Airing of Grievances… The Aerokit Edition

July 15th, 2010. A day remembered in infamy, a day of holograms, a day of ICONIC proportions,  a day the open wheel world was going to take a turn for the better. Hate it or love it, our fate for the next five years was sealed, but there was one grain of goodness in the otherwise overly contrived, smoke and mirrors filled mating ritual. Forget the fact that Dallara Automobili, the much maligned manufacturer of the outgoing IR07, was chosen to be the sole manufacturer for the new indycar chassis. Forget that the series only chose one chassis manufacturer to participate. What was important was the plain idea of aerokits. The saving grace from the hokey presentation was the possibility of open aerodynamic rules.

After many days of teeth gnashing and rampant vitriol, we accepted the idea that we were not receiving a chassis from the Italian manufacturer. What we were getting was a platform, the Indy safety cell, to serve as a technical base upon which anyone could build a kit and brand it for their company. The only caveat was that each new kit must be made equally available to anyone who wishes to strap it to their chassis and run with it.

OK, so it wasn’t multiple manufacturers, but we were sold on the idea because of the possibility of seeing different dancing clothes on the basic Indy safety cell and this was good enough for most of the fan base. Now we’re talking. Fast forward more than a year, and on May 11th of 2011 we witnessed the first cracks in what looked to be a very sound plan from the series. Somehow, the owners  “taken” a “vote” to “oppose” the introduction of aerokits in 2012.

Fine, Fine. We decided we could live with the single make kit for a year. We had plenty of new stuff to look forward to so this really wasn’t the end of the world…yet. 13 months later on June 6th, 2012  the owners did it all over. They “vetoed”, yet again, to delay the kits one more year. This is not an owner driven series; this is not a democracy, this is a monarchy… or so we all thought.

Unfortunately there are deeper issues at hand than just a power play from the owners. The bag of snakes and Randy Bernard actually asked a good question: do we really need them? The racing has been so good this year that the introduction of multiple kits could really adversely affect the spread of the field. After five races in 2012, the owners seemed to all think the same thing. It clearly isn’t broken, why do we need to fix it? The bottom line seemed to be the extra cost involved in the whole program. Very good owners, I guess I can see where you’re coming from. Still, wouldn’t aerokits be rad?

But what about the engine manufacturers? Honda and Chevy were purported to be well down the road of kit development and Lotus looked to be keen on entering the foray as well. How much money have they already spent on the development of these kits that the owners were so quick to shoot down? This is not the type of situation that will draw more manufacturers to the party. In fact, this could be the first straw in the ultimate alienation of Chevy, a company who has already run for the hills once before due to shoddy management.

The main selling point of the Indy safety cell was the possibility that outside manufacturers can jump into the indycar game without an engine, yet have a branded chassis. Boeing, Oreca, swift and a few unnamed technology firms have supposedly shown interest in this whole aerokit idea. Again, one has to wonder if there are no kits in 2013, how much money have these companies thrown on the fire for a program that may ultimately never come to fruition? Fantastic way to entice manufacturers to hang out for the long run.

There is a bigger issue. What happens when Toyota, VW or any other manufacturer decides they want to enter the aerokit game? Will Chevy, Honda or Lotus allow their contracted teams to run a kit manufactured and designed by a competing company? A Toyota/Chevy/Firestone entry? Seriously?? I can’t imagine a scenario where this would be OK. If I were the Team Chevy exec, there is no way I would let any other kit run with my engine beside the one made in house specifically for Chevy teams.

The possible answer could kill two birds with one stone. INDYCAR might be smart to save the Judd program when Lotus is finally freed from this misguided experiment and rebrand the engine as an “Indy Special”. This would serve as the perfect platform for any manufacturer other than Honda or Chevy to use without the political backlash that would surely follow if a team tried to join Chevy engines with, let’s say, a Toyota aerokit. I’m sure there is some kind of “to play” fee a manufacturer would have to pay the series to get their foot in the door. Use this money, plus the cash from teams paying to lease the engine to do a bit of development. After all, the current revision of the engine is workable on the road courses.

Solved problem number two? This could also be a power plant available to part time teams or 500 only programs that Honda and Chevy clearly do not want to deal with; similar to the Buick engine of many years past. Finding a way for teams to get a shot at running without committing to the full schedule will be a big hurdle for the smaller teams to deal with no matter how nice Honda and Chevy play. An easy idea that solves multiple problems, but this is about aerokits.

I see one possible scenario that may keep everyone from stepping off the ledge. If owners are as opposed to them as it publicly seems, I suggest to them a gentlemen’s agreement a’ la F1 2010. Two years ago KERS was still legal, yet the entire paddock agreed to not run them for the duration of the season. No one jumped ship and by 2011, KERS was seen up and down pit lane on all but the most underfunded teams. This could very well be the owners’ best option to keep the peace without making everyone involved a bit more insane than when they started. This would ultimately give the other players a bit more time to develop if needed so everything is ready to go when and if the owners start spending cash on kits in 2013 or beyond. No one say they have to buy them.

All in all, the kits seem like they will cause more problems than they will solve. I am not taking a stand against aerokits… that is just silly. I cannot see how you could get the engine manufacturers on board with allowing a competing automobile manufacturer take the easy way into the series. Boeing? Sure. But that was never the main aim of the program. Without an unbranded engine I feel this idea may have been dead before it even had a chance to be brought to reality. If we do see kits one day, they will only be of the Honda and Chevy variants. In this case, just build the cost into an engine lease and move on with it. We are tired of the grandstanding from the owners. It’s time to get on with the racing.

Eric Hall

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