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Quite honestly, if I'd had the time to produce a blog at any moment during the past couple months, it would have become out of date within 48 hours –so I've agreed to do a Q&A with RACER.com, and if this doesn't answer all your questions, blame RACER Editor David Malsher!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.