLOW GO KARTS. Watch the opener with a 9/10 of a mile straight away, and watch the speed at the end of the straight. A stock Bugatti and a stock mclarren F1 street legal car raced one mile from a dead stop, and they were faster than Nascar by far, and I am curious to see if the Indycars can match their speed. If not, case closed, OWR has no purpose, stock cars is the future of auto racing.

  29. Andy Bernstein Says:

    Make mine a Caparo T1, please. Menard 3.5L V8.

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