Manufacturer Competition – Part II
From the feedback we received from yesterday’s entry (“Dallara Needs Some Competition”), there were predictably varying opinions on manufacturer participation in the Indianapolis 500. The poll results indicated that there was overwhelming agreement regarding chassis, as every respondent said there should be several chassis manufacturers allowed to participate in the IndyCar Series. Not a single person said that there should be only one car available to the teams. In fact, most poll participants said that there should be no limit to the number of chassis in the series.
On a side note, a housekeeping item…we have received e-mails requesting that those wishing to make a comment, be allowed to do so without setting up an account. We have finally solved the problem. Now everyone can easily comment on our blogs and we hope that you do. We appreciate your patience as we continue to tweak through our growing pains as we celebrate completing our first week in existence.
Anyway, back to the topic…
Where our readers differed, was in the other components. I have come down on the side of having several engine manufacturers be allowed to compete in the series and the Indianapolis 500. Fortunately, the Indy Racing League is planning to have at least three engine manufacturers by 2012. To me, having different engine companies involved fosters competition and therefore encourages the development of technology. This will ultimately lead to speed on the track, and consequently winning results; but also the new technologies transfer over to our passenger cars. Racing is about competition and doing what it takes to gain the unfair advantage, not about leveling the playing field.
Based on feedback, not everyone agrees. Some readers apparently like the idea of a single engine manufacturer for the series. I don’t, but I can understand the merits behind it. It cuts costs, which not only is good in this economy but also makes the IndyCar Series more attractive to potential new teams. Honda has been a fantastic partner to the IRL. They have made it clear that they want competition for the long run. However, Honda has worked with the IRL to make this current arrangement affordable for themselves as well as the teams.
In 2006, when they became the sole engine supplier, Honda offered teams the option to run practice both weeks of practice at Indy or just run the second week at a greatly reduced rate. This gave the smaller teams who had no shot at the pole, a chance to participate at an affordable price. This year, they have added the option of running the first week with a shot at the pole but not running the car at all during the second week. This type of creative thinking proves that Honda is committed to making the series work.
Another move by Honda was to “detune” the engine so that it only produces around 600-650 hp. Since it is the same for all competitors, no one has a horsepower advantage. Without the engines running on the ragged edge, they are not as stressed and blown engines are now a thing of the past. That’s good for the teams and of course, good for the engine company who has to rebuild the engines and suffer the bad PR when their engine goes up in smoke after 22 laps, on worldwide television.
For the fans, it’s not such a great thing. The risk of a blown engine is part of racing. Al Unser won four Indy 500’s by being able to take care of his equipment. He didn’t always have the fastest car, but he was usually there at the end. Mario Andretti, on the other hand was famous for running a car hard until the engine broke. Tom Carnegie spent a career announcing that Mario was slowing down on the backstretch. The expired engine always presented the wild card into racing. How many races have seen someone completely dominate, only to see their hopes dashed due to a faulty power plant? It may not be fair, but it certainly makes for a compelling element of drama.
One area I didn’t touch on yesterday, was choice in tires. On that topic, I have a completely different opinion. There should ALWAYS be only one tire company in any racing series. Tire wars have the potential to have disastrous consequences. Look at what the most recent tire wars did for F1 and NASCAR. Safety is compromised for speed. From what I understand, changing a tire compound is probably the single most effective way to completely change the driving characteristics of a racecar. On our passenger cars, a new set of tires can make a familiar car drive totally different. Imagine what it does when the car is constantly on the edge. Tires are too important to use as a competitive tool. A blown engine can end your race, a blown tire can end…well, it can be bad.
Firestone is to be commended for its dedication to the series over the years. They bring excellent tires to every race and the tires are also extremely safe. They have not had the problems at the Speedway that Goodyear and Michelin have had in recent debacles. During the years of “the split”, they were able to serve both sides without ever upsetting either side or fan base. They were committed to providing good racing with safe tires, while staying away from the politics.
On the other hand, the “red” alternate tires that they introduced this year for road courses, leaves me a little cold. I’m not opposed to the alternates being available. That’s an intriguing idea. What I have a problem with, is the rule that REQUIRES every car to use the tires for at least two laps of green flag racing. That’s where it becomes a gimmick. Let the teams make a choice to use them or not. It throws another variable into the competition.
Now that we have taken care of our “comment” bugs, we’d like to hear more of your thoughts. For the past two days, I think I have made my stance pretty clear on equipment and competition. Safety should always be paramount. Tire wars are more detrimental to the sport than beneficial. But, the IRL should allow and encourage anything that promotes competition and innovation regarding chassis and engines.