Tuesday, May 1, 2012

One of Them Racin' Deals????

Editor's note: on occasion I wander into the technical areas of the sport where I do feel less informed than others might be.  If I make a mistake, I apologise beforehand.  If I have muffed anything: Andy - help a brother out on the facts!

Most of us are well aware of the term, two drivers go for the same gap, neither having an advantage nor acting irresponsibly, but both wind up with a bad outcome.  In abstract Game Theoretic terms, it is an outcome that is achieved when players in the Game are acting within their self interests and behaving responsibly relative to the terms of the game achieve an outcome that is optimal for none.

As the #EngineforShank saga nears a resolution, it is becoming clear that the outcome will satisfy no one, but neither do the currently known facts point to devious doings.  Simply put, it may be One of Them Racin’ Deals.

Many pet conspiracy theories are popping up regarding the inability of Shank to secure a deal:  He runs a Ford in Grand Am so no one will touch him;  Chevy is getting back at the league for TurboGate;  Penske and Ganassi are pulling strings cuz theyre ‘fraid.  None of this is supported by fact and the unfortunate thing is that some who are putting this crap out there are media members from whom the fan base expects diligence in reporting standards.  As a result, many might take these paranoid fabrications as fact which ultimately damages the image of the companies involved and the league in general.

I don’t know the details of what really is happening – let me state that up front, but I know what I know and based on the string of what I assume is true, the likely outcome is not scandalous, just a misfortunate outcome from a situation where all the players are acting within their self interest and more importantly withing the confines the rules.

First thing I want to address: You cannot simply get an IndyCar engine off the shelf and go racing. 

An IndyCar engine is a stressed component of the chassis.  Meaning that it is part of the car's load bearing architecture.  The engine screws onto the driver tub, and the rear suspension screws into the engine. 

In other forms of racing, the frame or chassis is a complete unit and the engine drops in and bolts in.  So theoretically if you wanted to pull the juiced flat four boxer out of your Subaru STI, fabricate some mounting assembly, you can go racing.  I recall that the 24 hours of Daytona was won a few years back by a privateer effort that pulled and juiced the Engine from a Porsche Cayenne and dropped it into an existing Grand Am chassis. 

In nascar, the engine blocks are commonly available pieces of equipment.  Don’t recall details exactly, but the engines in nascar are essentially the blocks from a school bus or dump truck with all sorts of fancy bits put on to make it go fast. 

IndyCar engine blocks must be created to power the car and connect the back of the car to the front.  They are very custom pieces of metal that will never serve another purpose - ever.  It is worth noting that the concept of a non stressed engine was part of the Delta Wing platform, perhaps if a different decision had been made…

Since they are such custom creations, IndyCar engines from previous eras will not screw into the current Dallara.  It's a NEW CAR and everything is different.  The Block/Stock for all engines running today did not exist six months ago.

With that as a context, if Chevy and Honda were told to expect to be able to supply X engines at the beginning of the season, and they begin production months ahead of time with that # as a target and a week before the season starts some one says “Hey Sarah needs one too” can we really be surprised when they say there’s no more to be had?  The situation is similar here with Shank. 

In reality are there more than enough blocks for the race?  Probably.  Something to keep in mind, for all of practice, teams will be running one engine.  Then the week between quals and Carb day they will switch those engines out for fresh ones for race weekend.  Honda and Chevy will have at least 58 blocks in play for the 500.  Want to ask them to do 2 more with 2 weeks notice?  Really?

Are there spares above and beyond the 58? Yes, but those are for fire mishaps, engine failures or broken engines from practice wrecks (remember TK’s block cracking hit from a few years ago?).  They are planned for and budgeted.  Pulling from that reservoir to supply Shank threatens existing teams that might have practice mishaps.

So is it conceivable that neither Chevy nor Honda truly have excess capacity??  I think it is credible, and going back to our excursion into Game Theory (Dr Chakrabart has to be so proud right now) they would be acting in their best interest and within the rules.

