Keep A Promise To The Fans

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One story that sort of got overlooked in the wake of the great race we got to watch at Texas Motor Speedway last Saturday night, was the story broken by Robin Miller on aero-kits. Apparently, the owners have banded together and said they want to not have the aero-kits that were originally promised for this year, then postponed until 2013.

Their argument is that they cannot afford them. More specifically, their concern is that since the new DW12 came in costing as much as 65% more than promised – they fear much the same for the aero-kits. This concern is justified. Why Dallara was not held to their original cost projection is beyond me. Then again, Lotus was not held accountable for their inability to produce enough engines and it threw the entire balance of engine supply way out of kilter. Why should we expect a chassis manufacturer to abide by the rules, if an engine manufacturer doesn’t have to?

But this rant is not about Dallara. This is about the owners and INDYCAR not living up to promises made to the fans a couple of years ago. Fans made it abundantly clear in the spring and summer of 2010, when INDYCAR courted chassis manufacturers to make bids to build a way overdue new car for the series, that they were tired of following a spec series and wanted to see diversity in the cars on the track. Many fans favored the various designs presented by Swift. Others liked the concept drawings that BAT offered. My personal favorite was the design by Lola, partly because it offered a tub design that would be utilized in the Firestone Indy Lights series.

I think it’s safe to say that most fans were not thrilled when Dallara won the bid as the exclusive chassis provider for the series. They had not provided a very thrilling or racy car in the past – what made us fans think this one would be different? Although I knew it was probably cost prohibitive, I was hoping that at least two providers would be chosen – just to give teams a choice and to provide some different looks throughout the grid. The fans like me who wanted diversity were told that Dallara was chosen with the idea that separate companies would design and build aero-kits that would allow different wings, noses and sidepods to be hung onto the common tub and give different looks and handling characteristics to various cars.

That seemed like a workable compromise to those that wanted a combination of BAT, Swift or Lola. Although the DeltaWing design was rejected, its concept of giving designers room to play was applied to the new Dallara. Although many fans weren’t happy that Dallara represented the status quo, we were told that there was the potential to have many different looking car designs on the grid for St. Petersburg in 2012.

Heading into the Centennial Celebration last May, the owners announced that they wanted to delay the aero-kits until 2013. It put a damper on what was supposed to begin a celebratory time for our sport. Their reasoning was that it was going to be too much of a financial burden to buy new cars, negotiate new engine leases and purchase up to two aero-kits as allowed by the rules. The logic used by many owners was that it would give fans something new to look forward to for 2013. OK, we fans didn’t necessarily like that but we were willing to deal with it – especially since we really had no say-so in the matter.

Now, just a little more than a year later the owners have banded together and said they don’t want the aero-kits for 2013. This time, they haven’t even bothered with the charade of tabling them for another year – they just don’t want them. Period. Some of the owners say they just don’t see the need for them, because the DW12 seems to race just fine. It’s hard to argue with that statement – the last four races have produced four different winners from three different teams. Six out of the seven races that the new car has raced have been exciting, with Belle Isle being the only snoozer in the mix.

But the owners seem to be forgetting a couple of things here. First of all, unlike CART and Champ Car – the owners don’t make that call. They can boast about solidarity and all refuse to buy the aero-kits, but they don’t have the power to say that the series can’t make them available. Secondly, and in my opinion most importantly, is that when the owners say they see no need for these kits, they are forgetting one key element here – the fans were promised aero-kits and most fans still want them.

The previous leadership regime with the series had a very arrogant relationship with the fans, as if fans were nothing more than a necessary evil of the sport. Randy Bernard and the current regime have never lost site of the fact that without the fans, there is no series. That is why Bernard has the fans support, while his support with the owners has eroded – he actually listens to the fans. What a unique concept!

I’m not sure how much of this whole thing is truly about holding down costs or if this is yet another powerplay by the owners. I think Randy Bernard needs to stand his ground here. He listened to the owners a year ago and postponed the aero-kits to 2013. But he needs appease the fans to hold the owners to their word on the promise for aero-kits for next year. One reader (redcar) e-mailed me last week with a good solution – he suggested a compromise where the series limits each team to choose only one kit for the season. If they make the wrong choice, they need to live with it for the season. They would still have the choice to run the current configuration of the DW12 or their chosen kit. Or, they would have the choice to not purchase a kit at all.

The owners seem unified for now in their resolve to not purchase aero-kits. That sounds great in theory, but if a team looks at an aero-kit and thinks they can gain even a slight edge over everyone else – I’m not naïve enough to think they would split ranks in a heartbeat. Deep down, the owners know that and that’s why they don’t want them to even be available.

This is not a cheap sport. If an owner cringes every time a car sustains even slight damage, they probably don’t need to be in it. When new cars were available every year to teams, not every team bought them. Many times, the older cars were found to be faster and better than the newer cars. The teams with the smaller budgets found themselves in a better spot than they expected going into the season. That’s the way it goes in racing – you race with what you’ve got.

If a manufacturer wants to design an aero-kit that they think will be an improvement over the current DW12 configuration, let them try. There will be no guarantee that anyone will buy it. That’s sort of the way it goes in business. Create something desirable and there will be a demand for it. Build something mediocre and few, if any, will want it. When INDYCAR granted exclusive rights to Dallara to build the new chassis, there was no real incentive for them to build something great. Their customer base was already guaranteed. But with no competitive edge at stake, they still produced a car that costs significantly more than promised. Because of that, we fans are the ones that ultimately won’t get what we want. Something about that just doesn’t add up.

