IndyCar: in defense of a spec series

IndyCar reached a landmark last week with the homologation deadline for the new 2015 aero kits. Diversification in design is coming and elements of the existing fan base are delighted. But I’m not convinced.

I wrote a pros and cons piece last year on aero kits. Given what I like about IndyCar and what I believe the series needs, the cons outweigh the pros. It’s a moot point now, but here’s my case for the defense of a spec series.

Over reliance on aero

Formula 1 is the greatest example of focus on aerodynamics backfiring. Prior to the new regulations in 2014 which sought to dramatically reduce the impact of front and rear wings, F1 was beset with a problem IndyCar could face: a lack of overtaking.

The importance of down force from front wings made it very difficult to follow a leading car closely enough to overtake. It undoubtedly impacted on the racing. With IndyCar taking more and more down force away from the floor of the Dallara DW12 chassis – where the spec chassis gets most of its down force from currently – it will only compound the issue.

IndyCar has offered up some really great racing in recent years because cars could follow closely. In practice there is a good chance this will be damaged by aero development. The quality of the racing is what will keep existing fans and bring new ones – not detail differences like Chevy producing a front wing with three elements and Honda one with two. The average Joe just won’t care.

Sustainability & inevitability

With greater scope for manufacturers to enhance performance through aero kits and engine development, one thing is certain: costs will rise. For teams like Penske, Ganassi and Andretti that are the ‘flagship’ teams for the manufacturers and well funded, it will be less of an issue. For smaller teams quite the opposite and these are the teams that give IndyCar its wonderful diversity and high levels of competition.

Almost as inevitable will be the convergence of kits. As one kit hits the sweet spot and sets itself apart from rivals, so the teams will gravitate towards the best solution. With the manufacturers now taking a greater stake – financially and in terms of brand equity – in the cars, convergence may also come a different way. Manufacturers are fickle and will not stick around if they are being beaten regularly and comprehensively when their brand is now directly linked to both the engine and the car itself.

A spec series is not a bad thing

Referring to NASCAR in the context of IndyCar is a worn-out option when trying to determine ways to enhance the latter’s prospects. Too often we have looked across and blindly suggested replicating what NASCAR does can be a panacea for IndyCar. It’s not but in this specific case, it can be.

NASCAR is spec series to all intents and purposes. The engines, chassis, bodywork and aero are strictly regulated. The components and brands may not be the same but the Fusion, SS and Camry all have to fit the same template and regulations. And this has not done NASCAR any harm at all. Similarly so it has not stripped out the engineering challenge or scope for the best teams to gain a competitive edge over their rivals. (For a different perspective on this read Oilpressure’s take on a spec series engineering challenge).

What I’m trying to say is that for the casual viewer – the people IndyCar needs to get watching – a spec series is not what is putting them off engaging with the sport. And for the existing IndyCar fans who crave development and innovation, the simple truth is that IndyCar needs to be commercially viable. To do that, it needs to accept it is a form of entertainment just like football, NASCAR, movies, video games and reality TV. And because of that, the racing, the drivers, the storylines are the key.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope the introduction of aero kits gives both opportunities for innovation whilst maintaining the quality of racing, the challenge for drivers and the opportunity for smaller teams to compete.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. All IndyCar has left is the “casual viewer”. What it needs is to get back its traditional fan base, i.e. short track fans. The only way to do that is to have an engine formula based on CID and boost, if turbo’d. The chassis needs to be a “crate chassis”. By that I mean you build a crate and if the fully assembled chassis with body panels and wings fits in the crate it’s legal.

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