Are Aero Kits Really Necessary?

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A major milestone was crossed this past Sunday. No, it wasn’t that we learned the participants of Super Bowl XLIX – something that Colts fans would prefer to forget. It was the homologation deadline for the aero kit design for 2015.

As Forrest Gump said – I’m not a smart man. I had been hearing the term homologation tossed around for the last few months, but I wasn’t completely sure I knew the meaning. I assumed with the prefix homo- that it meant something to do with the same design, but I thought that sort of defeated the whole premise of the aero kits in the first place.

So I looked it up on Dictionary.com. As it turns out, homologation is a form of the verb homologate; which means to approve, confirm or ratify. Oddly enough, the second definition given is to register to make eligible for international automobile competition. Hmmm…it makes you wonder why IndyCar didn’t just call it the deadline to submit final designs. It’s a lot clearer for simpletons like me to understand. It made me feel better to hear that Curt Cavin couldn’t pronounce it last night on Trackside.

Whatever the case, the designs are now locked in. When we’ll actually see them is anyone’s guess. Marshall Pruett seems to think it will be sometime in late February. March 1st is the deadline for one complete high-downforce kit to be delivered to each team. The standard Dallara package will be run at Brasilia on March 8th and then full aero kit testing begins at Barber Motorsports Park March 16-17 before the kits are raced for the first time at St. Petersburg, the weekend of March 29th.

We fans were first enticed with the idea of aero kits in the summer of 2010. It was used as justification to go with Dallara as the sole chassis provider for the next generation car, as chosen by the ICONIC committee. Many fans, myself included, were hoping that two competing chassis would be chosen. My personal choices were Swift and Lola – not because of their association with CART, but I liked their ideas and design. Swift had all types of creative ideas and it was a good looking car. Lola proposed the same tub to be interchangeable between IndyCar and Indy Lights.

Ultimately, Dallara was chosen with the idea that they would provide a full car themselves, but that teams had the option to purchase aero kits from third-party designers. Some of the designers tossed out were Lola, Lockheed Martin and Boeing. If race teams were to come up with their own design, such as a Penske aero kit, it would have to be made available to other teams. Teams would have the option to buy as many as two competing kits out of the many that would surely be available.

Lola made it clear early on that if their chassis design didn’t win the bid, they had no interest in building parts to hang onto a Dallara. The aerospace companies showed little or no interest in coming up with aero kits for race cars. Roger Penske is not in the business to developing parts to help other teams win. Attention quickly turned to the engine manufacturers; Honda, Chevy and Lotus – with some other possibilities coming on board.

But then the owners started griping that we didn’t need aero kits. The first year of the new Dallara would be 2012 and the aero kits wouldn’t be introduced until 2013. By the end of the 2012 debut season of the new car, the aero kits were pushed back another year. Then Randy Bernard, who was a big proponent of aero kits, was fired and other priorities shoved them further off into a nebulous future.

Skeptical fans assumed we would never see aero kits. Other fans questioned why we needed them in the first place, since the DW12 raced so well in its current configuration. Others have expressed concern that one aero kit may hit the sweet spot, while others missed it.

I’ve been critical of IndyCar CEO Mark Miles in a lot of areas, but he and Derrick Walker have made sure that aero kits happen. Credit them for seeing this through.

Although the program is far from the original intent of multiple third-party designers developing aero kits – we are going to have two distinct aero kits for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Many question whether this is worth the cost and trouble and if there will be any benefit from having aero kits. Others claim that aero kits will damage the sport if one is far more successful than the other.

For the record – I am still in favor of having aero kits, as much as I was when we first heard about them in 2010.

I’m not naïve enough to think that aero kits are going to bring in a slew of new fans. Nor do I think this will take the sport back to the 1960’s days of innovation and variety. What it does do is satisfy the group of hard-core fans that wants to see the series get away from the perception of being a spec series.

In the nineties, CART had multiple chassis to come and go. There was the Lola, Galmer, Penske, Reynard, Swift and Eagle. Casual fans couldn’t tell one difference between a Galmer and a Lola. Too me, and other die-hard fans, the differences were readily apparent. Quite honestly, I find it hard to believe that even casual fans couldn’t tell the difference – but they couldn’t. It’s sort of like someone telling me they can’t tell the difference between High-Definition and Standard-Definition television. Seriously?

