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Keith Wiggins, owner of HVM Racing, sat down with More Front Wing to discuss the owners’ perspective on the debate regarding their vote to delay multiple aero kits to 2013.
Wiggins set the stage by laying out the motivations behind each side of the argument. “I think it needs to be said from the very beginning that the whole dialogue between the teams and Randy [Bernard] has been exceptionally good — a very good, mature, and business-like discussion. So, there’s not been anything heated about this. And we all have a tremendous amount of respect for Randy. He wants from the commercial side what he believes is right, the best opportunity for the Series, which of course for all of us is to excite the fans and bring new fans on. But from our side, it’s important to know that things have changed. Life’s tough and everything costs money, and that has an implication to all of our businesses, and it’s just trying to balance those two in a way that’s acceptable for everybody.
“Having been in the Series for three years, if there’s anything I dislike, it’s this car. It’s prehistoric, and it’s pretty ugly and not a nice car to deal with because it’s old technology. From my background in Europe in racing, go back a few years and we all had five new cars a year and we would always be developing them. We would love that. But then, when someone gives you the bill for it, we go, hmm, actually, it’s not too healthy at the moment. So, you have to balance that.”
From the owners’ perspective, the delay in rolling out the aero kits — which had most recently been estimated to see kits launched in time for the 2012 Indianapolis 500 and not for the beginning of the season — creates additional costs that are too great a burden for smaller teams. “The problem,” Wiggins clarified, “is that once the car’s produced in December, that doesn’t give [other manufacturers] time to produce kits. So, then everybody has to go out, buy their cars with the Dallara kits on, and every entrant will have a car and a spare car, so now you’ve just invested $385,000 times two for one driver, and then you’ve got to buy spare front wings, spare rear wings, spare sidepods, all of the spares that we’ve had over the years. Now we’re going to do four or five races, and then all the kits will come out, so therefore we’ve got to go back, buy two kits, one for each car, and then go out and buy spare wings, spare rear wings, spare body work. So, in the space of four months, five months, we’re probably going to have spent in excess of half a million dollars just on the aero parts.
“This is where the concern between the rich teams and the less is. There’s going to be testing during the winter in which people are going to develop their cars and go testing, and the ones who can afford it will do a lot more testing and a lot more CFD on the car in Dallara form. And then, once you start racing, new kits will be coming out for Indy, so then you’ve got to start doing development work and understanding the new kits and the performance of that, and there’s probably only two to maybe three teams that could afford to be doing all of that development while you’re still going to four races.”
Wiggins points out that the price tag for a single aero kit doesn’t fully represent the cost each team will need to take on. “Someone said to me this morning, it’s $70,000 for a kit. Well, yes, it is. It would be nice if you just had one car a year and you just bought one body kit, but you’re buying the Dallara kits because you need them to start the season. Originally, you could buy the car without the kits and then add the kit of your choice. Now that they won’t be ready, you’re buying two kits when you buy your cars.
“You don’t just run around with one [aero kit]. You do tend to hit things, unfortunately. We’d like not to. But you have to have painted in the pits your spare wings and all of your equipment that goes with it. And then, four races down the road, come Indy, they release the new kits. You’ve then got to go out and buy at least two kits for your two cars for one driver, and then you’ve got to buy all your spare wings and all the stuff you keep in again. It’s a double whammy, so it’s not $70,000. You’re already at four kits — you would have bought two anyway, so there’s another $140,000 worth of bare kits. And then, by the time you’ve bought spare front and rear wings and spare sidepods and whatever, there’s probably another $75,000 or so. So, it starts to ramp up the expense when a lot of teams have had a lot of their equipment and spares bought over several years and they’ve got a stock of those.
“And, again, we’re not even discussing all the suspension and all the gears and all the hundreds of things that go with a new car. We’re already going to all be buying all of those.”
So, what’s changed from the time of the ICONIC Committee announcement to now that has led to the owners realizing that rolling out aero kits next season is unfeasible? Does it really just come down to the delay? “I don’t want to get into too many details of some of the discussions behind closed doors,” Wiggins replies. “All I would say is it hasn’t just reared its head. And some of the decisions put forward by the League and the ICONIC Committee, I’m sure that not everybody was in agreement with the concepts back then because always costs are a concern.
“With the tire situation, there was an issue with Firestone where everybody went back and everybody was unanimously happy to pay a lot more for our tires than to risk going somewhere else. So, we are fairly rational in these decisions of what’s best for the overall Series.”
Would the owners have been amenable to accepting these costs if there had been no delays in the availability of the new aero kits that forced the purchase of additional parts midway through the season? “If you’re asking me personally,” Wiggins responds, “the answer is yes because we’re investing in what we’re going to race and we’re then investing in and we’re gearing up for everything around that specification. I would say they would all say yes, but I can’t speak for them. The answer to your question from me is 100% yes.”
Wiggins takes the opportunity to present further points in favor of the owners’ position. “Teams need teams to race against, and when you have a situation where some teams maybe wouldn’t be able to afford the scenario that’s proposed and you’re prepared to lose quite a few teams because they can’t afford it, then I wouldn’t think that’s good for the fans, either. We all want to stay here and try and compete and build the momentum that’s been started already.
“Having kits the following year in a lot of ways would be more exciting because it will be another new thing. And when this car comes out and it goes to the Speedway, the cars are pretty much trimmed out. They have a single-element rear wing, a single-element front wing. There’s not lots of bits like you have on road cars for air direction and diffusers. You could have three kits there and you may well need a magnifying glass to see the difference between them. You’re not going to see huge differences because most people are going to come to the same conclusion when you’re running such small pieces of body work on the car. So, we could be making a lot of concern over almost nothing. And even yet, we don’t know how many manufacturers will want to invest in the kits. We may not have more than one kit available to us.”
Wiggins closed by encouraging dialogue between fans, team owners, and Series officials. “Ask us any questions, try and understand every side of our sport, and try and see what we’re doing in the best way we can to get to where we want to go. This isn’t us trying to pull some trick. We’ve been through difficult times. We’re coming out of them. We have a lot of good, positive direction. We’re going to have a lot of exciting new cars and engines. Just please understand, for us there are some big challenges which some of us may not be able to overcome if we can’t control it in a business fashion.
“We’re not looking for sympathy, but we’re just looking for people to understand what’s involved here and the risks and the strain it puts on the teams and how we can do this in a gradual way that keeps us all alive to compete in the Series that we love, to give you guys something better, to allow us to move forward with the kits to make it better.
“By talking like we are now, we hope that people understand a bit more about what is really involved and how things came about. We want the fans to be involved, just the same as we’re passionate about our sport — just to get everybody to honestly understand what is involved in it so that you can make an honest judgment of what we’re trying to do.”