George Phillips

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12 Responses to “Keep A Promise To The Fans”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Great race the other night, however, with only one chassis and the essential failure on Lotus’ part, I think it is fast becoming a spec. series (again)… The thing is, the owners now have a known quantity. The teams do not want to spend another big chunk of money and have to run an entire new series of tests to shake things out, (a frequently time consuming and expensive process in itself) while rolling the dice on which aero kit will work best. Keeping that in mind, and understanding that making the wrong choice could upset sponsors and their willingness to continue paying the bills is probably another factor. I am not taking sides, I am just speculating..

  2. Let’s see if we keep our promise and show up at Milwaukee.

    Judging by the tickets still available, we won’t.

  3. Working with owners and listening to drivers = good things. Letting owners and drivers run the series = bad thing.

    Allowing Dallara to exceed price points = bad thing. Breaking promises to fans = bad thing.

    This series needs to start swimming instead of just keeping it’s head above water. At the top of a long list of improvements is aero kits, for many reasons including activation, recognition, publicity, competition etc. Maybe the owners are hoping Tony George will buy the aero kits for them.

  4. I agree George. Make aero kits available and let’s see how it takes off. My money is on Penske and Ganassi getting into it.

  5. The new cars and aero kits are too expensive? I don’t buy that excuse from this brood of vipers we call owners. I’ll be majorly disappointed if the kits are scrapped. Make ‘em available, and see if the owners use them. No one is suggesting putting a gun to their head to make them buy them. I have a feeling some owners will take a chance to try to gain an edge on the competition. Isn’t that what racing is about?

  6. billytheskink Says:

    When the owners take these votes, they would do well to draft and release a statement outlining their position. Specifically, I’d like to see them address the whole “optional” aspect of the aero kits, and why they seem to be interpreting that differently than the fans. Anything more than the current Robin Miller piece where anonymous owner X says “they’ll cost too much and the racing has been good without them” would be welcome.

    There’s a reason that Dan Gurney’s White Paper was more than a handful of quotes from Gurney, Penske, and Patrick printed in a National Speed Sport News column.
    (This is simply an example of racing team owners making a cohesive official statement about their positions, not an attempt to make a point about either open-wheel split)

    Fans familiar with American open-wheel’s history understandably do not trust the sport’s owners. Their failure or disinterest in communicating with fans exacerbates this lack of trust.

  7. Carburetor Says:

    Great post George; I concur with your position. I get the distinct feeling from Bernard however, that he his leaning toward siding with the owner’s on this one. Whether he truly believes this is good for the series, or he is appeasing the owners I am not sure.

    More and more I get the feeling this series is devolving back into a spec and special interest series. What I mean by special interest is that it exists mainly for the benefit of ‘the few’–in this case the team owners. I do not pretend to be an insider, or know all the intricacies of costs, technology, etc., but I believe the main motivation behind teams even getting involved in this series is 80% the Indy 500 and the prestige/money to be made if someone should win it; and 20% just the love of racing and competition (the rest of the schedule). I do not get the sense that the owners truly give a rip about the fans. They may say that they do when interviewed on a broadcast for 10 seconds, but I seriously doubt they really care.

    Though I would love to see variety in the cars (I loved the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s when there seemed to be genuine competition in getting an edge through design), and would love to see new aero kits deployed, I wonder if the ‘casual’ fan really cares. If they did, I don’t think NASCAR would be as popular, since their cars are all the same (except for the paint schemes-which I do believe have a strong appeal to kids). This aero kit variety may just matter to those of us that are dedicated fans of the sport.

    I think they should go ahead and let someone develop alternative kits. As you say, they don’t have to buy them. My guess though, is if someone thought they’d have even the slightest advantage in using an alternative kit, and they might win that Indy 500, they’d be all over it. Then one has to wonder if the team owners are not following the lead of owners in the NBA, MLB, and NFL–who routinely decry the big, outrageous contracts given to players, then turn right around and hand out even bigger contracts when they have the chance to sign the “star”….

    • Bernard is appeasing (my opinion) the owners. He wanted aero kits from the get-go (he may not be the father but he was just outside the tent when the new car was conceived) and he just recently announced he had lined up five companies ready to make them. Now–suddenly–doesn’t want to compromise the super-awesome-raceability of the DW? I’ve supported Randy Bernard from the beginning, but it’s starting to seem like he’s third in line after the Hulman-George family and the Team Owners.

  8. I still do not understand how people could think Belle Isle was boring.

    • billytheskink Says:

      I’ve never attended a bad race, but I’ve seen a few on television.

      I say this in all sincerity. I have thoroughly enjoyed pretty much every race I have ever been to, but I’m willing to bet that, for some of them, my enjoyment was not always shared by the television audience. The 1998 Grand Prix of Houston and the 2012 spring NASCAR race at Texas come to mind.

      A lack of passing for the lead, Viso maintaining his position after totally losing grip on several occaisions, and a two-hour delay for track disintegration likely hurt the television audience’s opinion of the race far more than they did for those in attendance.

  9. Now, on the flip side, not following through with the promised race in China is fine in my book. I can live with that sort of broken promise.

    Honestly, if they put half the effort into _______ (insert U.S. track here) that they put into trying to pull off this boondoggle in China, they wouldn’t have to worry about getting 16 races onto the schedule.

  10. Couldn’t agree with you more. Great article.

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