Firstly, I've got to apologize for being offline for so long, but as you'll guess from the IZOD IndyCar Series news breaking just this week, there has been a lot going on behind the scenes. Quite honestly, if I'd had the time to produce a blog at any moment during the past couple months, it would have become out of date within 48 hours –so I've agreed to do a Q&A with RACER.com, and if this doesn't answer all your questions, blame RACER Editor David Malsher! -T.C.
RACER: Any idea yet which way Randy Bernard's decision on aero kit timing will fall?
TC: I don't know. I haven't spoken to him yet today. But it's only 1 p.m.
R: Which way do you swing on this? Do you think the aero kits should be made available in 2012?
TC: Yeah I do. We said a long time ago what the intentions are. Sure, things evolve and, as I've said, everybody's comments and issues are right: there's no definitive wrong answer. Whether it's the owners who are worried about the amount of money they're going to spend, or the fans who are crying out for diversity, their points of view are valid. But now we've heard everybody and whether it's the components on the car, or whether it's the aero kits in this particular case, we've made calculated decisions based on all the information, and at some point we have to just get on with the business. All that this debate is doing is delaying things, not allowing us to move forward. The worst decision is no decision and we just need to get on with the program. Whatever the decision is, we need to react accordingly and immediately. It's bloody hard to write rules when you don't know what you're writing rules for.
R: Why would the rules be different for the new spec Dallara than it would be if other aero kits are coming in?
TC: It's not that the rules are different; it's that the focus would be different. If you're writing rules to cover various manufacturers' aero kits, then that's one thing; if you're writing rules that are merely around spec car or a spec set of parameters, then they can be a little more loose and it's not such a high priority at the moment. There are plenty of other things we can be working on, that we can focus our resources on right now.
R: So Dallara's chassis has been specced already?
TC: Oh yeah, Dallara's chassis is way down the road: it's detailed, it's produced, and we don't expect there to be any major changes there. The difficulty with not knowing where we're going on aero kits is that we've designed the vehicle as a platform that can take multiple aero kits. What shape, design and dimensions it's going to be is up to each individual entity. If we're not going to have aero kits beyond Dallara, it's far more important what the Dallara package looks like and how we design it, than if we had multiple aero kits.
TC: Well, for example, you and I may have totally different opinions on what looks cool, what looks nice and what we want to see on track. That becomes very relevant if there's only one type of car that we see out there for another year. If it's one of four – Dallara, Honda, Chevy and Lotus – then that becomes less critical, because everyone perceives what's sexy about a car in a different way. So to me, whether or not we go spec racing with just the Dallara kit in 2012 and delay diversity until 2013 has big implications. We'd backtrack on some of the work we've done on the current body kit, and change up what options the teams have in terms of what's allowed to be developed, we'd change how the body fixes to the chassis, and several other things.
And on a personal note, I'm tired of talking about it instead of doing it. I'm tired of trying to decipher where we're going, or write rules and give recommendations when every time we take three steps forward, people try and push us two steps back. We've heard from everybody – team owners, engine manufacturers, aero kit manufacturers, and fans. It's now IndyCar, as the governing body, that needs to make the decisions – and as soon as possible. The decision needs to take everyone's views into account but not be overly influenced by any one of those entities. It's not easy, I realize that, but the decision needs to be made by the series and it needs to be definitive – “Here's what we're doing, we're sticking to it, and there's no going back.” Will there be naysayers? Yes, of course. But I'm OK with that and the series needs to be also.
R: If everyone sticks to the plan, the idea is now that they get introduced at Indy next year, not the first round of the season, correct?
R: So if, like this year and last year, there are four races before Indy, everyone will have used the Dallara aero kit for those?
R: So are the teams complaining that they will have had to buy the Dallara bodykit at the start, and then switch at Indy?
TC: Well, let's back up. Originally, the intent was to have all the bodykits available from the start of next season, and then the issue became, “Oh, we don't have enough time, we've got lots going on, the engine manufacturers are already working on new engines, we've got a new chassis and new engines to learn, we need to go testing, we basically need more time.” So, OK, fine. We'll buy a little more time, and let's introduce them at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the biggest stage, where we have the biggest fan base at the event, the biggest TV audience of the year. We'll introduce the new aero kits – or rather, permit them – at the 2012 Indy 500.
And then…..well, it depends who you talk to. Some guys were good with that, others claim that still wouldn't give them enough time. Well, you can build a whole car in that time, let's be realistic, so I don't buy that. So then some complain about the additional cost, yes, because they were going to have to buy a car for $349,000, $36k more than if they'd opted to buy one without an aero kit. OK, I understand that. But what they have to remember –and it's something that has gotten lost in all this – aero kits will be a maximum of $70k. If I'm a team at Indianapolis, and I choose to go to another aero kit, and it's not as good as I wanted or expected, then what am I going to do if I can't fall back on my Dallara kit?
