Indycar : A new chapter

The stark financial realities of today’s Indycar racing, with declining television and attendance figures and sponsorship all but impossible to sell, has resulted in the IndyCar Series deciding to continue with a Dallara spec car from 2012-15. The Italian company will build the cars in a new facility in Indianapolis, while IndyCar bosses hope to create interest and variety by encouraging other manufacturers to develop and build their own aerodynamic kits for the new formula.

“A simple solution wasn’t going to cut it,” said IndyCar team owner Gil de Ferran (above, third from right), a member of the seven-man committee that determined the new formula. “The cheapest solution wasn’t the right one, and a solution that was right from a technology and innovation perspective wasn’t right from any other perspective.”

De Ferran said IndyCar hopes to embrace multiple car builders in the future: “There was a lot of discussion on that front. We were looking at this decision not only for the short term, but essentially laying the groundwork for the long-term future of the series. One of the beauties of this concept is that the framework is there to free it up if the environment allows us to do so. We had many discussions along those lines, and the important thing is we were not choosing any specific car but creating a new concept and approach to solve what on the face of it are very conflicting requirements.”

The 2012 Indycars will be known according to the manufacturer of the bodywork or aero kit. “If Team Penske does a kit, it will be a Penske Indycar,” said IndyCar competition boss Brian Barnhart. “If Lola builds a kit, it will be a Lola Indycar. It is a fraction of the cost to design an aero kit as opposed to a complete car. We think it’s an inclusive invitation to every manufacturer out there.

“Clearly the fans want to see different looks on the race track. They want to see competition. Historically, competition drives costs up. What we really feel great about from a committee standpoint is that we are opening this up to anyone who wants to build aero kits, yet at the same time we’ve accomplished reducing the cost of participation. We think it’s the best of both worlds – bringing costs down, creating great value in the series, yet at the same time allowing for competition and what the fans want to see.”

Teams will not be allowed to build their own suspension for the new car. Instead it will be part of the ‘safety cell’ and will be provided with the rolling chassis, meaning it cannot be altered.

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard admits it will take a year or two to attract new engine and aero kit builders. “We have to be realistic and not set our expectations too high. Our goal was to look at the long term and we knew that engine and chassis manufacturers are under deadlines right now. It’s going to be pretty hard to see other engine builders by 2012. We’re optimistic, but our goal is to have some interest from engine and aero builders in 2013.”

Bernard planned to meet with a host of European manufacturers in August. “The auto manufacturers we have discussed this with have said it’s very exciting that they can create brand identity with their cars. But we haven’t been able to talk to everyone, because we wanted to keep as much of this as confidential as possible. So we were very selective in our first round of talks. Brian, Tony Cotman, Gil and I are planning a trip to Europe to start talking to some of the engine manufacturers there.”

One of Bernard’s next steps is to hire an experienced race engineer to write the 2012 rules and lead the technical department. “We have to make sure we put one person in charge of overseeing both the engine and chassis strategy,” he said. “That person is going to have to be brilliant. He’s going to have to be aggressive and a guy who thinks offensively and not defensively. It’s going to be an important and significant process for us.”

Thus begins Randy Bernard’s mission to recreate and rebuild Indycar racing. We hope he’s set out on the right path.