In 1996, Arie Luyendyk broke the single lap record at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a speed of 237.498 miles per hour. During that same qualifying attempt, he also broke the four lap average qualifying record with a speed of 236.986. His steed was a Reynard and his power was provided by a 2.65 Liter turbocharged Ford Cosworth. The engine made somewhere between 900 and 950 horses in qualifying trim and was one of the most fearsome animals ever to grace the bricks.
Fast forward 16 years to 2012 and the speeds were less than ten miles per hour slower with a drastically different package. Ryan Briscoe clinched the pole with a four lap average of 227.484 miles per hour. He had a spec DW12 Dallara chassis underneath him and was powered by a 2.2 liter turbocharged Chevrolet making in the neighborhood of 580 horsepower in qualifying trim.
The nine and a half mile an hour difference is less than one percent slower than the 1996 lap record. Not to mention, it was turned with around 450 less horsepower. I would usually follow this statement up with: “Is that not progress?”, but today I have a different take on what this means or doesn’t for 2013 and beyond.
Before the 2012 season saw even a single lap turned in anger, the new package was in constant limbo; shocking, I know. The engine rules were changed on Honda and Chevrolet mid design and Lotus…well…has yet to arrive in the series. Aerokits were also voted down, possibly in mid-development, but there is no way to know. And the brunt of aero-development fell on series chassis manufacturer Dallara.
The Italian company was caught off guard; they had no plans to develop a kit for the new cars. Instead they were relying on the eventual vaporware kits from the engine manufacturers. With no development budget, Dallara used a modified version of the show kits from the previous year. The aero pieces received a fair amount of wind tunnel work and have been more than successful considering the shoe string budget they were created with.
The chassis can create more downforce, while still being even more slippery through the air than anything that has ever graced American open wheel racing. That 450 horsepower deficit was more than overcome by 16 years of improved aerodynamic knowledge. Dallara can make a show kit that is so close to workable; only a bit of tweaking is needed to make it run well.
During May there were many knocks on the speed and I used the horsepower and speed difference as proof that we may yet be moving in a positive direction. In my eyes, all it would have taken to flirt with the 230’s are a bit more power and an even more refined aerokit.
Now we are in the waning weeks of the 2012 campaign and the future is unclear regarding the technical direction of the equipment heading into the 2013 season. One would assume there will be an engine re-homologation date a few weeks before the opening round and that the engine manufacturers will be working feverishly to increase power and reliability for 2013. (Ed: Fingers crossed…) The aerodynamics are a totally different story.
Undoubtedly, Dallara was counting on the engine manufacturers to do the brunt of development and testing for the 2013 season. However, for the second time the owners voted down the introduction of manufacturer kits for next year and squarely placed the onus of responsibility on Dallara’s shoulders. A responsibility they were not initially prepared to take on.
After delivering an underperforming chassis, Dallara went above and beyond to massage the machine into the workable fighter we have today when no one said they were required to do such. However, the issue is continued cost containment. With the ongoing power struggle between the owners, INDYCAR and Dallara, one has to think that there is no way Dallara is coming out with a redesigned or even tweaked kit for 2013. Why on earth would they pay for it?
With that, the hopes of a new or upgraded Dallara kit for next season have been all but dashed from the dreams of me and many other fans of the technological aspect of the series. I can nearly guarantee that the kit we watch close out the 2012 season will be exactly what we will get for 2013. If we vote down manufacturer kits then we must have an upgraded kit season to season. We are starting to fall into the exact same song and dance that was the catalyst for the creation of the DW12.
The owners were the driving force behind finding a new chassis and are now doing everything in their power to alienate the only chassis manufacture that could supply the series at the cost desired. Never mind the replacement part cost issue; something of that would have crept into the picture no matter who was making the chassis. This is still a business we are talking about. Parts and cars don’t materialize out of thin air.
Our machines are not created from steel and foam and they are not powered by proven technology; our machines are not prototype racers either. They are a limited production piece that powers an entire series. We are in uncharted waters; the exact situation the owners asked for. It would be a huge vote of confidence in favor of the series from Dallara if they do indeed work on the current kit during the offseason.
Lotus is dropping out at the end of the season, new teams and existing operations looking to expand will undoubtedly have a tough time finding an engine lease and “a few” owners are posturing an attempted takeover of the league. Something new to look at during 2013 would go a long way in easing some of the misgivings that are swirling around every corner of the indycar world. No one has been safe from doubt during the previous few months.
Something… anything… to reassure an increasingly worried core fan base could go a long way to carry the positive momentum the series has managed to build up over the course of the year. Yes, after having rambled on and on about 2013, I still think the series is sitting in a good place and with the new Indy Lights chassis coming up for bid, Dallara may be a key player in the future of indycar racing. But let’s not fall into the IRL mindset because that’s not good for any of us; Dallara, INDYCAR, the owners and especially not the fans.