Bear in mind, we're going to Indy with a new chassis, three new engines and, hopefully, aero kits. There is a good chance there's going to be a dominant engine. I don't care what anybody says, there will very likely be an engine that could dominate there; it's happened before, it's unrealistic for anyone to go there and not be prepared for it to happen again. So I think the little teams are really missing something obvious here: Let's say the three engines are distributed roughly equally throughout the field. If they've also all got the same aero kits as well, the little teams might just as well hand that Borg Warner trophy to the big teams. Why? Because they have good drivers, good engineering, make good calls during the races, have the best resources, best pit crews, and make the fewest mistakes. But if I'm a little team, with the same engine as Penske or Ganassi and that happens to be the engine to have, I now have a chance if I play the strategy smarter than them on the day or if I choose a better aero kit. The aero kit can be the equalizer. Similarly, if I've got an engine that's maybe 10hp off what I consider the best engine, I could have an aero kit that makes up the deficit.
Aside from the human element in the cockpits and in pit lane, Indy is primarily about two things: horsepower and drag reduction. If we go to Indianapolis in 2012 and all have the same chassis, and similar-output engines, then without aero kit diversity, there's virtually no opportunity for a small team to shine. I'm convinced that the more spec the car is, the more the small teams will get smoked by the big teams. So if the smaller teams seriously want to challenge Penske, Ganassi and Andretti Autosport at winning the Indy 500, how are they going to do that? They need to make fundamental changes in the way they run their business, and that means taking risks, doing something different and stepping out of the comfort zone – therefore, not having a spec car.
Now, when you add in, “Oh, it's going to cost me $70k per entrant to potentially be competitive,” my thoughts are that an aero kit is a hell of a lot cheaper than going to a whole new car, like we used to in the past. With a one-car team – a car, a backup car, spares, and new inventory – you're going to spend $1m at the end of 2011 or start of 2012. Now, because we're delaying it until Indy, you're talking about the difference between $1,000,000 and $1,070,000. That's $70k to have a get-out-of-jail option if you've chosen the wrong aero kit. So I don't see that as a big issue. If you said to any team owner today, “I've got this new widget for your car, it's going to make you go faster around Indianapolis, and it costs $70,000,” tell me who in the pit lane would not do that? I'll tell you who: NO ONE! Trust me, that's a cheap price to buy speed.
So I'm not here to argue the financial situation because the overall figure is a big nut to swallow, but when you put it in perspective, it's not big a deal. There are other reasons – they want to delay the aero kits. And depending on who you talk to, a lot of those reasons are different. So rather than listen to these opposing opinions, over and over, we need to just move on our way. Let's be honest, any time we make significant changes such as developing new engines, new chassis and aero kits all at the same time is a boatload of work.
R: If the IZOD IndyCar Series does stick to the plan of introducing them at Indy in 2012, do you think all the current team owners will turn up, or will there be casualties?
TC: Oh, I don't think it's the difference between them showing up or not. Whether they buy a manufacturer's aero kit or not is their own decision. Nobody has to build them, nobody has to buy them. It's optional: no one's forcing anything down the team owners' throats. If you're happy to run with the Dallara because you think Dallara has done a good job and can't be bettered, then perfect. Stick to it. I think the whole thing has been blown up more than it needs to be and at the end of the day, it comes down to IndyCar making a decision and moving on – and allowing us all to move on.
R: If the kits do get delayed until 2013, then there could be arguments either that a) Dallara has an advantage because they've had a year (2012) of running their kit in competition and can work the bugs out for 2013, or b) if their design is frozen, then Dallara is at a disadvantage in 2013 because Chevy, Honda or whoever else has developed behind closed doors for a year while simultaneously seeing and hearing about the strengths and weaknesses of the Dallara kit and then improving on them. How do you achieve a situation where there's parity of opportunity? Or will you allow Dallara to tweak their design before they come up against the opposition?
TC: I think it's essential that Dallara get that chance. Look, it's in the teams' interests that the Dallara kit is good, for the reason I've said before – so if one of the new manufacturers makes a mistake, the teams have a good kit to fall back on. The issue is, will anyone make a mistake? They're going to get all the basic vehicle information, they'll get the CAD interfaces so the points at which you attach your bodywork, there'll be certain components like the underwing and the front and rear main planes that don't change, so you go and build your aero kit around that. You can have a Dallara kit and one other and you can run all you want right up to qualifying at Indianapolis, and once you've qualified, that's what you race. You can go back and forth up until then. That's fun, exciting, it gets your rivals nervous, it provides intrigue and it gets the fans talking.
R: That's interesting. I thought the original plan was that you're committed to a certain manufacturer before the start of the season.
