The next piece in the IndyCar recovery plan comes in to play next season when teams get the chance to select their own aero kits. Devised to create more diversity amongst the spec-cars and to engender greater engineering engagement with tech companies, the opportunity to choose your aero kits is a fresh challenge. Whether it proves to be a good move remains to be seen but I’d like to hazard some semi-educated thoughts.
First off, the plus points
1. Undoubtedly aero kits will add a new dimension and mix up the racing order to some extent. Their introduction will push the envelope for engineers and drivers will need to adapt and develop each package. On paper that is a great opportunity for the racing in IndyCar going forward.
Honda might crack super speedways, Chevy might nail road courses and Dallara street circuits. Champion drivers and teams will need to adapt across the series to win (although you do suspect all will be aiming to hit the sweet spot with their super speedway version for May above all else). In recent seasons few of the lead teams have found themselves yo-yoing from front to back between circuit types so this could be a stiff test.
2. As intended, aero kits could provide greater scope for manufacturers to get involved. Some will continue on the engine route but for others – and smaller tech companies in particular – this could be a much more cost-effective option. Imagine if Lotus had had this opportunity instead of being forced down the engine supply route? Other niche companies (not just automotive-related) could get involved at a fraction of the cost of engine supply but with greater potential for results and the marketing benefits that stem from a partnership versus just putting decals on the side pods.
3. Greater legitimacy for the series. Admit it: we’ve carried a bit of an inferiority complex around about being a ‘spec series’. Aero kits change that and perhaps more importantly, allow IndyCar to shake off the last remnants of the IRL/Champ Car hangover.
Now the flipside…
1. Aero kits will undoubtedly favour larger teams. Multiple cars mean more data, more data plus more budget equals more opportunity to unlock the secrets of each package. The rise of IndyCar’s super-teams is enough of a worry but allied to aero kits the series will soon find itself travelling down a road I believe is risky. We should not be losing something that has become almost extinct in top-line motor racing but remained in IndyCar: the chance for the little guy to win.
2. The technological engagement was partly designed to bring greater revenue and commercial interests in to the series. I question how important that really is.
Manufacturers come and go as Champ Car found out painfully in the early 2000’s. Relying on them is a risk. Manufacturer involvement in NASCAR is very limited: aside from the decals the cars all have to fit the same NASCAR-sanctioned template. Engines are tuned predominantly by the teams themselves and having a Ford, Chevy or Toyota does not guarantee success. Yet none of that stops those manufacturers wanting to be involved because NASCAR has the bumper attendances, the TV figures and the drivers who are house-hold names. None of that is to do with technological partnerships.
3. Eventually the series will see all or the vast majority of teams gravitate towards the same combination. IndyCar only has to look at its own history to see this. Whether it was the switch from front-engines to rear, from March to Lola or G-Force to Dallara, eventually everyone ends up with the same package. It is simple supply and demand based on performance where no rules on the ability to switch are enforced (e.g. no F1-style rules preventing teams using rival chassis). More critical is what you get in the interim. Typically development wars, budget increases, uneven fields and smaller teams going to the wall.
Aero kits are coming in 2015. Let’s hope they are a positive for the series and offer another step on the road to IndyCar’s permanent recovery but only time will tell.