The 2012 IndyCar: A Bevy Of Mixed Emotions

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For all of the hype that was befitting LeBron James, the big announcement of the chassis announcement on Wednesday at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, left me feeling just a bit under-whelmed. I must disclose that I did not see the live video feed. I was tied up in a meeting at work, but a co-worker was kind enough to interrupt to come whisper these words in my ear: “Dallara got it”.

Without knowing any other details, I sat through the rest of the meeting feeling myself beginning to fume. For the first time since Randy Bernard took the reins of the league, I felt betrayed. I began to reflect on what a sham this was – to put the fans, teams and prospective manufacturers through this charade, when Dallara had it sewn up all along. I couldn’t wait to break for lunch so that I could get to a computer.

After quickly skimming my Trackside Online e-mails (which, if you don’t subscribe to it – you should) and a glance at a few other blog sites and understanding the entire concept; I felt a little bit better about things, but I had a ton of questions. When I got home last night and really dug into it, I had many more questions and an overall empty and disappointed feeling.

For those that have been under a rock since lunchtime yesterday; the announcement in a nutshell was that Dallara would build the common tub, rolling chassis or “safety cell” but any other manufacturer would be allowed to design, build and sell aero-kits to bolt onto the car. A team can run only two different aero-kits in a given season and the aero-kits cannot cost more than $70,000. The cost of the rolling chassis would be $349,000 or a complete car would be $385,000. This represents an overall savings of about 45% over the current package.

A couple of weeks ago, Curt Cavin presented a very convincing argument why the final decision would be Dallara and Lola. Both manufacturers have an established history in open-wheel racing and they are also currently involved in many different racing series, thereby limiting their risks. Swift is more of a boutique builder, while BAT Engineering and DeltaWing were start-up operations whose sole existence depended on the success of their IndyCar venture. This was the safe choice. Both had presented traditional looking designs. Dallara had been with the IZOD IndyCar Series since 1997, while Lola had been a longtime supplier to CART and had a design which could be used in the Firestone Indy Lights Series, also. Choosing both would satisfy the majority of fans who have been clamoring for multiple chassis for years. It made sense.

Hearing the initial news that “Dallara got it” infuriated me and probably put me in a very cynical frame of mind as I perused through the different websites last night, trying to get a handle on things. After settling down and trying to be more rational about things, it started to make sense.

As I analyze things, it seems like a giant compromise. Brian Barnhart is happy because his cohorts at Dallara are still in the game, and they are still going to be the only manufacturer of the basic tub that all the teams will have to buy. Dallara is happy because not only do they have exclusivity on all the new rolling chassis, but their current (also exclusive) chassis will not be grandfathered in as had been previously rumored – guaranteeing revenue for all chassis in the 2012 field.

Fans (like me) that have been screaming about the lack of innovation should be happy because different manufacturers will be encouraged to try their hand at creating the best aero-kit available. Competition for speed is the core of what this sport is about. We should also be thrilled that cars on the same grid have the potential to look very different, depending on what aero-kit a team chooses to run.

But the announcement was unfulfilling for me, personally. I was truly expecting at least two different manufacturers to build cars to compete for speed and teams business. I had secretly hoped against common logic that three or more would be allowed to participate, even though I knew that was a longshot.

Somewhere I read that they basically stole the concept of the DeltaWing and gave it to Dallara. I apologize not being able to credit whoever said it, but it’s true. This was the concept that Ben Bowlby and Chip Ganassi announced in February. Their concept was good, but their car was just hideous. The ICONIC committee lifted the concept from the doomed DeltaWing and handed it to their longtime partner Dallara. Hmmm…

Of course, the drivers sound as if they are completely on board with this. What are they supposed to say? They are all part of yesterday’s hype machine. But according to Trackside Online, some teams are quietly wondering if the cost savings are going to end up being as much as advertised when it’s all said and done.

