The Chassis I Would Pick
It’s more than a little pretentious and presumptuous of me to even discuss what chassis I would pick for the 2012 Izod IndyCar Series. It’s not as if it really matters what I think, but it’s my site so I guess it’s my prerogative. I swore to myself that I would leave the great chassis debate alone for a few days. How much more was there to say? There had been so much bloviating about the virtues and evils of each chassis; my brain had become tired of the whole discussion. If I had grown weary of it, I was pretty sure most others had too. Then Lola released the pictures of their proposed chassis, and everything started over again. At least, now we knew that we had everything in hand to complete the discussion. Well…almost everything. I think everyone, myself included, would like a more concrete explanation of the entire DeltaWing concept and how it can be utilized by other manufacturers.
Based strictly on the looks of the four concepts that have been released over the last ten days or so, I don’t think my taste coincides with most people. While even most supporters of the DeltaWing concept believe the car we saw last week to be completely hideous, opinions seem mixed on most of the other cars we saw. It seems most people are fans of the Swift chassis. I don’t put myself in that camp.
I know I’m older and more conservative than most. There are some things I liked about the Swift, but I can’t get past the partially exposed engine. I’m not completely married to the past, though. When the designers started completely covering the engines with the cowling in the late seventies and early eighties, I thought it made the cars look so much sleeker. I’m certainly no aero dynamist, but that semi-exposed engine treatment does not look streamlined at all.
The three Dallara concepts were panned by most, but I think it is because they had the name Dallara attached to them. I really thought the first Dallara concept was a much better looking car than the current Dallara, but it looked too much like a CART chassis from the nineties for most people’s tastes. The second Dallara was attractive also and it seemed like a nice evolution. I think had it been labeled a Swift, Reynard or Panoz it would have been better received, but the name Dallara has gotten a well-received bad name among fans and team owners. I thought the red concept from Dallara looked like a bad Roy Hobbson leisure suit, until I saw the DeltaWing. Suddenly it looked like a fashionably safe choice.
But if I had to choose ONE chassis manufacturer for the 2012 Izod IndyCar chassis, my choice would be Lola. I know most people don’t agree with me but hear me out. I don’t think it is the best looking or sexiest car design submitted, but there are other components to it that appeal to me. Like DeltaWing and Dallara, Lola has pledged to build the car in central Indiana. Swift is based in California and apparently plans to build the car on the west coast. I think it’s important for the chassis manufacturer to be near where most of the teams are located.
The Lola also seems to offer a variety of subtle and not so subtle aerodynamic choices, putting some decisions back in the hands of the teams and engineers. But the most unique part of the Lola package, which I think pushes the deal to the top, is making the tub and nose inter-changeable for running in both the Firestone Indy Lights and the Izod IndyCar Series. This is big for several reasons. It will make the Firestone Indy Lights Series more relevant than ever and it will become a true training ground for the top series. Making the FIL car look and sound like the IICS car should help promote the series among casual fans. Most casual fans in NASCAR cannot tell the difference between a Nationwide car and a Sprint Cup car, which probably helps the Nationwide series. I think this same logic could transfer to the IRL.
It will also make it easier and cheaper for aspiring FIL teams to move up to the IICS as well. Not lost in all of this is the ability to make it easier to field cars for the Indianapolis 500, just in the odd chance that filling it is a challenge some years.
Lola is a company with a rich tradition of building different types of racing cars. Their connection to the Indianapolis 500 dates back to 1965 when Al Unser drove a Lola in his rookie year as a teammate to AJ Foyt who was driving a Lotus. Unser finished ninth in the Lola’s debut. The following year, Graham Hill drove his Lola to Victory Lane in the crash marred 1966 Indy 500. Although Lola was by far the dominant chassis in the early nineties, it won only once at Indy in that time frame when Arie Luyendyk was a surprise winner in 1990. In other Indy appearances, it was upstaged by the Penske chassis or the obscure Galmer in 1992. Then when The Reynard surfaced, Lola was loosing its stronghold on the CART series. This also happened to be the time that Bruce Ashmore left Lola as Chief Designer (in 1993) and was replaced ironically by Ben Bowlby who has now penned the DeltaWing concept.
Bowlby oversaw some of the low points in Lola’s open-wheel history. His controversial 1997 design was disastrous, as teams struggled to get a grip on the setup. This also coincided with Lola’s failed attempt at Formula One and ultimately financial disaster. The company went into receivership and the Lola name was salvaged when Martin Birrane acquired the company in 1998. Their fortunes turned around at the beginning of this century when Bowlby designed a new Lola and the company regained its place atop CART/Champ Car until the Panoz DP-01 replaced the Lola for the 2007 season.
Am I guilty of reaching to the recent past by leaning towards the Lola? Perhaps, but I also like the concept of utilizing the same chassis for both the Firestone Indy Lights and the Izod IndyCar Series. To me, that is a point that sets this concept apart from the rest. So if it were up to me to pick ONLY one chassis, and I thank God that it is not – I would pick the Lola. I pity the poor soul who has to pick one and then thanks the other companies for their time.
Of course, I’m like most fans that clamor for multiple chassis. I know the desired business model supposedly doesn’t allow for that, but I hope against hope that someone can come up with a solution where it is financially feasible. Those that claim to understand the full concept behind the DeltaWing swear that that is the main advantage. If it is, I’m willing to take a closer look at it…if only it weren’t so ugly.