The Captain Weighs In
A little over a month ago, I posed the question as to why so many of the owners had been so noticeably silent on their opinion of the DeltaWing concept. Other than Chip Ganassi, Kevin Kalkhoven and John Barnes who were extremely vocal in their support of the project, most of the owners were strangely quiet – especially Roger Penske – as they refrained from sharing their opinions.
Well, The Captain has spoken. During the extended race weekend in St. Petersburg, Roger Penske weighed in with his take on the 2012 chassis proposals. The verdict was not great for the DeltaWing concept, nor was it good for proponents of the Lola, Dallara, Swift or BAT. In fact, if you believe in the influence of one man whom I consider to be one of the most powerful individuals in all of motorsports – it may actually improve the chances of the DeltaWing becoming reality one of these days since it would give them more time to develop the controversial concept.
Penske favors change over time rather than making wholesale changes in 2012. He believes the Izod IndyCar Series would be better served to introduce new changes to the current Dallara chassis and have Dallara develop an affordable update kit to improve the performance as well as the appearance of the present car.
The fear is that the health of the smaller teams would be compromised at this point in the current economic climate, if everyone were forced to incur the cost of a new chassis. Penske says that it created no new excitement when NASCAR went to a new car a few years ago, after running the same car for ages. He concluded by saying that a new chassis would not bring fifty thousand new fans to the track and that they should concentrate on promoting the drivers, teams and sponsors at this time.
Well, this puts a whole new spin on things. While his IICS team has only won one championship since it migrated from CART in 2002, compared to the three that Target Chip Ganassi has won in that time – Roger Penske still carries more influence than any other owner in the paddock. A lot of the owners will not agree with a lot that he says, but when he speaks out on an issue – it is generally hard to argue against him or his track record.
As much as all of us have wanted to see new cars in the series for the past several years, it could be that it just isn’t the prudent thing to do. Team Penske can certainly afford new cars. So can Ganassi’s team and a few others. But many teams on the lower end of the scale are struggling to stretch their budgets to make it through the end of 2010 – with cars they have owned since 2003 when this version of the Dallara made its debut. Roger Penske has no interest in racing against six other new cars while all the others have fallen by the wayside, simply because the league decided the best way to get new fans was to unveil a new, sexy car.
Credit new CEO Randy Bernard with forming a task force to recommend what is best for the entire league – not just a select few teams. These are strange times that most of us have not seen in our lifetime. Families and businesses are having to sacrifice and make decisions that ten years ago seemed unthinkable. This goes for sports entities as well. When this version of the Dallara hit the track in 2003, no one would have guessed that it would still be running in 2011…or possibly later.
Even the most optimistic fan will admit that things have gotten stale on the track with the Izod IndyCar Series. The cars and engines running today are identical to every car that ran in 2006 – with the exception of a Panoz running at a few road courses in 2006 and its final appearance at Indy in 2007. While CART of the nineties changed its equipment every single year, the IRL built its model on two chassis that would provide update kits every year and change its chassis every three years in order to save costs. After 2003, something happened to that part of the business plan.
When Honda became the sole engine supplier beginning in 2006, they made it clear that they preferred competition at that time. That may have changed in the last year or so, but most fans want several engine manufacturers as well as different types of chassis. It’s the variety that made this sport so appealing and I hope that it can get back to that one of these days. But it might be wise to take a step back and realize that it might be best to make the changes slowly and do it the right way, rather than make a lot of radical changes in the name of getting new fans.
There are so many things I would like to have personally. I am probably the only IndyCar blogger out there that doesn’t own a laptop. Every other night, I pound away on my ancient bulky desktop computer. I am dying for a laptop, but given the financially disastrous 2009 that I went through, I know that it just isn’t the wise thing to do at this time. One of these days, I’ll get one – possibly sooner than later if the old desktop finally gives in to the symptoms it is showing.
It’s the same with the IndyCars. I want to see new cars. I don’t know of anyone who says that they want to continue to see those old Dallaras out there. They were ugly when they were new. Now they’re ugly and old. But there are plenty of them out there and unless you’re buying one new – they are very affordable. Keeping these old Dallaras would not be a popular move or a sexy one…but it may be the right one.
As usual, it would be wise to listen to Roger Penske. The man has a history of usually making the right decision at the racetrack and in the boardroom. Danny Sullivan once said, “…when the music stops, Roger always has a chair”. He got where he is by being smart and not making foolish decisions. Our emotional side wants to see new and sexy looking cars at all the tracks right now, not in 2012 – but our practical side tells us that it might be wise to go with new engines first, and keep those old cars around a little longer. Or else a lot of the teams may not be around much longer.