But overall; the more I digest this thing, the better it sets. It’s a far cry better than what we’ve had since 2006 – a field full of ancient and not so attractive Dallara’s. I personally don’t think the current Dallara is as ugly as others claim. It isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing racecar I’ve ever seen, but it certainly isn’t the ugliest. I always thought the Reynard of the mid to late-nineties was hideous to look at, but it’s performance made up for it. I’m just tired of looking at the exact same car we’ve been looking at since 2003. Innovation will certainly be a part of the sport after a multi-year absence.

The final announcement just wasn’t what I expected. I read plenty of blogs where people were ecstatic, but I’d be willing to bet that there were more people that left the Indianapolis Museum of Art scratching their collective heads than there were those giddy with excitement. Let’s just say I’m not as giddy as a lot of fans. Unfortunately, today I find myself with more questions than answers. I expected Wednesday to answer my questions. It didn’t. So instead of assigning a grade of A+ to this long-awaited announcement, I’m more compelled to be cautiously optimistic and take a wait and see approach. Sorry, but I can’t carry the IZOD IndyCar banner on this one quite yet.

George Phillips

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38 Responses to “The 2012 IndyCar: A Bevy Of Mixed Emotions”

  1. My opinion is: this choice can be good, or not. It’s difficult to say now if this choice is totally good or totally bad. I’m agree with the article about the fact that after a lot ot disucssions, the results is that Dallara was before and Dallara is now, but I think there are many possible positive thing: for example, this choice could be interesting for some outisde the series to come in without having to spend a lot of money…so we can see many “artisans” that have to build not the entire car, but only few parts…maybe, we can see kit come from other series…for example, a good F1 aero kit could be installed on the new Indy cars…I think about the connection between KV Racing Technology and Lotus Cars…or a F1 (or other series) team could be enter for the Indy 500 with only a chassis to buy, but with the rest of the car from themselves..onother interesting aspect, maybe an engine manufacturer could be build an own aero kit to install with its engine…these are all possible aspects…maybe they will happen, maybe not…

    • What this car won’t do: Change the general public’s perception of Indy.

      Face it, that is the whole point, right? To stem the tide of disappearing fans and to rebuild the audience?

      I don’t see it.

  2. The way your co-worker broke the news to you is exactly the problem with the headlines from just about everyone who’s bothered to write about it. So many outlets put “Dallara Wins” or something like that across the top of their articles that it just instills the idea in people’s heads that it’s just going to be more of the same. Yes, Dallara “wins” in that they’re in charge of the manufacture of the tub, but from what I gather, it’s not really a Dallara; the car doesn’t look like any of the Dallara designs, and the way I see it, Dallara was chosen as the MANUFACTURER because the League is familiar with them and they have the logistical wherewithal to actually make 50 of these things by March, 2012.

    • The problem isn’t that the headlines are written wrong. The problem is that they are accurate in the way they represent what the general public thinks of the choice.

      • Let’s hear it then, Scott. You’ve been dumping all over the series and the car here all day today and yesterday. What would you have done to “save” the series, then?

      • Simple. You don’t save the series. You save the Indy 500.

        You have to focus on making Indy something fans want to see again. That will never work if you are cost constrained by 16 other races that cost millions to run but generate no revenue.

        If you can accomplish that then you can start thinking about expanding to other events as it makes good sense. Not based on an arbitrary schedule that looks good.

      • Can you outline to me how teams are supposed to operate for just one race a year? Everybody on the team has to find another gig for 10 1/2 months out of the year (except for Penske and Chip, who can afford to have a wind tunnel running year-round and thus dominate the 500 even moreso than they do now)? Sign up sponsors that’ll be happy with only getting one day of exposure per year (and I’m talking about somebody more substantial than Royal Spa and local Indianapolis mom-and-pop businesses here, because you can’t put their decals on 33 cars)?

        I’d like to hear the business plan for scaling the entire endeavour back to just the 500. It’s simple and fun to suggest such a thing in a couple of paragraphs, but what I want to hear are solutions.

      • Are you oblivious to the fact that there are dozens upon dozens of race teams that keep the lights on and operate without running a single indycar race?
        Either existing teams would find other racing activities to pursue or other teams would seize the opportunity to take their starting place in the 500.