TC: Well, now that kits aren't being introduced until the Indy 500, we needed to soften the rules about switching between them. To be perfectly fair, I haven't released anything about those regulations because this thing's been in limbo for two months now. I didn't want to get out and publicly say something and then change the rules. But we felt that if it gets introduced at Indy, you can have the option of either a new aero kit, or stick with Dallara. And like I said, at the end of the year, Dallara will be given the opportunity to upgrade their kit. If we've got so many aero kits out there that the Dallara doesn't get used again, that's fine, no problem at all. But I think you've got to be realistic: I think the Dallara kit is going to be good and will play an integral role, at least at the beginning.
R: So can people stick with Dallara for Indy, maybe because they figure that Dallara is the kit company with the most recent aero experience at the Speedway, but then say, “I've got faith in Chevy coming up with the best road course kit,” and switch over in time for the summer swing at say the Canadian races, Mid-Ohio, or wherever the series is going next year?
TC: What we can't protect against is people building a special kit for Indy. I don't care which manufacturer you are, all your focus is Indy – you build around that, and then you compromise for the other tracks. The idea is that you've got the choice of two kits from Indianapolis onward – Dallara and one other. You show up at the race weekend, you declare which kit you're going to run, you go through tech and you run it.
The question that's been raised is, “Well, do we start allowing mixing and mingling of kits?” Before we go down that road, we need to have a serious think about it because it gets pretty complicated, particularly from the Tech Inspection side. But, the rules as they stand don't prevent you from switching back and forth between your two kits from weekend to weekend if you wish. But you can't, for example, spend all Friday in your Dallara kit, and then roll out for Saturday morning practice to do a back-to-back comparison with your Honda kit. That will only be allowed at Indy, and only up until qualifying.
R: OK, to get back to the subject of Indy, is the plan still to show a road course Dallara and a superspeedway Dallara at Indy this year?
TC: Yes, that's right. But remember, the idea behind these is to show two totally different-looking vehicles that underneath are the same chassis. What we're showing are two examples of what you can do with body kits that would be legal within the parameters of the rules. Will these be exactly what Dallara's kits are going to look like on road courses and ovals next year? No. We built these show cars way before we finished deciding on designs and shapes of some of the surfaces of the 2012 cars. We're not going to finalize the 2012 car until we've done our testing, where we will be trying quite a wide variety of things. So what you'll see at Indy are two cars that show potential designers, “If you want to build aero kits, these two cars will both be legal: dream as you wish, design as you wish, produce as you wish. These are two cars that don't even look like the same car but are the same underneath their body kits.”
R: Do you like the look of them?
TC: There are things I like and things I don't like, same as any car. But the appearance is not the major concern. The idea is to provide a platform that allows aero kit manufacturers the chance to dream what they want. And there are other people who work alongside me who more than like it. So if aero kits go away for a year, we need to back up and change some things. We need to find a happy medium: it needs to be something different, it needs to be a good product, it needs to be reliable, it needs to be safe, it needs to be fast. What I don't want to see is just another spec car and have them all looking the same. The initial goal, spread out nine months ago, was not just to have three engine manufacturers. It was to have multiple engine manufacturers and multiple body kits.
R: Just to confirm, the damper package, and the wheels, are all being retained from the current car, right? That's not another thing that's changed over the past couple months has it?
TC: The damper program is one area that will remain open to development, and the wheels are staying the same through to the end of 2013.
R: And then what?
TC: Well, we'll evaluate it. Personally, I'd like to see a free market for wheels – within reason – and multiple tire manufacturers. Whenever you have open competition, be it tires or chassis or engines, the political machine fires up and politics get right in the middle of racing. That's what's happening now. There are a lot of entities making decisions based on political maneuvering, and we expect that – that's the nature of competition. But at the same time we've got to realize, if we're going to have competition, we've got to get past this belief that everyone should have the same thing; and from what I've seen, that's the most difficult thing for team owners to get over. “What happens if I make the wrong decision? What happens if I screw something up?” is the way a lot of them have been scared into thinking over the past few years of spec racing in this series.
Everyone makes a lot of noise about opening rules up, how good it is to have multiple manufacturers involved and so on, but in fact, a lot of them are scared of the outcome. As for the others, well….put it this way, I know who's posturing for what and why, and at the end of the day, it's all down to their own gain. A “what's best for me?” attitude. They'll change their minds to suit their aims. This whole affair is not about aero kits – it's about posturing and maneuvering, and it's about self.
So we need to learn from the past, and IndyCar needs to do what it thinks is right to maintain manufacturer involvement for years and years to come. Longevity is the key, because having manufacturers involved is a good thing for the IZOD IndyCar Series.
R: Do you think the current dispute will put off additional manufacturers?
TC: To be honest I don't think the current dispute needs to be played out in public – it's just the wrong time for this to happen. There are so many good things going on with the IZOD IndyCar Series, we're heading in a positive direction and some great sponsors have come on board. Don't get me wrong, the team owners have made some very valid points and so have the manufacturers. In the whole scheme of things this is a small dispute that will die down, but it will die down once IndyCar says, "We've made our decision, we're not going to talk about it anymore except how we're going to achieve it. Now let's move on."