The Owners Won, After All
Lost in all the hoopla this past weekend was confirmation that the aero kits have been officially delayed until 2013. This wasn’t a huge surprise, since the owners voted to delay the kits back in early May – thereby dampening the euphoria we all felt heading into the magical month. Sunday morning, it became official.
I know many have grown numb and apathetic to the whole idea. Jimmy Vasser reasoned that it would give fans something to look forward to in 2013 after getting new cars and engines in 2012. I say baloney to that notion.
We fans have been sitting patiently since 2003 without anything new on the track to look at. Those of us who followed CART in the early to mid-nineties grew accustomed to several chassis manufacturers providing new designs on an annual basis. A 1993 Lola looked way different from a 1992 Lola, which was easy to tell from a Galmer or a 1992 Penske. The 1994 Lola varied greatly from the 1993 model. It was also vastly different from the 1994 Reynard or Penske; which neither of them looked much alike. You get the idea. Variety flourished.
Less than ten years later, the current car was launched. We had no idea that we were looking nine years into the future with that car. Since 2006, every car that has raced in the IZOD IndyCar Series (save for one Panoz in the Indianapolis 500) has been a Dallara-Honda. With the Tony George/Brian Barnhart regime, we wondered if these cars would be in use forever.
Enter Randy Bernard in 2010. He listened to the fans screaming for something new. He formed the ICONIC committee that listened to proposals from DeltaWing, Swift, Lola, BAT and oh yes, Dallara. Many of us were hoping that Swift, Lola and/or BAT would be selected. DeltaWing was way too crazy looking to be accepted by many of us.
Secretly, many wanted Dallara to be shut out for a variety of reasons. Some felt that Brian Barnhart had gotten just a little too cozy with the Italian chassis manufacturer. Owners wondered why a Dallara in 2010 cost the same as a Dallara in 2003. Very little, if any, development had gone into the old design. There was no incentive for Dallara to design a faster car because it would only compete against itself. The entire series had grown stagnant over the years. There was no innovation, no competition among manufacturers and consequently no excitement. The bigger teams had the resources to massage what little they could get out of the same car over the years. The racing had become bland, yet Tony George and Brian Barnhart assured us for years that they knew more than we did and we would just have to like it.
Randy Bernard gave us hope that the arrogance was gone out of the IndyCar hierarchy. He listened to what the fans were saying and assembled this “Harvard of Racing” to listen to the various proposals from the chassis manufacturers. They announced their decision on July 14, 2010.
To our dismay, Dallara walked away with the whole thing. The remaining four suitors were told “thanks for playing” and sent home. Many wondered if the deck had been stacked the whole time, just to give Dallara some new design ideas to pilfer. The one consolation prize that was offered to the fans was the idea that Dallara would build a tub called a safety cell. Various companies would design a variety of aero kits comprised of front and rear wings, noses and sidepods that would all offer different looks and aerodynamic advantages. We were placated with the thought of many different looking cars on any given track. Companies such as Boeing, Lotus, Penske and even Lola would be designing these kits in order to compete on track. Dallara would offer one as well that would come with the tub – sort of standard equipment, if you will. Even though the tub would be by Dallara, the cars would look and perform vastly different.
It was something we could live with, especially after looking at the same car since 2003. When Chevrolet and Lotus announced their plans to join Honda as engine manufacturers for the new turbo V-6, things really got exciting. By January, we were all speculating on who would be providing aero kits, even though Lola along with all the other chassis designers made it clear they had no interest in designing aero kits.
Then Chevrolet and Lotus said they would have kits. It was assumed that Honda was going to have a kit, but I’m not sure if I ever heard that confirmed. Suddenly, the politics of racing entered the fray. Everyone knows that Honda would never agree for a team to run a Honda engine along with a Chevy aero kit. Such pairings are just not done. A Boeing kit would be fine with Honda, but not Chevy…or Lotus. But all we heard was that the new engine manufacturers would be providing kits. Things were suddenly getting murky.
At São Paulo in May, the owners made it clear that they wanted to delay the aero kits for 2012 to save costs and run just the standard Dallara kit. Randy Bernard voiced his opposition to the owner’s ideas. Suddenly, we remembered names like Bill Stokkan, Andrew Craig and Craig Pook – men who served their time as CART commissioners, tried to stand up to the owners and quickly found themselves to be ex-commissioners. Randy Bernard had his vision. He had made a promise to the fans that the owners were threatening to break. From what we were told on Sunday, the owners got their wish.
Some will say Randy Bernard caved. Others will reason that cooler heads prevailed. I’m not sure what I believe. I know that we fans were promised one thing in July 2010, and that has been taken away, er…postponed for 2012. I also know that the IZOD IndyCar Series is far better off since Randy Bernard took the helm. It now has a direction, a set of goals and a purpose that it lacked with the previous regime. It wouldn’t surprise me if Randy Bernard took a hike after this season. He has raised a lot of eyebrows in the corporate and sporting worlds. He has proven himself to be quite a capable leader and I’m sure he could do without a bunch of egocentric owners trying to reclaim control. The concept of owners calling the shots failed with CART. Why do they think it should work now?
The aero kits will cost $70,000 each. I don’t like trying to tell other people how to spend their money, but in the grand scheme of things – $70,000 is nothing. Yes, everyone is already forced to buy new equipment for next year, but they haven’t had to for nine years. If $70,000 prevents a team from fielding a car, they don’t belong on the grid to begin with.
One more thing is certain. Car count will be down next year, whether there are aero kits or not. The owners should have stuck with the deal that was presented to the fans last summer. Instead, it looks like we were sold a bill of goods. Now we get to see identical cars again next year. They will all look the same, drive the same and race the same. The only difference will be the engine – unless the owners decide to do away with that plan too.