A bold look, but a lot of questions remain. (Paul Laguette illustration)
The initial reaction to the 2012 car within the IZOD IndyCar Series community was cautious optimism from drivers, some skepticism from team owners and predictable enthusiasm from the top brass of the companies supplying the equipment.
The plan to mate a Dallara base chassis with aero kits from other manufacturers was met with a tell-me-more response. A handful of team owners – mostly those who had sided with the DeltaWing project – declined to comment for this story, citing a reluctance to offer a negative response in the first hours of the plan's life.
Off-the-record, their concerns were aimed at several areas. First, they questioned whether the new plan would seriously address the issue of cost containment. Second, they wondered whether a significant number of manufacturers would be interested in building and selling the aero kits. And finally, they wondered whether the plan would simply widen the gulf between the top teams – expected to build their own aero kits – and the smaller teams, which can't afford to.
Those who did respond to the story gave the new plan guardedly upbeat reviews. Here's a sample:
Roger Penske: We've got to understand what the rules are. We don't want this to become a technical expense situation, where we're spending money to go even faster. We can't be buying new bodywork every week. But the concept is solid. The turbocharged V6 engine is obviously the way to go, and the fact that you have an alternate engine possibility gives us some flexibility. (About building the aero kits:) I can look you square in the eye and say we're not sure yet. We've made no decisions. The decision just came out. We have a wind tunnel, and we can look at what's out there and what's good to start with and use that as a base and then go from there. We no longer have Penske Cars [the UK-based arm of Penske Racing]; that's gone. But we do have a wind tunnel in Charlotte that we use for the NASCAR cars. That's going to be an option. But until the rules are out, we don't know for sure. It's going to put more cost in. The basic car is cheaper, but at the end of the day, the savings will be pretty much taken up by what you're going to have to do if you want to develop the car yourself.
Dario Franchitti: I haven't seen that much information about it yet, so it's difficult to comment. I think it's a little bit lighter. That's a good step, obviously. If we can get the power up, that would be good. I like the idea of the bodywork being open. It would be good to get more freedom in the suspension and mechanical side of things, but it's a step in the right direction. I don't think we can take a short-term view of this, though. We'll only know if this has been a success when we look at it three or four years down the road, won't we?
Randy Bernard: I'm optimistic that the auto manufacturers will want to clothe and power the car. We've been very, very careful on who we talked to before the announcement because we wanted to keep everything so confidential. We wanted to hold the press conference and make that a big deal. We felt like if we put the word out, we wouldn't be able to keep it quiet. We wanted to create buzz and momentum. The manufacturers we've talked to are very interested. Since the press conference, we've had five manufacturers call and ask about the rules. The next step is to create the technical team that will write the rules. I don't have a timeline for that – but we know it has to be done quickly.
Ryan Briscoe: I was relieved in a way when they chose Dallara. It's a very reliable and experienced partner. We know they can build a great racecar that's safe. I have no doubt that what's going to be built will be a beautiful racecar with advanced safety aspects. I like the performance of the car, too. I'm excited about it. Dallara has great experience in European formulas, but it had been a long time since they'd built a new IndyCar chassis, so I'm anxious to see what they've developed in the past decade. There's still a lot to be decided on the car, but I'd love to be the first to test it. I'd love to see what it feels like. I'd have 100 percent confidence in it.
Mari Hulman George: We are delighted to have Dallara as part of the Speedway community and locating their plant here. Dallara has always been known for safety, and we have faith in their technology. We are pleased with the direction and the opportunity for more manufacturers to participate.
Al Speyer, Firestone Racing, executive director
This process has sparked a lot of great ideas and innovative thinking. We have worked well with many chassis manufacturers and look forward to continuing a great relationship with Dallara. We would also like to recognize and thank all of the other chassis manufacturers that participated in this process. BAT, DeltaWing, Lola and Swift also contributed a wide variety of different and unique ideas that ultimately strengthened the entire process. I remain very confident that we have the experience and ability to design, develop, manufacture, deliver and service Firestone Firehawk racing tires better than anyone else for the next generation IZOD IndyCar Series cars.”
Keith Wiggins, HVM Racing team owner: My initial response is that we'll still have Dallara-Hondas. In my mind, to go forward we need more than one engine supplier. The devil is always in the details, and right now there are so many details that it's hard to form an opinion.
I could be a bit more negative than I'm being now, to be honest. In the situation we're in, we have to grow the brand so there's more demand. The ICONIC committee has tried to come up with a compromise. There are some good bits, but, fundamentally, we still have the same thing. Someone has to go out and build a specific engine and then try to market around it. That's made it a challenge to have anything other than our Honda. And with this package, it's going to be hard to bring anyone else into it. Nobody is going to build kits outside of Dallara and some others, but not any auto manufacturers. It's not a business model for anybody commercially. Like I said, the devil is in the detail. You can't make a judgment on it until you have all the rules, and they'll probably make those up as they go.
BACK HOME IN INDIANA
Lola agreed to erect a parts warehouse in the Speedway, while Swift was willing to team up with Mark 1 Composites of Indianapolis. But only Dallara committed to building cars in the shadow of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and that's the main reason it won the bidding war for 2012.
The Italian manufacturer got the nod and is getting some help from the state of Indiana, which will give Dallara a reported $5 million to help the teams transition into their new equipment.
“The governor, Mitch Daniels, wanted to ensure that the next manufacturer would locate here in Indiana,” says IZOD IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard. “So he's providing a $5 million grant to Dallara to give to our teams. If you're based in Indiana, you receive a $150,000 discount on your first new car and that brings the price down to under $250,000 which is exactly what might get us some new players as well as helping maintain our current lineup.”
It was Ben Bowlby and his DeltaWing proposal that mandated the new car be built in Indianapolis and Daniels had discussed using the $5 million for the project being funded by Chip Ganassi. But when the IICS and Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials didn't endorse the Delta Wing as the next chassis, Daniels had to revert to Plan B.
“This is the biggest day by far in terms of our motorsports restoration in Indiana and it goes beyond Dallara,” said Daniels at the announcement. “We'll be investing through tax credits and grant money and the town of Speedway and Dallara to make that happen.
“Dallara has committed to use Indiana suppliers to make the component parts that will make up almost half the value in this car and that means more jobs besides the new ones in their racecar shop. It's a great day, because this industry is coming home to the state where it was born.