So now the microscope turns to Lotus, much maligned for their poor effort thus far.  But in reality no one should have expected all three manufacturers to be equally competitive out of the box.  Two words “Alfa Romero”.

Could they supply an Engine?  Certainly, they have supplied more for the first three races than they are slated to provide for the 500 (5 compared to 3).  But here is where Shank's self interest comes into play.  The Lotus has proven to be an under engineered failure this far into the experiment.  Even if he was guaranteed a spot in the 33, he believes it to be detrimental to his team and brand to enter a car that has no hope of a reasonably good finish. 

So in theory, there is an engine available.  But in reality he does not want to look the fool and is choosing to not run as opposed to running as a glorified start n park.  Again, a player acting in his best interest within the scope of the rules lain out. 

No conspiracy theories needed to get to this unwanted outcome, and I do think this sucks for Shank.

So what now?  What of the 33?  Here’s my THEORY. 

NHL in pulling out is probably taking the same stance as Shank here.  We are at 32.  Lotus has extra engines.  Jean Alesi or representatives for him are again suggesting that after recently backing off of the idea of entering, there may be news  relating to the 500 this week.  To save the league from embarrassment stemming from their shortcomings as a participant thus far, Lotus ponies up enough cash (liberated in the separation from DRR and or Herta) to one of their two remaining teams to run an extra car for someone.  Perhaps Alesi, hopefully someone a little more relevant. 

The field is filled and the show goes on. 

Is it the best case scenario?  Nope, Just one of them Racin’ Deals.

1 comment:

  1. Nope, you are 100% right on here, and you basically took the words directly out of my mouth (I've been sitting around and stewing over writing a post the last few days, with this whole Shank saga as one of my many topics).

    Everybody out there screaming at GM and Honda (and Lotus, but given how few dollars they have at their disposal, it's a wonder that they can even handle 3-4 engines for Indy, let alone any more than that) to giving Shank (and DRR and Herta and [insert about 6 other team names here]) an engine clearly have little idea what is at play here. We have a 100% all-new engine formula. When's the last time that happened? 1997, when the formula utilized "stock" blocks and parts from existing Oldsmobile and Infiniti street cars, so parts were relatively plentiful. Before that? Um, in that case, we're talking about over 45 years ago, when Indy was just starting to allow the 161-ish cubic inch turbocharged engines back in the late-1960s (and actually, that was not a 100% new formula, either, as a mix of turbos and naturally aspirated engines ran against each other over the course of nearly 15 years, plus Granatelli's oddball turbines).

    So, what's this mean? It means that GM and Honda are already supplying 15-ish ALL NEW engines this year. It's not the same as when Chevy appeared with their Ilmor-A engines in the mid-'80s, because they were only supplying Penske and Newman-Haas to start out. It's not the same as when Honda, Alfa Romeo, Judd, Porsche, Toyota, and on and on made their respective debuts between 1980 and 2004, because they were also only supplying no more than 20-25% of the field (and in most cases, far less than that). GM and Honda are each supplying 45% of this year's entries. So, even though they've (as Robin Miller said in his column on the same topic in the last 24 hours) "gone above and beyond" to supply more than their contracturally mandated 40% of the field, and each are likely taking on one more team starting in the next several days, they're supposed to take on one MORE team? And at the exact start of the Actual Month of May? Please.

    There is basically no historical analog for the technical turnover that we've had this year. Nope, things are not perfect. Yep, we might have only 33 cars turn up for qualifying (which pains me, but I and everybody else will live, and no, it doesn't mean that the 2012 race is a joke and/or a travesty). Also, yes, we might have a 2-3% drop in speeds this year over last year (with a 37% reduction in engine capacity, which is a point that is utterly lost on the trolls at Track Forum and elsewhere). Again, we'll be fine. The sun will rise again, somebody wil drink milk in a few weeks, and we'll go on with our lives.

    Seriously, though, JP, great post.


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