To some, we are witnessing the most competitive era that indycar racing has ever seen. The past two Indy 500’s have seen the two closest starting grids by time ever, 2010 by 3.0622 seconds and 2011 by 2.5399. That is 33 drivers finishing a ten mile run at 225 miles an hour and less than three seconds separates the whole field. 2011 marked the fifth closest qualifying field, 33 drivers separated by 3.593 miles per hour. These numbers are the definition of what makes a competitive field, on paper. To others, competition is not the heat of the game, but the players involved. I was talking to my Father the other day about racing, indycars, engines and he said the type of equipment they have now and the way it is used, is what deters him from the series.
He enjoys his racing, the odd Friday night up to Anderson Speedway or the once in a blue moon trip to Indianapolis Raceway Park punctuate his motorsports experiences. Although I have never known him to sit down and watch a race, save for the Indy 500, we did make one family pilgrimage to IMS for the free Tuesday edition of the 1997 500. He comes from a time when engine and technical competition at the speedway was at the height of racing, and his choice of entertainment is the live kind. During this casual conversation one thing he said really struck a chord with me, “all of the engines are the same… What exactly is push to pass? It’s just so stupid.” These very words have been simultaneously the polarizing entity in technical competition and the catalyst for a change. The current, spec racing has created the closest and competitive, by numbers, racing we have ever seen. It is almost the expected norm for the championship to come down to the final race of the season, sometimes even the last corner of the last lap of the season.
Even with these incredibly competitive seasons, often unseen in the motorsports world at large, some people see the current form of indycar racing nothing more that glorified shifter karts with Honda clone engines powering the whole grid. It was the different makes that drew my Father and others like him to the grandeur indycars. It didn’t matter if two cars were on the lead lap, he had equipment to root for, and equipment to root against.
The whole idea of a push to pass system is odd and foreign to him and many possible fans out there. When do they get to use them? Why are they limited in the number of uses? Why is it even used? These are all valid questions to a casual fan. I am certain that if he ever happened to catch a durable black verse grippy red tire segment he would have been equally confused and deterred from the whole mess even more. These are the gimmicks that are keeping some people away. The channel surfer will understand double file restarts almost instantly, but numbers of push to pass and the color of the tire are more enigmatic subjects than can be explained in the short time a surfer will watch. It is these, eclectic nuances in the rule book that make it very difficult for an outsider to pick up on. A five minute segment on push to pass and red/black tires might as well be broadcasted in another language to the casual viewer.
I, personally, love the rules to enhance competition, and as a well read race fan, I can understand the oddest of the odd rules. Yes, even qualifying for the Daytona 500 or DRS usage in Formula 1. But, the need for a return to plain ‘ol technological competition has reached a fevered pitch. Thankfully, that will be changing next year with a renaissance of-sort in engine competition featuring Honda, Chevy and Lotus. I really do not know if I could have lasted one more year watching the IRL03/Indy V8 package again.
Competition to my father is, hopefully by 2013, watching ford smash the competition and taking home the Borg-Warner for the blue oval boys. Competition is watching Lotus and Honda battling for supremacy, Chevy taking the fight to Ford. This type of racing engages the everyday gear head. These guys don’t care that the whole field is three seconds apart. They want to see the same manufacturer who makes his daily driver, take the checkers over the company who makes his brothers car.
I have never thought of competiveness in this sort of way. In my eyes, the strength of a field has always been determined by how close it was and I feel this view is a widely held one in the indycar community. With the triumphant reemergence of engine, and hopefully aero, competition indycar can grab some casual fans and gear heads. However the next few years play out, they will undoubtedly usher a new, and hoprfully, less confusing era of racing. Gone will be discussions of passing lanes, no passing zones segments on tires and push to pass will be limited for one thing; How do the engines stack up to each other; a much easier subject to draw unfamiliar viewers in. It’s about time, and we are all ready.