        You do remember the split, right? Do you really think you wouldn’t see a full field?

        Are you also oblivious to the fact that sponsors attribute most of the value of the sponsorship to the month of may already? The get almost all of their exposure from Indy as it is and consider all other races as additional exposure to a smaller percentage of people who already saw their affiliation at Indy. Even the biggest sponsors have refused to pay for the whole season now. Have you missed Target and 7-eleven making the teams resort to alternate sponsors at different points in the season because they refuse to pay the asking price for those other races?

        You may not like it, but the reality is that if the TEAM payment did no force them to run all year to earn their share of the revenue that was accrued in Indy, there would already be more one offs and fewer full season entries.

      • Honestly if you want to take me to task on a business plan I would like you to give me one example of a solid business plan that involves operating at a level where marginal cost exceeds marginal revenue.

        Explain to me how it is rational to run a full season where the vast majority of revenue and sponsor value derives from a single race and yet the vast majority of the overall cost is realized at the other events that add negligible value.

      • Oh, my. There are other racing series out there? Man, what I don’t know about this sport could fill up wikipedia…

        I get all of what you’re saying, but I think that what the League is trying to do is to make the entire series make more sense. They’re trying to drive down the cost to enter and play. They’re trying to increase the visibility of the drivers. They’re trying to bring dollars into the sport, through potential new engine manufacturers, new sponsors, increased TV numbers, increased attendance at races. Now, most of this stuff hasn’t swung into full effect yet, but the new administration has only been in office for 4 1/2 months. If (and I know that that is a big “if”, but I like to be hopeful) they can make the impact of each of 16 other races more lasting, then it’s 16 reminders to the American public that something called the Indy 500 exists. As Michael Scott would say, “win-win-win”.

        We’re obviously going to disagree on 90% of what we’re talking about here, so I’m basically going to leave this topic right here, but I’m getting a little aggravated of every…single…conversation on the blogs lately turning into “nobody cares about this series / everything is wrong / I hate where we’re going / we’re all headed straight down the toilet / anybody who likes what’s going on is an idiot” crapfests. I’d rather hear folks talk about the new car (an actual news topic!) than re-hash the same sore topics that have been beaten into the ground daily for months and months now.

      • Indy has ALWAYS garnered the support of sponsors AND the month of May is where MOST of the value of a sponsorship is. Always and NOTHING will change that. Ever. Now, Scott, tell us something that we don’t know.

  3. M. Miller Says:

    Well after time, Lotus has said it’s a great idea and they’re looking to get involved. Even Swift said they are going back to the drawing board to see how they can make this work finanacially.

    My ONLY concern is that the “safety Cell” might be a little too much of the car for innovation. The cell should center around the tub and not include the nose for instance. However, what we get next year will be different and hopefully in the right direction: even more freedom for the areo packages.

  4. Interesting that I haven’t read any comments from Ganassi or Penske yet.

    I like the idea–considering the perameters that were set it’s the best decision they could’ve made. I’m disappointed the old Dallara chassis wasn’t grandfathered in for a couple years–who will want to spend money on a new/old one in 2011? I’m not riding the hate-Dallara bandwagon–I thought their new designs were good–maybe not the sexiest of the bunch–but good and they’ve been a good partner to the series.

    Looking ahead 2 years from now through rose-colored glasses–we could see more cars on the grid, safer and faster cars, 3 or 4 different aero packages and a couple of different engines to mix and match with the branded chassis. Plus it will give us all plenty to speculate about over the coming months. So I’m good with it–it’s actually exciting to me–although I feel sorta alone in that reaction.

    I’m going out to garage now to work on my own aero package. Anybody know how much a hunk of carbon fiber costs?

  5. My biggest contention with the new system is the requirement to share your aero kit with the other teams at the bargain price of $70,000. Penske and friends have less incentive to spend the dollars to innovate and come out with great new designs if they will be required to hand over the fruit of their labor to any team that wants it. Plus it is much easier from a production perspective to make a set of aero parts for 3 cars on a specific team than for potentially a qualifying field of 40+ cars at Indy.

