Another interesting thing is that, because everything's late, a lot of people haven't been able to properly run their spare cars, so you've got to hope the “personality” of your spare car matches that of your main racecar. It's not like NASCAR where, for each of the best-funded entries, there are several cars for short ovals, superspeedways, road courses and so on, because they have so many back-to-back races. We have to rely on our given racecar to get us through stretches of back to back events, so if we're down a car, it really creates a lot of issues for us.
Imagine if a Cup team had two cars per driver or a proportional amount to IndyCar teams. To put it into perspective, they have 36 events versus our 16, so imagine if a Cup team had only four cars per entry – that would be a tough one for their teams when the fence got in the way.
That being said, I think people have a basic misconception about Dallara and so the company has taken some unfair criticism over the winter. Dallara is an engineering company that produces racecars; they're not a racecar company that produces racecars. By that I mean they create a great product and get the cars out there in the customers' hands. Then they engineer solutions to problems that arise.
Here's the difference: if you tour Dallara, what you'll find is they have a whole room full of engineers – well over 70 of them – plus multiple wind tunnels, and all the other research devices to help them design proper racecars. On the shop floor, an efficient staff manufactures items on a prototype basis and then the tooling is sent to sub-contractors who manufacture the production parts. By contrast, if you went to the UK to visit a production racecar manufacturing facility, it's almost the opposite. The majority of the employees are on the shop floor building the cars as a manufacturing rather than a prototype group, and the engineering staff is far smaller. So once those cars are sent out the door, and teams start running them, a smaller engineering staff means that it takes the company longer to react to necessary design changes.
Dallara, I think, does it the right way for building a spec chassis. Their priority is getting it in customers' hands and then they must be very open and receptive to the customer's feedback and react swiftly to adjustments that need to be made. An example was the oval weight distribution issue that arose early in the winter. They took feedback from the teams (one of them was ours) and from IndyCar and reacted to it, and they went away to change the DW12 accordingly. That's a real life example of what Dallara does best and I firmly believe that's what they'll continue to do throughout the year. You've got to appreciate, there's never been a turnkey customer car out there that didn't require changes; a new car couldn't possibly be completely right out of the box. You just hope that when the lid on the box opens all of the parts are there!
Despite the fact that the off-season has been so hectic, it's been better than the past few winters as IndyCar opened the test rules, and all of the teams actually had the opportunity to be at the racetrack. But I confess that I am still disappointed that IndyCar didn't approve independent aero kits this year. I understand why it was postponed in that it was a financial issue for the smaller teams, but my personal feeling is that aero kits should have been introduced at this year's Indy 500. There was time to make it happen, if there had been consensus – it was discussed in the owners meeting in Brazil last year, so it could have happened. There would probably have been a six-month development time to go from concept to prototype to testing to real aero kit and I think IndyCar Series needs that visual brand identification for the engine manufacturers as soon as possible. More importantly, it would have improved the performance of the DW12 on ovals.
Still, that's water under the bridge now, so let's focus on the season ahead. As I said at the start of the blog, I'm not making predictions because we have very little comparable data to work from. All three of the engine suppliers had to present for approval their final homologated design just a couple of weeks ago. Unlike Lotus, Honda and GM have been working all winter, as they went through several phases of product to reach their current state. So what was seen last November, December, January, February and even early March were not the final internal specifications of the engines, turbos, exhausts, mapping, and the rest. Right in the middle of engine development came the introduction of the spec ECU with software that's been changing daily, so it's been a lot to achieve in a condensed period of time. Honda and GM were working through durability- and performance-enhancing modifications right up to the last minute, so even at the Sebring Open Test, two weeks ago, you weren't seeing all the cars running the same spec engines as there weren't enough of the right parts
Also, remember that Sebring wasn't entirely reflective of everyone's merits, because the field was divided in half and run 48 hours apart. Our four cars ran on the third and fourth days and we've never seen so much rubber laid down at any Sebring test! The baseline you did have was that at least everyone was on the same tire, so there was a fair comparison between teammates and rivals on a given day. That wasn't the case at the Barber test, for instance. Firestone, in order to accommodate all the competitors, mixed the tires up a bit to make it fair, so that everyone would have tires to test, so there were Barber-spec tires from last year, Sonoma-spec tires and Motegi road course tires. At most tests, you could be sitting in the pits and suddenly someone says, “Hey, Driver X just went one second faster,” and you'd be left wondering, “Well is that driver's car so much better or is he on the Motegi tires?”
It's intriguing, it really is. There is a real positive buzz for the season, and last week while in St. Pete, you could feel the excitement downtown. Hope that all of you Spring Breakers will break away from your cabanas and watch us on Sunday.
Finally, at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, we're going to see a new Race Control management group, everyone on the same tires, everyone with their ultimate spec engines, so we'll get an idea of where we stand relative to each other. Not knowing that until we get to the first round is exciting for the fans, but exciting and nerve-wracking for us!
Thanks for reading. I'll get back to you soon.