Thursday, July 01, 2010

The 2012 IndyCar Chassis - View From the Guestroom

Hey, everybody. Still trapped under the boulder. This doesn't mean that I can't still keep this space open for our outstanding guest poster Rick. This week, in advance of the rapidly approaching announcement by the ICONIC panel on the chassis that'll be used by the IndyCar series in 2012, Rick's got his take on what he'd do if he were in their shoes (or boots, in Randy Bernard's case). To disclaim a bit: Rick's views on the chassis selection do not mirror my own 100%, but I think that his take is pretty interesting and I would not be at all disappointed if what he wants came to be in 18 months from now. With that, here's the floor, fella.

Over the past 15 years, a division of resources, poor decisions, and a burgeoning rival have conspired to move American open wheel racing and the Indianapolis 500 from national prominence. 2010 has seen new life breathed into the series. A new CEO, reinvigorated racing, and an enthusiastic title sponsor promise to bring Indycar racing back to a place of interest for fans, manufacturers, and sponsors. With the decision to retire the long-in-the-tooth Dallara chassis made, a unique opportunity presents itself: Reinvent the Indy Car. A new design could hold a number of advantages that could be exploited to fuel a new era of growth in the sport. The best way for this to happen would be to adopt a radical solution like the DeltaWing concept.

First, a radical new car will draw attention. Race fans, laypeople, and journalists alike will talk about the new shape of racing and what the future of racing will look like. That kind of press and buzz is essential to any kind of growth.

Second, redefining what an "Indy Car" is will separate the series from other forms of racing competing for the fan's ticket dollar and the TV channel's ratings point. Create a shape that differs markedly from what has been the norm for nearly 30 years and casual fans will no longer refer to Indy cars as "F1s".

Third, a radical change lends credibility to the technology leadership platform Indy car racing has long held. SAFER Barriers, HANS devices, ethanol fuel, attenuators, and other advances only mean so much when tacked on to the same old tired machine.

Fourth, the safety progress of the last decade can be taken even further. At the forefront is preventing wheel-to-wheel contact. Mike Conway's wreck at Indianapolis was only the latest hint of what catastrophe might come about if wheels remain unshielded.

Many of the complaints I've heard revolve around the DeltaWing concept's aesthetics. I shared many of these concerns until seeing the mock-up in the flesh. The distortions of two dimensional images and unusual viewing angles don't do this car any favors. I've also been told that it looks even better decorated in sponsor livery.

One complaint is that it "doesn't look like a car". To that argument, I'd say that it's been a very, very long time since what raced at Indianapolis bore any resemblance to street cars of the day. Why must Indy cars resemble street cars now?

To those that say the DeltaWing concept "doesn't look like an Indy car", I'd suggest that it doesn't have to look like an Indy car, and maybe it shouldn't look like an Indy car. (See above.) Further, after a closer look, I'd say that maybe it's not so far off. The modern Indy car includes a long, narrow "fuselage" containing the driver. The front wheels are widely spaced and joined to that fuselage only by long, spindly suspension members. The DeltaWing concept has the fuselage and just eliminates those suspension members and moves the wheels to the naturally resulting locations.

It's human nature to react to the new and different with reluctance and trepidation. In this case, I think the new and different must be embraced to give Indycar the best chance possible to return to its once-lofty status.

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