Get Aerokits Right The First Time
Last week, the Performance Racing Industry trade show took place in Indianapolis. It was there that Will Phillips, IndyCar vice-president of technology, took part in a Q&A session regarding aerokits for next season. The other day, I went through and read the transcript of what transpired. I’ll admit – I learned something.
Unbeknownst to me, if one aerokit is more dominant than the other; the other one will have an opportunity in mid-season to redesign the areas they think are slowing them down.
Read that again and let that sink in…if you did a poor job the first time around, you get a do-over after you’ve had time to study the competition’s design and copy what they did right the first time.
My age and old-school thinking is going to come out here. I never understood rewarding everyone just for trying, while attempting to make everyone equal. To me, this goes against the very concept of competition. My thought is that you do everything possible to get it right the first time. If you don’t, you fail and suffer the consequences of failure. If you fail, you regroup and you do whatever it takes to get it right the next year.
If a football team is getting their head handed to them at the first half of a game, the score is not reset and they don’t require the leading team to give their playbook to the team that is trailing. They let the chips fall where they may. If the team leading at halftime goes on to win 40-0, well – that’s just too bad. The losing team should have been better prepared. Maybe they can regroup the next week and prepare better. If not, they’ll get blown out again.
That was what I liked about the concepts of aerokits in the first place; teams would have a leg up on some others simply because they had better equipment. If somebody missed the mark, those were the breaks.
In the nineties when most teams opted for the readily available Reynard or Lola chassis, Roger Penske chose to build his own chassis. Sometimes it was better, sometimes it wasn’t. Likewise with Rick Galles and the Galmer, along with Dan Gurney and the reincarnation of the Eagle. In 1992, not only was the Penske chassis not very good – but the Chevy B engine, that was run exclusively by Penske was not very good either. Still, Emerson Fittipaldi was able to squeeze four wins out of not so great equipment.
In the late nineties, there were four different engines manufacturers (Ford, Honda, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota), five chassis (Lola, Penske, Reynard, Swift and Eagle) and two tire companies (Goodyear, Firestone). There were varying combinations of each throughout the grid. If a team did not have a Reynard/Honda shod with Firestone tires – they were out of luck. Such is the way in racing.
Reynard got into financial difficulty about the time that Lola got its act together in the early 2000’s, but make no mistake – Lola got its act together. They took their lumps for about five or six years, learned from their mistakes, worked their tails off and figured out a way to get competitive again.
That’s what competition does. It forces everyone involved to do their best. Anything short of that and you’ll be left behind.
That’s why I always had an issue with sole providers. It was not by design that Honda was the sole provider of the IndyCar Series from 2006 until 2012. They kicked the collective butts of Toyota and Chevy and ran them both out of the series after the 2005 season. With Honda powering the entire field for six seasons, they detuned the engines and focused more on reliability instead of performance; hence saving themselves and the teams a good deal of money in the process.
It was about that same time that the Dallara chassis became the chassis of choice over the out-of-favor Panoz/G-Force. Suddenly, every car in the paddock was a Dallara/Honda. Neither the chassis manufacturer, nor the engine manufacturer had any incentive, whatsoever, to try and improve on what they had. Instead, it was just status quo, year after year. As a result; the manufacturers, drivers, teams and fans fell into a tired state of stagnation and mediocrity.
When the new car was announced by the ICONIC committee in the summer of 2010; it was to be a tub built by Dallara, but able to have various aerokits designed by third party companies. This was a nice compromise to those of us that wanted Lola, BAT and Swift to be chosen to give the field some variety. But as we all know now, the aerokits did not come when the car debuted in 2012. They were to come a year later. After many delays, they seem to actually be coming for 2015; but provided by the two engine manufacturers – Honda and Chevy. There are no third party providers like Boeing, which was always the example given when the concept was first announced.
It may be a watered-down version of what we were expecting, but it’s better than another year of identical cars. I’ve heard people say they’re concerned the racing may not be as good when the aerokits come out. One reason why the racing has been considered “good” is because the cars are all equally matched. I have no problem with one manufacturer being dominant over the other. It shows they did their homework and they deserve to dominate. That’s their reward for developing and building a better mousetrap.
But now we’re told that there is to be no reward for building a better mousetrap. In fact, if you do – your competition will be given the chance to correct their flaws and catch up while you can do nothing to change your superior design. To me, it sounds like in their desire to be “fair”, the series has come up with a very unfair solution.
Every month, I’m judged against my peers on how well I do my job. What’s the point in trying to excel and outshine my peers, if my superiors will handcuff me while giving full support to my peers that have not worked as hard? It completely defeats the purpose. Should Honda come up with an aerodynamic device that cuts off a second per lap, is it really fair to give Chevy the chance to copy the device so that their teams can also shave that second off of their lap times? Apparently, so.
I try not to be a constant naysayer, but count me as one that does not like this “catch-up” policy for which ever manufacturer comes out with a bum aerokit. I’m not allowed a do-over in my job. Why are the designers that go the wrong way given a chance to right the wrong, when those that got it right the first time have to sit and watch them play catch-up. They need to get it right the first time.