Was It Worth The Wait?
Yesterday was IndyCar Media Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The timing was great for me. I live in the south where snow removal equipment is kept to a minimum number. As a result, the few times a decade that we get a significant accumulation of snow and ice – the city is paralyzed. Yesterday was one of those days, as I got an e-mail early yesterday morning saying that our offices were closed. It worked for me – that freed me up to watch the entire media event streamed onto my television through Apple TV, while I laid in bed. God, I love technology.
I watched the press conference with James Hinchcliffe and Graham Rahal, which preceded the obligatory appearances by Mark Miles and Derrick Walker. Not much new came from that, except that Mark Miles reiterated that he was happy with the current mix of ovals and non-ovals, and that Walker was asked (again) about Brian Barnhart. No earth-shattering responses came from either of those two.
But then, it was time for the main event – the unveiling of the Chevrolet aero kits – before other drivers spoke later in the day. It had been widely assumed that Chevy was going to show us our first glimpse at the highly anticipated aero kits yesterday, but it had not been confirmed until Walker mentioned it in one of his comments – about two minutes before Chevy was to take the floor.
We suffered through all of the PR history of Chevrolet, how successful they were in many forms of racing last year and the hard work the designers put into the new kit. All the while, I was already looking at pictures of the new kit.
Oddly enough, pictures of the new kits hit Twitter about ten minutes before Chevy even took the stage – such is the world we live in. Here are pictures (in order) of last year’s DW12, the front view of the 2015 Chevy road course kit, the rear view and then a picture with many of the changes labeled. Altogether, the Chevy kit accounts for 123 new parts for last year’s Dallara. If you haven’t seen them yet, look them over and then I’ll offer my thoughts.
As you can imagine, there was no shortage of opinions on social media. Contrary to popular belief by some; Twitter is not for kids. Nor am I a sixty year-old man (I’m 56) that likes to tweet whenever I sit on the couch while eating a sandwich. Instead, I have a Twitter account (@Oilpressureblog) to learn IndyCar news quickly – long before it hits the normal news outlets; as demonstrated by seeing the aero kit photos ten minutes before Chevy unveiled them. As a blogger, I’m also curious to read the reactions of fans on different topics. The reactions don’t sway my opinions, but they give me an indication of how few or how many agree with my take.
As it is many times, my take on the Chevy aero kit is different than most. Opinions were many, varied and at far ends of the spectrum. I saw the words, beautiful, hideous, radical and boring tossed about all day. Sometimes, I wondered if we had all looked at the same car. Many focused on all the winglets and flips that are pasted all over the body-work. The first thing I noticed was the presence of the air box intake that was over the driver’s head. It was my impression that those would be going away. I’ve always considered the air box to be very unsightly and bulky. I had hoped that when turbochargers were reintroduced in 2012, that they would disappear then. Regrettably, they stayed. Now my only hope is that Honda will do away with it when their kit is unveiled at the Barber Motorsports Park Museum, on March 15th – the night before the open test.
If I had to sum up my thoughts in one word about yesterday’s unveiling, it would be – yawn! I didn’t hate it, nor did I love it. I was just very underwhelmed. I’m not sure it was worth the wait.
Keep in mind, I am not a gearhead, and I am certainly not an engineer. I don’t try to be some of the pseudo-engineers floating around that know just enough to be dangerous – and arrogant. I am looking at this new car through the eyes of a casual fan who needs to be able to see a big difference in order to discern between a Honda, a Chevy and last year’s DW12. You and I will be able to tell the difference. But will they? In the nineties, I was always amazed when I heard people say they couldn’t tell the difference between a Lola, a Penske and a Reynard. Obviously, the differences need to be drastic before the casual fan knows the difference.
When I glance at the new Chevy, to me it looks like a normal DW12 with a bunch of winglets stuck on in random places. I tend to look at the front of a car first. The nose of this car looks basically the same, but the front wing has a bunch of junk added to it that makes for a cluttered mess. Afterwards, I see that the rear-end looks a good bit different – not better, but different. The rear “bumper” is bigger with yet another winglet stuck on.
To me, the biggest improvement in the looks of the car is at the back of the sidepod, just ahead of the rear wheel. Gone is the hideous bulbous sidepod of the DW12. Instead, there is a flip-up leading to a much more streamlined looking cone to enclose the wheel and improve airflow. Whether it translates to speed on the track remains to be seen, but it sure does look better.
A closer inspection shows that there are all sorts of little aero devices all over the place. There seems to be a lot going on, which obviously yields more downforce. Just how much downforce? Jim Campbell, Chevrolet Vice-President of Motorsports, wouldn’t say – it’s a competitive secret. He stressed that they tried to strike a balance of form and function.
There is nothing as useless as a beautiful racecar that is slow – the 1994 Lola comes to mind. Then again, the series wants something to be somewhat aesthetically pleasing to keep the fan base happy. But if a car is fast and racy, the looks are secondary. I always considered the Reynard of the mid-nineties to be one of the ugliest cars out there at the time. But it raced circles around all of its competition that included the Lola, Penske, Swift and Eagle. So much so, that Roger Penske ditched his own chassis in favor of customer Reynards in 2000. That move led to two straight CART championships before Team Penske moved over to the IRL full-time in 2002.
We have heard for the past few months that one of the two aero kits was radically different. I’m going to assume now, that the radical car is the Honda. Some people on Twitter have much different definitions for the word radical. What I saw yesterday did not look radical to me. The Chevy aero kit looked more like a tweak, rather than a radical makeover.
Perhaps my expectations were too high. Maybe Chevy changed all they could within the given parameters. It could be that the rulebook is not nearly as open as we thought. Who knows? This could end up being the radical car – but I don’t think so.
I’m thinking (and hoping) that Honda is the manufacturer that took the bigger risk and came out with a kit that makes the car look drastically different from the DW12. If that’s the case, I hope they are rewarded with a better performing car on the track – no matter how ugly or beautiful it is. The safe thing would have been to stick close to the original DW12 design and tweak it a little with a few winglets here and there. To completely start off with a clean sheet of paper – as much as you could within the rules – would have been the bigger risk.
I admire those that don’t settle for the status quo in racing. Sometimes it pays off, as it did with Roger Penske’s pushrod Mercedes in 1994. Sometimes it backfires, as was the case with Bobby Rahal when he took over the Truesports chassis in 1993, rather than go with the status quo Lola like everyone else. Rahal ended up being the butt of many jokes, but you have to admire his going out on a limb and taking the risk he did. Chip Ganassi wasn’t happy being one of many Lola customers. That’s why he took a chance on Adrian Reynard and his new chassis in 1994. Suddenly, Ganassi’s gamble became the new standard.
That’s what I hope is the case with Honda. Unless some pictures leak out on Twitter, we won’t see the Honda for almost another month. But I’m hoping I’m right and it doesn’t look like the slightly updated Chevy version of the DW12. If it’s dramatically different, I’ll be pulling for the Honda teams because they dared to be different. If not, we’ll all sit and wonder why detractors will continue to call the Verizon IndyCar Series a spec series.