Are Aero Kits Really Necessary?
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.