So many things have been changed or implemented for the sake of drawing in new fans, that the core fan base has been lost in the shuffle. Don’t get me wrong, the Verizon IndyCar Series needs new fans – and lots of them. They also need younger fans and more female fans to sustain themselves in the coming years. But too many times, the core of die-hards has been taken for granted – assuming that they would never leave the sport. Well, guess what? Many of them have.

I’m probably too much of a die-hard that I’ll never leave. Mark Miles could probably spit in my face, and I’d more than likely keep following the series and going to the Indianapolis 500 year after year. But there aren’t too many fans left with that kind of devotion (or stupidity). Even those that fit into the die-hard category, most of them have their breaking point – and some are close to reaching it. The aero kits are for them.

The aero kits are about more than having a different look to the car. My understanding is that teams will have more freedom to make changes within their respective aero kits. This gives more creativity and freedom to each team’s engineers. To me, that is far more important than having two types of cars on the track that look different from each other.

Some will argue that spec racing is good because it determined who the best driver is if they are all in identical equipment. I contend that spec racing is a lazy man’s (or woman’s) form of racing. If the cars are all the same, does the team have much incentive to prepare it? The more latitude a team has on how to prepare a car, the more incentive there is to do it well. As long as Dallara was the sole chassis provider, there was no incentive to build a faster race car because they would only be beating themselves. Now, teams can try different things that they think will put their driver out front.

There is the danger that one team may have missed the mark, but that is always the danger when you get away from spec racing. For years, Roger Penske built his own chassis. Some years, his chassis worked – other years, it didn’t. In the early nineties, Lola built the superior chassis. They completely missed the mark in 1994 and again for two or three years in the late nineties. Toyota won the IndyCar championship in 2003, but by the end of 2005 – they were run out of the series. Such are the fortunes in a competitive non-spec series. If you don’t keep trying to improve, you fall behind. That doesn’t apply just to racing. It applies to all sports, business and life in general.

So, are aero kits really necessary? That would be an emphatic “Yes”. That is why I welcome them. I’ll be glad to see some visual diversity on the track, but I’m much more excited about the freedom that they will bring to the teams.

George Phillips

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16 Responses to “Are Aero Kits Really Necessary?”

  1. Doug Gardner Says:

    I just don’t think they will make a difference. They most likely will be very similar. Aerodynamics is Aerodynamics. The differences in cars used to be due to guess work. If it worked everyone copied it. The tubs will still be the same, the power plants are basically the same dimensions , thus a very similar cover. Air flows the same for everyone. Thus, one design will work best. Maybe some slight differences on high down force due to slightly different power plant performance. These two designs will not be radically different for the average fan to differentiate. But at least it is something. I would be in favor of letting the big guys develop their own. It will cost them money and they would sell to anyone that wanted to pay.

    • I think they have to try. Spec racing is hurting Indycar. Its really hurting Nascar as well. But its Indycar that has traditionally been recognized for innovations.

      They need to do more, but at this point to move away from the promised aero kits would say the wrong things. We can only hope they have an affect.

  2. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    Intersting article by Marshal Pruett in Racer abouut aerokits. http://www.racer.com/indycar/item/112556-indycar-series-adjusts-downforce-limits-with-new-aero-kits

    Apparently the DW12 has been a bit of a debacle from the outset. The design’s downforce has already come close to maxing out the suspension limits and with the new aerokits only adding more, the downforce would exceed the suspension capabilities. So, instead of developing a new suspension and mounting points, Indycar reduces downforce in the undertray of the DW12 via holes and aerokit manufacturers are required to redesign (read: simplify) as well, adding development cost to the manus yet again.

    My question is this:
    Assuming manufacturers need to see some return on their money at some point to stay involved with Indycar, how can they justify spending $Millions to develop/badge engines, $Millions to sell $75,000 aerokits to teams, and even more $Millions on marketing when their audience of approximately 350,000 regular viewers only sees them over a 6-month season?

    Answer 1. If that is enough of a return the manus/sponsors on their $Millions in investment, everyone’s happy, carry on.

    Answer 2. If that is not anywhere near enough return, the only variable that can make a difference is vastly increasing the exposure.

