IndyCar Should Listen To Fans On Aero-Kits
Have you watched any NASCAR races this season? Chances are that even if you are not a stock car fan you have; to either cheer on former IndyCar driver Danica Patrick, or to watch her in hopes she fails – depending which side of the fence you sit on. But this is not a post about Danica. This is about the new Gen 6 car that NASCAR introduced this season – or more specifically, the different appearances of each manufacturer.
After three races, the raciness (is that a word or something concocted by a word-butcher?) of the Gen 6 car is still a matter of debate. One thing that is not in question is the appeal of three distinctively different looking cars out on the track. The manufacturers like it, but more importantly – the fans love it.
Fans overwhelmingly rejected the appearance of the Car of Tomorrow (COT) that ran in the Sprint Cup Series from 2007 through last season. It was big and bulky in appearance and looked nothing like any car on the street. Worst yet, whether it was a Chevy, Ford, Toyota or Dodge – they were identical except for decals that were a failed attempt to give each manufacturer some identity.
Dodge has now left the series. The new Gen 6 car of the remaining three manufacturers is the same car underneath, but the sheet metal or skin of each three cars is decidedly different – both in aerodynamics and appearance. The new car doesn’t seem to race very well, but that does not seem to be a sheet metal issue. No manufacturer seems to have an aerodynamic advantage over the other. Regardless, of the on-track performance – everyone loves the diversity of cars on the grid.
This goes back to what is becoming a tired argument in the IZOD IndyCar Series – whether or not aero-kits should be introduced for use on the very racy DW12. The construction rights to the new IndyCar were announced in the summer of 2010. Many fans were upset that the same manufacturer for years, Dallara, was chosen over other designs from different manufacturers. Many were hoping that at least two manufacturers would be chosen so that the series would no longer be considered a “spec” series. Many fans felt that other designers such as Swift and Lola offered fresher and more innovative ideas than what Dallara did.
When it was announced that Dallara would again be the sole provider to the series, officials with INDYCAR or Dallara probably anticipated some fan backlash. In a pre-emptive move, they announced that different aero-kits designed by different manufacturing or engineering firms would be allowed. These aero-kits would change the nose, rear wing and sidepod appearance of the chassis, while leaving the tub unchanged. The rules would give teams the option to choose two separate aero-kits to use each season. With the possibility of several different aero-kits being made available, this meant that there would be several different looking body styles on the grid each race weekend.
Dallara had their own aero-kits – one for speedway configuration with the bulbous sidepods we are all familiar with, and one for road courses which had a completely different look around the rear wheels. This seemed like an acceptable compromise with Dallara remaining the only chassis provider.
What sounds great in theory sometimes never gets to see light of day. That goes for the aero-kits. Halfway through the 2011 season, the owners decided that the introduction of aero-kits should be moved back to the 2013 season, in order to offset the already high cost of bringing a new chassis onboard for 2012. KV Racing Technology co-owner Jimmy Vasser said it would give fans something new to look forward to in 2013. Somewhere in there, Dallara also lost the sidepods for the road courses and kept the not-so-attractive bulb-looking sidepods for all races.
Fans grumbled. Then-CEO Randy Bernard heard the grumblings, but eventually relented to the owners wishes. When Bernard tried to hold owners true to their word for 2013 and adhere to the fan’s wishes, it probably was one of the factors that led to his demise and ultimate dismissal. As it stands now, aero-kits seem about as likely to happen as allowing teams to build their own chassis as Penske and some other teams did up through the nineties.
Curt Cavin says that even hardcore fans in the nineties couldn’t tell a difference between a Lola, Reynard, Penske, Swift, Galmer or Truesport. I disagree. I don’t consider myself to have such a discriminating eye for detail, but if you couldn’t tell the difference between those cars at a glance – then you probably can’t differentiate between a station wagon and an SUV.
Before you stat thinking I’m one of the old curmudgeons that laments the demise of the roadster and longs for the days when turbines and sidecars were allowed – I understand that skyrocketing budgets and the need for cost-containment leaves those days in the past. But a spec series leaves a lot of people cold. It’s good that we now have two engine manufactures instead of one, but when the cars look identical, most casual fans don’t pay attention to what’s under the cowling. Like it or not, it’s the casual fan that the series should be trying to appeal to. If they see a lot of cars in the paddock and on the track that look decidedly different from each other – that spices things up, and that’s good for business.
Most fans have made it decidedly clear that they want aero-kits. They wanted them last year, they wanted them this year. Now we’re hoping against hope that we’ll just see them…sometime. Randy Bernard listened to the fans, apparently to a fault. It cost him his job. So far, it sounds like fans are very non-trusting of Mark Miles and the new board. I’m willing to give them a chance to show me that they are willing to listen to fans instead of holding them in contempt – as the pre-Bernard administration did. The Tony George administration seemed to operate under the arrogant philosophy that racing would be a great business if we didn’t have to deal with all of these fans.
With the question of aero-kits, the new administration has a great opportunity to show fans that they are considered top priority – as it should be. NASCAR listened to their fans and manufacturers and followed through. I rarely think that the IZOD IndyCar Series should do something just because NASCAR does it. But in the case of listening to fan’s wishes, the new INDYCAR administration would be wise to learn a lesson from their far more popular counterparts.
On another Note: Some were probably hoping it was gone for good, but I’m happy to announce that One Take Only, the unscripted, unrehearsed and uncut videoblog of Oilpressure.com, is back! Check it out tomorrow – Tue Mar 12, as John and I return to the back porch to discuss the upcoming season along with many other topics.