Sunday, March 10, 2013

Fans Really Don’t Want Aero Kits


But it’s the pittance they’ll accept in lieu of ever getting what they actually want.
It’s Sunday night and having caught up on my twitter timeline, it seems that one of my Blogging peers will be making the case tomorrow that IndyCar adopting aero kits will be a step towards putting the series right with fans or perhaps that differences in the appearance of cars will captivate the fascination of new fans to the sport. 
I disagree.
I probably should give George the courtesy of posting his thoughts before disagreeing with him, but I have been thinking quite a bit about this subject of late and his preview tweet has been a catalyst to finally pen what I have been thinking on the subject.  I am posting this now because I won’t have time to once the week hits.
If we were to go back three years and ask most fans what they wanted the new IndyCar to be, I am certain we would have gotten a multitude of responses.  In Fact, most of those responses are the same things bandied around in flourishes now.  “Multiple chassis manufacturers”, “Stock engines”, “a free for all run what you brung” or “a common set of bad assed spec cars that so ooze horsepower that they separate the kids from the grown ups on the race track” are all mentioned by some subset of fans as the best bold vision of the future. 

None of these things are Aero kits.
I look back at the decision to adopt aero kits as part of the DW12 platform as Randy Bernard’s attempt to please fans even though the dynamics and reality of the time indicated that what fans actually wanted wasn’t economically feasible.  There’s nothing wrong with that, I applauded the concept at the time (Link to the Way BackMachine).  But things have changed since that announcement and the nature of that change has killed the spirit and the potential that the Aero Kit program had to offer.
Initially when the aero kits were announced, while the possibility of engine manufacturers creating kits was not ruled out, a lot of emphasis was placed on the kits as a new technological platform to get a different set of participants into the league.  Quoting Tony Purcell, member of the Iconic committee at the time:
“Our goal is to reach out and challenge the automotive and aerospace industries. So come on, Ford, come on GM, Lotus, Ferrari, come on Lockheed, come on Boeing, come on you engineers working in small technology businesses. We want you to rise to the challenge. “ (Complete transcript of theavailable from Pressdog HERE) 
But the problem became that of those companies called out to participate, none chose to join the cause. 
A political battle brewed and owners dragged their feet on Aero kits.  It came to a showdown where the owners asked the league to indicate who exactly was stepping up to build these kits other than the current engine manufacturers.  There simple weren’t any.  In that moment the Aero Kit program was dead.
The problem with an Aero kit program supplied only by engine manufacturers, is that someone is going to be better out of the gate, and then it gets complicated. 
In theory, teams are allowed to use up to two kits per season and anyone who makes a kit has to make it available to anyone else.  It is also likely the case that the current Dallara kit leaves a lot of room for aero dynamic improvement, and nobody would want to retain it going forward.  So when it was time to register kits for the season, if all the teams each said they would select both the “Honda” and “Chevy” kits going forward, what would happen?  Well if one was markedly better than the other, the teams with the manufacturer who made the bad kit would want to use the other kit or risk winding up in the chronically dire situation shared by the ill fated Lotus teams of last year.  If teams were allowed to switch it would be an embarrassment to their engine manufacturer, who may become fickle partners in their long term association with the series.
Alternatives? 
Allow manufacturers to constantly refine and recreate the kits?  This wasn’t originally part of the plan and if it was allowed, then you would see a spiral of increasing development costs that would again likely chase one of the engine participants out of the league. 
Submit the two kits to testing and impose equality restrictions?  This is the Grand Am solution to the problem.  Engine and chassis are tested and then the series attempts to equate the cars on tracks by penalizing the superior entry to level the playing field for all.  Of course, in Grand Am you hear theories about manufacturers sending soft engines to testing or how one manufacturer was guaranteed some aero “wink and nods” as reward for participating.  More controversy, just what IndyCar needs and of a flavor IndyCar is in no position (expertise wise) to police.
And if the Cars were equalized what would we have?  Cars that looked superficially different but performed qualitatively identically.  Is that really what fans were asking for in 2009?  Honestly, are superficial cosmetic differences enough to reignite YOUR passion for the sport?    
In reality the Aero Kit idea died when no third party manufacturers chose to participate.  The existence of a competitive, viable third party option is what stirred the pot for the Aero Kit program to begin with.  Without one, the program is doomed and once I realized that, my support of it has faded as well.
SO what now?  What should fans do?  Where should the league go?  At this point, I view Aero kits as a cynical way of stretching the lifespan of a chassis platform no one really wanted (remember: fans wanted new car(S), but not simply a new spec car from Dallara to replace the old). 
It is time to go back to the drawing board, sooner than later.  Enjoy the refreshing competition that the DW12 has brought, but it should run its last race in 2015.  A new vision for the future should replace it in 2016. IndyCar must decide if it wants to entertain or inspire.  Perhaps the show that the DW12 puts on will bring enough new fans onboard to bankroll a more technologically captivating formula for the next generation car. 

We can always hope.  But we should never settle.

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