DeltaWing: After Some Time To Reflect
As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to do a better job of keeping my emotions in check. My family will tell you that growing up, I tended to come to snap judgments and insert my opinions whether they were wanted or not. Over the years, I have tried to keep my mouth shut and mull things over before speaking. Many times, I find that after careful thought and analysis over a day or so – my stance softens and sometimes even changes. However, my reaction to the DeltaWing chassis is not one of those times.
While some sent me e-mails wondering why I did not yet have an article expressing my views on the now-infamous DeltaWing, I thought it best to let it soak in and see if my initial reaction to the DeltaWing car had changed. It did not. In fact, it went from being horrified to that of pure outrage.
I thought that after seeing the three Dallara concepts last week and then the Swift renderings that were released on Monday, that I was pretty well prepared for whatever would come on Wednesday. When I saw the pictures that were briefly released on Tuesday night before they suddenly disappeared, my heart sank. In denial, I tried to tell myself that these pictures had been released as part of a hoax and that the real car to be unveiled on Wednesday would be a sleek breath-taking racing machine. Instead we got this misguided missile that looked like something out of the 1958 version of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland.
By now, we’ve all heard and read the jokes – and there have been some good ones. Roy Hobbson at The Silent Pagoda swears that the DeltaWing was actually inspired by Chip Ganassi’s manhood. Pressdog claims it was the same craft that carried Evel Knievel in his failed attempt at crossing the Snake River Canyon. Jeff Iannucci at My Name Is IRL was dead-on when he compared it to Craig Breedlove’s “Spirit of America” that conquered the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1963.
While the jokes and humor have made for some nice punch lines, there is a very serious undercurrent about all of this that is anything but funny. Chip Ganassi and several key owners are firmly behind this project. They simply want this concept to be chosen for the exclusive chassis of the Izod IndyCar Series beginning in 2012. There promises to be political posturing in the coming months that will make Washington envious. This could turn out uglier than the car itself – which is really quite some feat.
About a month ago, I wrote an article entitled The DeltaWing Quandary. We had already heard a few things about this “radical” chassis that was being designed by Ben Bowlby. Based on what I had heard, I freely wrote that I was not in favor of this project at all. I was heavily chastised for being closed-minded and making my decision before I had even seen the car. Not to be gloating, but I strongly suspected that we would be looking at something similar to this. Curt Cavin is not one to over-sensationalize, and he had dropped enough hints over the previous months that created a car in my mind that was not too far from what we saw on Wednesday.
Maybe the car drives and races like no other. Perhaps it is much more agile than it appears – although I just can’t picture that long nose with the near-tricycle configuration being able to navigate the hairpin turning onto Shoreline Drive at Long Beach. But the looks are simply appalling. I’ve heard all of the arguments comparing the fans of the roadsters thinking that the rear-engine cars were appalling in the sixties. That’s true, but there is one big difference. The rear-engine cars offered a true advantage, and at first — only a select few drivers had them. As their superiority quickly became evident, more and more of the field begrudgingly moved to the rear-engine machines. On-track results dictated it.
The DeltaWing concept offers no tangible advantage. This is a racecar that wasn’t built to be faster than every other car on the grid. It was designed to look different for the sake of being different – and by the way, they made sure there was plenty of room for sponsor logos. If the IRL has its way, it will look like every other car on the grid because they want everyone to run the same chassis. If you read the message boards on any IndyCar site, the vast majority of fans want more than one chassis.
When Adrian Reynard launched his assault on the IndyCar world in 1994, he built a car that was ugly and bulky looking compared to the established and sleek Lola. However, after Michael Andretti drove that car to a win in its first outing at Surfer’s Paradise – the car suddenly seemed beautiful to a lot of owners. By the following year, almost half of the field were Reynards and they proceeded to win the Indy 500 and the CART championship that season. In fact, the Reynard chassis won the next eight CART championships and almost put Lola out of business in the process.
If this car were to be proven to be faster than anything else on the track (other than a nine year-old Dallara), I wouldn’t be opposed to it. I would look at it just as I looked at Joe Leonard’s wedge-shaped 1968 turbine powered Lotus – the coolest looking thing I had ever seen. It was cool because it was different looking and the fastest car out there. I am not opposed to change when the change is for improvement – either in speed or safety innovations, but not just to look different. This reeks of being nothing more than a gimmick.
Speed is what racing is built upon. I know that marketing wizards think they have taken over the sport, but they haven’t. To give everyone equal equipment to level the playing field is boring. There is a reason that IROC failed. Equality does not sell. Speed, innovation and risk taking – both on the track and on the design table is what sells. Designing something based solely on looks just to attract new fans will bring you a very fickle fan base. These non-fans will leave you as quickly as they found you.
True racing fans are sold on the idea of speed and innovation. It is the foundation on which this sport was built for over a hundred years. There has to be an untapped group of young potential fans that still appreciate speed, innovation and competition. Yes, you need marketers to promote and sell the product, but when they begin to influence the product – that’s where you cross the line from innovation to gimmick. Keep in mind that my degree is in marketing – so I’m not just bashing the marketing profession.
So now after so much anticipation, we are left staring in disbelief at what I think is a complete joke. Without trying to sound dramatic, I am quite certain that if the Izod IndyCar Series chooses to use the DeltaWing concept exclusively, it will be the deathblow to the IRL. I think if we see thirty-three of these contraptions skidding around the Speedway, open-wheel racing will become a well-deserved laughing stock. I have followed this sport for forty-five years and this is the most idiotic concept I’ve ever seen considered for open-wheel racing in my lifetime.
Curt Cavin has acknowledged that the e-mails he has received have been vehemently opposed to the DeltaWing by a 100 to 1 ratio. Will the IRL listen to their current fans and go for something more palatable so as not to alienate their core, or will they bow down to this latest power play by the owners? This whole phenomenon of the owners being completely unified on all of this has me baffled. A conspiracy theorist might surmise that there is something brewing with the owners and they are using this DeltaWing project as a bargaining chip for something else down the road. I’m glad I tend to not be a conspiracy theorist or I would drive myself nuts trying to figure out that angle.
So where do we go from here? The Lola designs are due to be released as early as today. After that, the IRL probably goes into bunker mode and we will likely hear nothing more on this until May. By then, the dead horse will have been beaten so many times, we won’t even care at that point. There has been one positive note to evolve from all of this. This project has resulted in finally uniting the fractured open-wheel fan base. We have now found something that we can all agree on – how much we hate the DeltaWing chassis.