    What if Boeing wants to sponsor a car with the stipulation that only it can run the special Boeing aero package? It seems like allowing cars to have proprietary aero packages would help draw in a whole host of potential sponsors that could show their expertise in practice on the car through their aero package design. F1 seems to be as much about the manufacturer’s competing to put the best car on the track as it is about having the best driver performance and the IICS should play off that same competitive spirit.

    The required safety testing and season-long limit of two packages also will limit innovation as the teams/manufactures will not be able to make innovations each week.

    What happens when an oval or road/street aero package is just utter crap but a set of teams are stuck with it for the entire season because of the limit of two systems per season (1 road/street and 1 oval presumably for most teams)?

  6. billytheskink Says:

    I was underwhelmed by the announcement as well, but with the need to reduce costs by such a large amount, I understand this is probably about as good as we could have gotten from ICONIC. It’s not a slam-dunk, though, it runs the risk of making the series not much different than it is now. That’s not to say it’s doomed, but IndyCar needs to make sure it really does what it’s supposed to do.

    If they remain at what was proposed, the lower car costs should have a tremendous impact on car counts down the road. If not, they could at least help reduce the number of “ride-buyers” and give the sponsors a better ROI.
    The different body kit idea is an appealing one, especially if the kits change from year to year and multiple kits prove capable of winning.

    The most disappointing thing about this decision, though, is that the possibility remains that an all-Dallara series could very well continue.
    We all understood when the new engine rules were released that Honda was the only engine we would be “guaranteed” to see in 2012, but with 5 companies competing to build the chassis and not all of them demanding exclusivity, we all hoped for some assurances that we’d see chassis competition in 2012. This announcement guarantees us nothing.
    While I don’t think no one but Dallara will try to build a body kit for 2012, I worry that Dallara-built kits will have an advantage due either to economies of scale (spending the most $$ to develop a kit because they sell the most) or their possibly exclusive knowledge of the safety cell (like how Newman/Haas supposedly got the best parts developed by Lola when Carl Haas distributed their cars). I also worry that the low price cap set on the kits will make it difficult for other manufacturers to make money and produce a competitive car and that requiring manufacturers to make their kits available to any team will discourage teams (read: Penske) from building their own.

    All that aside, I’m excited that we will get to see a new car on track in 2012. I’ll be even more excited if this new idea works well, because it can. The new car could get more manufacturers in the door, it could help increase field sizes and sponsor ROI with it’s lower costs. But to be truly successful, and to have any chance of capturing fan interest, it will need to provide good racing.

  7. I don’t feel very positive about this decision. I HATE the “Indiana First” mentality to it, basically telling all of us outside of Indiana to go F*ck ourselves…. secondly, I’ve got a TON of questions on the aero kits. One big concern is that since the gearbox, brakes, nose cone, ect. are spec, how much can the aero kit’s be differant, will it even be possible to desgins much outside teh template??? There’s just nothing to be excited about… it seems like it’s going to be crapwagons today, crapwagons tommorow, crapwagons forever…..

    • billytheskink Says:

      The “Indiana First” deal for the most part did not bother me too much, though I think IndyCar put way too much emphasis on having the chosen manufacturer build the car next door to the speedway.
      Having three politicians speak during the presentation made it sound an awful lot like a chamber of commerce luncheon. Yes, it’s good to create jobs, but this should have been all about the car.

      The part that did bother me about the Indiana-focus of the car’s development is the $150,000 discount being offered on the first 28 cars bought by Indiana-based teams.
      What was the point of this, to create more Indiana jobs? Is this supposed to encourage the few teams not based in Indiana to move their facilities?
      All this discount realistically does is penalize Penske, Coyne, Newman/Haas, and Foyt for no reason other than their location and hardly gives them enough incentive to move their facilites to Indiana.

