Initial reactions to the 2012 chassis strategy announcement

IndyCar commentary — By on July 14, 2010 2:37 pm
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(Originally posted by Steph to Planet-IRL.com.)

There’s a lot of deeper consideration to go into the content of today’s announcement, but here’s an off-the-cuff response.In terms of presentation and build-up, the IZOD IndyCar Series unquestionably did everything right. Unfortunately, the whole thing turned out to be a whole lot of hype without a whole lot of answers.  We have a vague idea of where this chassis strategy will lead us, but we haven’t come away with this with the future in sharp focus as many of us hoped we would.

On top of that, from an outsider’s perspective, this strategy demonstrates two major flaws.

1.  The entire thing is predicated on other manufacturers being willing to play along. Randy Bernard issued the challenge for automobile companies to invest their time and resources to test their mettle in the IICS.  The problem is finding where exactly the perceived benefit to those manufacturers is meant to be.

It’s easy to say, “well, going head-to-head with the world’s great automotive names should be motivation enough.”  But we haven’t seen any numbers on what the actual expected cost of R&D and manufacturing would be to any of these companies, nor have we seen what they would expect their price to the teams to be or what their ROI would look like.  It’s entirely possible that very few of the types of companies that the IICS is trying to woo with such an arrangement will be interested in putting forth any sort of expenditure and risking being blown away by another manufacturer on the track, for example.

Plus, regardless of who’s building the aero package, Dallara’s name is still all over the main tub.  From appearances, Dallara will also be responsible for the chassis underbody, which will play a huge part in how those visible aero components will perform.  Are any of these secondary contributors going to be willing to share the glory and/or the blame with Dallara?

In short, this has the potential to be a very interesting initiative.  But it isn’t knocked out of the park just yet.  And knocked out of the park is the expectation that the racing community went into today’s announcement with.

2.  The mere act of having the Dallara name at the center of it all leaves a bad taste in fans’ mouths. If the IICS wanted us to believe they were shooting for revolutionary innovation with this announcement, this wasn’t the way to do it.  Although it may not have started out that way, Dallara’s image with the current fan base evokes images of old and tired cars, not ground-breaking and sport-rescuing new development.

And this concept is so very different from what Dallara originally presented to the public (which was resoundingly, again, old and tired) that it forces questions about what the process was that led the ICONIC Committee to this conclusion at all.  We know that the ideas included in the Delta Wing concept were a big part of it, but we don’t know anything about the discussion that went on with other manufacturers behind the scenes or whether other chassis designers such as Swift or Lola were permitted to take a stab at the final version of the concept once it had been decided upon.  This, unfortunately, leaves us with a sense that Dallara was treated with some favoritism.  Dallara has definitely been an excellent partner to the Series over the past few years, but is that enough justification to put the entire future of the sport at risk of being written off because they’re still so deeply involved?  There are many, many more questions to be answered before the fan base will be ready to accept that this was the right call.

Ultimately, though, it’s entirely possible that the only people who will ever care about this announcement are the few thousand very serious fans who tuned in today.  Randy Bernard and the marketing team for the Series have spent a great deal of time talking about touting the “cars and stars” of the IICS to bring new fans in, and this strategy could very well be effective regardless of what car is on the track if it’s done right.  If there’s a segment of fans who truly will be alienated by today’s announcement, perhaps it’s a small enough one that it was deemed not to have a great deal of impact on the bigger picture.  Only the people who were behind the board room doors will ever know the answer.

Again, this is simply an initial reaction — more time to consider the finer details and ask questions of the decision-makers may lead to some wide-sweeping changes of opinion in the coming days.  As a sport, let’s all sit back and give it a bit of time to see how everything plays out.

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