Letting The Air Out Of The Balloon
Well, the car owners in the IZOD IndyCar Series found a quick way to squelch all of the euphoria that surrounded the beginning of the Month of May. While we have all been giddy with visions of more than forty drivers trying to squeeze into a thirty-three car field, Tom Carnegie Pole Day and everything that goes with the Centennial Celebration of the Indianapolis 500 – the car owners decided let all of the air out of the balloon.
In case you haven’t heard, this past Saturday in Brazil – the owners voted to reject the aero-kits that were to accompany the new chassis in 2012. They have decided it is best (read: cheaper) for everyone to run the Dallara aero-kit that will come with the new safety-cell tub to be built by Dallara. If the owners have their way, any hopes that fans had of seeing cars that look different from one another – well, you can just forget about that.
We fans were told last July, that this concept was going to be the best of both worlds. There would be only one chassis, but manufacturers would be given the opportunity to make aero-kits for the basic tubs, which would alter the appearance of the front and rear wings as well as the sidepods – thereby altering performance as well. There would be a speedway and road course configuration for each kit. The cost could not exceed $70,000 per kit and each team would be limited to only two aero-kits per season.
When compared to an IndyCar team’s total budget, $70,000 is nothing. But suddenly, the owners have decided that they just can’t bear the cost for the aero-kits. That’s code-speak for “we’re afraid we might pick the wrong one” or “what if we run the Chevy engine, but the Chevy aero-kit that they’re making us run is a sled?”
There is more at stake here than different looking race cars. This could be Randy Bernard’s defining moment as CEO of INDYCAR. Apparently, some of the old guard owners think that this is CART where the owners ran the show. If an acting commissioner butted heads with the owners, they soon became an ex-commissioner. INDYCAR has no commissioner. Randy Bernard is the CEO and runs this show. How he handles this situation could decide his long-term effectiveness as head of the series.
On the debut of INDYCAR Open Wheel Weekly on Versus (which was excellent, by the way), Robin Miller told Randy that he would wish he was surrounded by a herd of PBR bulls, rather than the snakes that make up the group of car owners. He may be right. This has all the signs of a pure and simple power play. A lot of the owners are still upset that the “Lucky Dog” rule was rescinded. The owners wanted it, but Randy Bernard listened to the fans who made it obvious they didn’t want it. Some feathers were ruffled when Randy reversed course.
Randy Bernard has made it a cornerstone of his time at INDYCAR to listen to the fans. He doesn’t do this to win a popularity contest, nor has he done everything that fans want. He listens to fans. He listens to the owners. But ultimately, he bases all of his decisions on what is in the best interest of INDYCAR. So far, he has done a good job in preventing himself from being tugged away from that goal.
I’m sure the owners have come up with very compelling arguments as to why the aero-kits should be put on the back burner. Jimmy Vasser has said that it will give the fans something new to look forward to in 2013. I’m so glad he has our interests at heart.
Well, here’s an argument from one fan’s perspective – me. I am sick and tired of watching every team run a nine-year old car that was ugly even when it was introduced. Age hasn’t helped it. When the league first adapted it’s new specs in 1997, they approved two chassis – G-Force (which eventually evolved into the Panoz) and Dallara. At that same time, CART had five different chassis – Lola, Reynard, Penske, Swift and Eagle. Only two chassis for the IRL felt very restrictive. Little did we know that those days would later appear to be very free.
The Panoz was last seen in one race in 2007 – the Indianapolis 500. Since then, IndyCar racing has been the exclusive domain of Dallara. This is the fourth straight season where every single car on the grid is the same chassis and engine. Every car looks the same. Every car sounds the same. The series based around the Indianapolis 500 – which earned its reputation on innovation – has devolved into a spec series in the truest sense.
When Roger Penske introduced his pushrod Mercedes engine just before the 1994 Indianapolis 500, he faced a lot of criticism. He responded by saying he has no desire to race in a spec series. Now, that’s exactly what he’s been doing for years.
The question I have is, who is really behind this change of heart? Is it the owners themselves? Is it Dallara? Is it one or more of the engine manufacturers that had initially said they wanted to build aero-kits? If that’s the case, it’s why I thought it was a bad idea in the first place to have engine manufacturers build the kits. Companies that have no competing interests with whatever is underneath the cowling should build them. If the Honda aero-kit is winning every race, would Chevy be willing to share the spotlight with them? I don’t think so.
At one time, there were rumors that Boeing might design am aero-kit. I always thought that the companies that lost out in their bid to provide the chassis should offer kits. A Lola-Honda pairing would sound good, or perhaps a Swift-Lotus.
Whatever the case, I believe that Randy Bernard wants the aero-kits in 2012. That has been the plan since last July, and it looks bad to change directions now – especially in the wake of several other directional changes in the last few months. It’s also obvious the owners do not want them in 2012. They may not want them at all – ever.
If that’s the way they feel, no one is forcing them to buy any additional aero-kits. Let them stick with the basic standard Dallara kit. My car has a sunroof. No one forced me to get a car with a sunroof. It was my choice. I could have saved a lot of money and chosen the standard model. That too, would have been my choice. If there is a company out there that wants to make a compatible aero-kit, the owners should have the choice whether to buy it and use it. If a team is that budget conscious, they don’t need to be racing at this level.
If Randy Bernard truly feels that it would be in the best interest of INDYCAR to make the aero-kits available in 2012, he should implement it. If teams threaten to walk, so be it. According to Randy, there are many teams in other series that are looking to move to INDYCAR. If that’s the case, it’s better to have teams that want to move forward, rather than teams that want to stick with a status quo model that hasn’t shown much success lately. Running one identical car has produced abysmal ratings and has been almost fatal to the series the last few years. Why would the owners think that’s the better way to go? It’s mind-boggling.
Randy Bernard has not asked my advice, but I’m giving it anyway: Stand your ground. You are not a commissioner that answers to the owners. You are the CEO and you tell them what to do. If they don’t like it, they’re free to leave. But if they want to race at the Indianapolis 500, they will have to play by your rules. If you bend on this, you’ll never be on solid footing again.
Randy Bernard has done so much to right the wrongs that had been done in the fifteen years prior to his arrival. Shortly after he started fourteen months ago, I looked at him as sort of a last-ditch effort to save this struggling series. Just when he seems to have things headed in the right direction, the owners feel the need to exert their authority.
This is what Randy was talking about when he spoke of taking two steps forward and one step back. If the owners get their way on this aero-kit issue, I see this as going backwards for miles.