    • The term crapwagon should be laid to rest, it’s too easy to toss out and it just provokes unnecessary and unproductive squabbling.

      The stress on Indiana is because a) it’s the headquarters of the series and b) the location of the biggest car race in the world. It’s to keep the locals happy and spur the economy in a state hit hard by the recession. So a little local cheerleading and politicking doesn’t bother me and I don’t understand why non-Hoosiers are so upset by that.

      I don’t think anyone knows enough about this deal yet to just dismiss it out of hand. I think there’s plenty to be excited about.

  8. Bickelmom Says:

    I think the big picture of what IndyCar and the town of Speedway are trying to do should be considered here. Speedway is going out of its way to reclaim what it once was. It was a town built specifically for automobiles and racing. And IndyCar has an opportunity to make Speedway a destination all year round, instead of just for two weeks in May. I think it is a fantastic idea to try to condense as much in one area as possible to create that sense of “home base”. It can also help in the racing community to have proximity to each other, the track, the manufacturer, the parts, the headquarters, etc. And if you are going to pick a place to do that, why not where the biggest concentration already is?!

  9. George,

    I think the disappointment you and many other fans felt was because of your expectations. “I was truly expecting at least two different manufacturers to build cars to compete for speed and teams business.”

    Can I ask how you came to that expectation? Maybe I didn’t follow this as closely as you did, but I never saw anything–statement, opinion, hint, nudge, wink, or any other signal–from any of the potential suppliers that indicated anything but that they all required a sole source arrangement. What made you think they weren’t serious?

    So the committee did a pretty good job of finding a way to accept the sole source arrangement and yet make the cars look and drive differently through different aero packages attached to a common tub. They’ll be branded differently as well, which is good for the more casual fan.

    Yes there’s no guarantee of additional aero-kits beyond the Dallara kit, but I was surprised when Tony Cotman tweeted last night that he expected to see them as soon as “early 2012.”

    I think the real news is the dramatic cost reduction. Can you imagine how deeply the owners must think Dallara has gouged them over the past decade given the new cost structure?

    • I also thought that all bidding parties wanted to be sole suppliers of chassis because at the desired price range they needed to make all chassis and replacement part sales in order to be profitable.
      So I also though that this was a good compromise between bidders’ expectation of being exclusive chassis supplier and our desire to see diversity.
      I also was pleasantly surprised at the price cut, though I’m not a team owner!

    • Oilpressure Says:

      Martin:

      I don’t think I was alone in these expectations. I’ve never claimed to be an insider, but I read and listen to a lot of people who are insiders and I respect their opinions. For example, as I said in the article – Curt Cavin said on his show and wrote in The Star that all indications were that the choice would be Lola and Dallara, for the reasons i listed. Like him or not (and I do), Curt Cavin has his ear to the ground and has a pretty good idea which way the wind is blowing most of the time.

      A week ago, he was still saying Dallara and Lola, but that there might be a twist. We now know what the twist was. By the way, you are incorrect in saying that all of the potential manufacturers required a sole source agreement. Dallara and Lola did not.

      So, I am a little perplexed as to why you think I was so off-base in my “expectations”. Those expectations were based off of the opinions of people I trusted and still trust. It’s just that the ICONIC committee was so tight-lipped that even the best sources were left to merely speculate. – GP

      • I don’t think Dallara demanded to be a sole manufacturer, but the per chassis price would have risen dramatically if there was more than one manufacturer from what I understand.

  10. Tim Nothhelfer Says:

    Welcome back George!
    I was underwhelmed. Not because of the Dallara choice, but for the lack of substance of specification, and relevance to manufactures. There has be be reasons for companies to get involved…. like investing in developing and proving technology they need for their future cars. The elimination of engine cradles that stock block four bangers would apparently need is a deal killer.
    (It is really too bad the Delta Wing was not shaped like a pair of boobs.)
    What we got was a new version of the 1980 Indy 500 winner.

    • That’s the first I’ve heard that four cylinder engines would not be an option in the new car. Is that for certain? Because I think the option, at least, should be there.

