Have Aero Kits Been Worth It?
The Verizon IndyCar Series is now entering the second year of the aero kit era. It has been heavily documented how far behind Honda was compared to the Chevy – especially on non-ovals. The Honda fared better on race days than in qualifying, on most street circuits and road courses. At most non-oval events, the top-ten qualifiers on the grid usually contained only two to three Hondas, and they were normally in the bottom half of the top-ten.
We all now know that Honda was given more leeway to redevelop their non-oval package than Chevy was for this season. You can argue either way on that decision, but I thought IndyCar made the smart move, even though it goes against every bone in my body to reward those that got it wrong and penalize the ones that got it right. Had IndyCar not allowed Honda to make the changes, there’s a good chance they may have packed up and gone home. That would have been devastating to the series, in my opinion.
So now that we are in Year Two of the oval kit era, there is one pertinent question still being bantered around – are the aero kits worth it?
Scott Dixon doesn’t think so, and he won the championship during the first year that teams had different aero kits. Last week, an article by Bruce Martin ran on Autosport.com that quoted Dixon saying that he thought that the aero kits hurt the racing and that the money could have been better spent elsewhere. One of Dixon’s complaints was that the dirty air caused by the aero kits was much worse last season, making it hard to get close to a car on a road course.
Had this been someone who had a strong season in 2014, but fell off the pace last season – I would have written off the comment as sour grapes. But you would think the reigning champion would be happy with the way things were. That tells me that it must’ve been really bad on the track.
But there’s another angle in the sour grapes department that needs to be considered. Scott Dixon is speaking for Chevy, who was not granted additional flexibility to redesign their aero kits for this season. Some of what Dixon said sounded as if he was afraid Honda could surpass Chevy, given their additional latitude to make changes.
The ideal scenario for IndyCar is to have Honda catch up to Chevy but not pass them. That’s about the only good thing that could happen, in the eyes of the series. There are potentially many bad things that could go wrong. The most likely is that Honda catches up to where Chevy was last year, but Chevy advances their own kit. In that case, we’ll be back where we were last season.
The two worst case scenarios would be for Honda to surpass Chevy, as Dixon pointed out. Worse than that, but probably less likely to happen, would be for Honda to go the wrong way again and be further behind than ever. I don’t see that happening, but I guess it could.
So the series is faced with four possibilities for the 2016 aero kit comparisons, and three of them are bad. The good one has the Chevy and Honda powered cars fairly even – about where things were in 2014 before the introduction of aero kits.
It’s no secret that I was a big proponent of aero kits when the concept was first introduced to us in the summer of 2010 – when the ICONIC committee chose the Dallara safety cell as the sole chassis for competition beginning in 2012. The idea was that different companies would be sourced out to develop aero kits to attach to the Dallara tub. This would be a cost-saving alternative to give teams a choice without having to decide between one chassis or another. Teams could purchase two different aero kits per season and have the ability to make changes within each kit. They could run the Boeing road course kit at Mid-Ohio and two weeks later, the Lola superspeedway kit at Fontana.
As they did in the CART days, Team Penske would have been allowed to build their own kit. However, it would have to be at least made available to other teams at the mandated price.
The whole idea was to have innovation and diversity within the series, to try and get further and further away from the unwanted tag of being a spec series.
It sounded good in theory, but no companies stepped up to design and build the kits. When no one stepped up, the idea was simplified. It came down to competition between the two engine manufacturers, which was completely foreign to the original concept. Teams had no choice but to run their manufacturer’s aero kit, no matter how bad it may be. There was no flexibility in choosing between independent kit builders, and staying with the DW12 bodywork was not an option. The result was what we got last year – two kits with half the field unhappy and unable to change anything.
So, again my question is this…have the aero kits been worth it?
I am still a proponent of the aero kits – even this watered-down version of what was originally proposed. But I’ve been proven wrong enough times in my life to know that just because I’m in favor of something, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right.
I like the fact that some cars look different than the others. I’ve heard the argument that casual fans have never been able to tell the difference, but I can. At a glance, I could always tell a ’91 Lola from a ’92 Lola; or a Lola from a Reynard, Penske or Swift. And who couldn’t tell that a Galmer looked different. Of course, I’m still amazed that a lot of people can’t tell the difference between HD and standard-definition television.
But is it worth affecting the racing and spending a fortune just to have cars look slightly different? What originally appealed to me about aero kits was thinking that teams would have the flexibility to experiment with a lot of different options. The rigidity of the rulebook has pretty well nixed any opportunity for innovation among teams. Any innovation takes place with the aero kit designers and once the design is in place, you can pretty well forget any major changes for the year. If it didn’t work at St. Petersburg, it probably won’t work at Sonoma either.
Is it bad that half the field had an inferior product? That was never considered a crisis before. Before the 1992 season started, Team Penske was the only Chevy team to run the Chevy-B. Going into the season, it was touted to be lighter and more powerful than the Chevy-A, which had been the envy for many years but was getting long in the tooth. In short, the Chevy-B was a dog. Not only could it not match up to the new Ford-Cosworth XB, it wasn’t even as good as the Chevy-A. Yet, I don’t recall Team Penske whining that they were entitled to a do-over. They took their lumps and got the improved Chevy-C in 1993 that all the Chevy teams got.
Racing has always been like that. You take risks to go faster. Sometimes it works, sometimes it backfires. I’ll still take that scenario any day over the spec series that was IndyCar from 2006 through 2011, when everyone ran a 2003 Dallara powered by Honda. There was no innovation or risk-taking. Everyone had the exact same car. The only difference was the driver and/or quality of the teams.
I’m curious to know what you think. I don’t see the aero kits being abandoned after two years, but who knows what this season holds? Please feel free to elaborate on your thoughts in the comment section. Unlike certain topics, I’m somewhat pliable on this subject.