    The issue for manufacturer/sponsor involvement is to be exposed/winning with their products in front of as many eyeballs as they can, therefore they want maximized eyeballs.

    To maximize eyeballs, people need to be intrigued.

    I happen to think that people are most enthusiastic when they see amazing and incredible and something they’ve never seen before.

    For Indycar, to me, this means opening up the rulebook significantly and allow multiple solutions for propulsion, and chassis design. Not just for the 500, but as a hallmark of the sport.

    It won’t be easy, but after painting oneself into a corner over 20 years, little about getting out and then correcting the problem is.

  3. I believe a look behind the decision to select Dallara as the sole chassis provider would disclose that the primary reason was Dallara’s agreement to build its factory in Speedway and create x-number of jobs; and that this was tied to the IMS tax credit deal.

    The aero kits are “the Emperor’s new clothes”. IndyCar is just fooling themselves believing that his is going to change fan’s dislike of spec cars. My guess is the will be very little visible difference in one kit and the other; and with I/C controlling downforce numbers and ongoing kit development there will be only marginal difference in performance.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    They are necessary at the very least because they were promised to the fans. It is better late than never for Indycar to keep its word.

    The aerokit idea was always… I’m trying to think of a non-disparaging way to say “half-baked”. It was not the ideal, the open rulebook that would provide the kind of innovation and variety seen in days past, but I did find it to be a reasonable way to allow for some innovation and (especially) variety given the current economic realities of the sport. I look forward to seeing them, and unless they are 1999 Dallara/G Force similar, I will certainly be able to spot the differences.

    NASCAR’s generation 3 (1980s) and 6 (current) cars are a rough equivalent to the Indycar aerokit idea, and both put on plenty of competitive racing and were well-received by fans.

  5. One thing I have not heard anyone mention is the aero performance with the new bodykits. According to Helio Castroneves the cars increase in speed especially at IMS. So if this happens, thats good.

  6. 1. Yes, a very good idea, but…

    2. Not if–when another engine is badged–that engine manufacturer has to also create an aerokit. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s how I understand it. In that regard, I was disappointed that keeping the DW12 body as is was not an option.

    3. Not if–as DZ mentioned above–in an era of penny-pinching–the aerokits put too much financial burden on the sponsors. And on that topic, not if they constantly require each aerokit sponsor to modify after each race in order to stay “competitive.”

  7. Are Dallara aero kits out after Brazil? I thought teams would get to choose race to race which of the two the run.

    • manik, from what I read–which I believe is different than originally planned–Dallara will not be providing anything other than the safety cell after Brazil. but then I could be mistaken so hopefully someone will verify or not.

  8. Of course we just have to wait to see them, but my best guess is that upon seeing the new aerokits fans will say: “Is that all there is?”
    As Uncle Bobby and other Racer.com contributors have suggested recently, I would like to see the cars become harder to drive. Crank up the horses!

  9. Phil Kaiser Says:

    I couldn’t care less about the car’s looks; they are open wheel RACE CARS, big deal! I care about the DRIVERS, always!

    I am one person out there who grew up in a family who NEVER owned a car! I do now, but I was 22 years old before I got my driver’s license and a car. And I grew up and live in Indianapolis, and my parents and I are/were the most passionate race fans I know.

    It seems to me only Gearheads care about the car, but remember: all racing fans are NOT Gearheads.

    You know, I could liken this to popular music: would you not like The Beatles if they would have suddenly switched their instrumentation from Ludwig drums, Rickenbacker and Gretsch guitars, Hofner Violin Basses and Vox Amps to instruments and amps from Fender, Gibson and Rogers drums? Think about it folks….

    Phil Kaiser
    Indianapolis

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      What? You didn’t know The Beatles played Ludwig, Vox, Rickenbacker, Gretsch and Hofner?

      My point exactly!

      PK
      Indy

  10. After the first race the media would usually just yawn their way through another Penske win but now… there’s intrigue.
    Who cheated or didn’t, whose package (?) is better, who has an Indy advantage ….. blah blah blah

    This is a media opportunity for the series and I hope it’s not wasted.

  11. […] best teams to gain a competitive edge over their rivals. (For a different perspective on this read Oilpressure’s take on a spec series engineering […]

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