      And I wonder why they couldn’t make the nose (in addition to the front wing) optional to add to different looks?

      And funny about the Delta Wing–I do think it’s shape killed it from the start.

      • I just think that it means that “stock block” four cylinders are off the table, because the engines will likely be stressed. You can still make a purpose built four cylinder, and I think Marshall Pruett or somebody else today wrote that that may still happen.

  11. I will love this decision if it gets automakers back in the game, designing their own custom IndyCars that reflect some of their own design constants.

    Either way, while I am disappointed that Lola and Swift were not brought in as chassis – ahem, “safety cell” – manufacturers, and it bothers me that the league chose something completely different from all of the preview images that we saw, I’m glad that we’re not going to be stuck with a single style of car on track.

    The Lola was a beautiful car and will probably end up on track in some form or another, maybe in Europe. It can’t NOT. It was too damn awesome. While the Swift concepts were a rung below on the ladder, the company also brought some brilliant ideas to the table that should not go unnoticed. I hope both companies develop aero kits for 2012.

    Then again, I don’t want to see eighteen different aero kits on track. My vision for the league in 2012 was three different chassis and four engine manufacturers… That number has always seemed to work for me.

  12. George,

    I guess I missed the Dallara and Lola comments on sole source.

    But there’s this piece of dialogue with Tony Purnell from yesterday’s Q and A:

    “Q: Three questions, one for Tony and one for the other Tony and one for Brian.

    Tony, you worked for Lola, they gave a dynamite presentation from all reports. Everybody is kind of thinking is there a reason that you couldn’t have a Lola IndyCar cell and a Dallara? Was there a key reason they couldn’t both build them?

    PURNELL: Yes, the reason is commercial reality. We would love to have everybody involved. The economic times as what they are, a single supplier making as many standard parts as possible produces a dramatic cost save.

    So we were caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, and we decided to take that adversity and turn it around and come up with something with real innovation to try and get everybody possible involved in this series that we could. So, OK, we could only choose one Safety Cell manufacturer. You know, designing a chassis is a complex business, manufacturing it you need to be in tune with the designers. But heck, we’ve given every opportunity for anybody with the expertise to get involved in this series. And I meant what I said: They’re welcome. ”

    I think that speaks for itself.

    I read Cavin daily, and I don’t remember him citing anything from D or L which said they didn’t need to be sole supplier, so I took his comments about the two of them with a large grain of salt.

  13. I was disappointed. But if I separate emotion and logic, I fully support the logic behind their decisions. As an experienced cost accountant in manufacturing (though a mediocre one at best), the economic reality of all this is very clear. This is a four year deal and I still have faith the current leadership wants what we want and will do their best to give it us as the financial state of the league, teams, manufacturers, and sport allows. Its all light-years ahead of where we were a year or two ago.

  14. I like it. I like it a lot.

  15. […] Mixed feelings from George at OilPressure; […]

  16. They made me believe that allowing multiple chassis was economically impossible, so I wasn’t shocked by that. Neither was I when they chose Dallara and not Lola or Swift. But the Lola was gorgeous, and they let it go. I don’t like current’s nose, but the meltdown proposal shown this week is too strange. I’m not sure that alternative bodies will make it look good. It’s not a tragedy, I welcome different looks and a road/street-built model. But I was praying for Lola and they let me down.

  17. I’m going to put a different spin here on the direction of Indycar. IMO, IndyCar is going a wrong direction adding these road courses. Already more than half the races now are road courses. I think it’s just bad to try to turn Indycar into Formula 1 (American racing into European Racing), which as far as I’m concerned is boring as hell. American racing is ovals where the cars are going 200 + mph trying to out do each other on the track and where the viewer can see the whole race instead of a car at a time on road courses where a car can hardly ever pass another car. There needs to be more ovals, longer races and more cars. Get rid of or reduce the little 200 mile sprints. Sounds a little like Nascar? You bet. They know what makes a good race and what people watch. Indycar needs to figure that out and it’s going to take more than new cars.

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