Dallara, IndyCar, Randy Bernard and Black Helicopters

It’s January 19th, one day after Honda and Chevrolet submitted their final designs for their spiffy 2015 aerokits; a glorious day for sure. But here we sit with no images or anything really too concrete regarding what we may be in store for once the green falls in St. Petersburg.

I’m totally OK with this.

My excitement for the 2015 season, the introduction of aerokits and the new look of the IndyCar schedule has me very excited about the coming season; more so than any season in recent memory.

When was the last time we had a true development war in IndyCar? Possibly ahead of the 2005 season when we saw Dallara and Panoz contesting the championship on the chassis side and Chevy, Toyota and Honda on the engine side. That wide ocean of development was pared down to only Dallara and Honda contesting the entire 2006 season; quite the change in only one year.

The situation was even more dire on the CART/Champ Car side following the 2002 season. Honda and Toyota had departed for the IRL and Reynard Motorsport was not saved from bankruptcy.

A handful of teams soldiered on with the undeveloped Reynard chassis for two more years before finally being mothballed in favor of the Lola. And like that, CART/Champ Car’s backbone became spec equipment.

Competitive open-wheel development has been at a standstill for more year’s than many of the highly coveted new fans have been watching. And that is a tough pill to swallow. Indycar racing, in one form or another, has been built upon development and we are on the brink of seeing the next iteration of that century old knife fight.

Needless to say, I am truly looking forward to what 2015 has to offer. But while reading the flurry of excellent development articles coming from various sources, I began to wonder exactly how the DW12 was designed.

The supposed word on the street regarding the initial Dallara aerokit was that it was designed solely as a show kit ahead of the 2012 season. The intention being that other manufacturers would come on board and autoclave some new clothes for the DW12 safety cell.

As we well know, that did not happen. With no kit manufacturers on board, IndyCar and Dallara were left scrambling to push the show kit into production with minimal wind tunnel or CFD development. I do not blame either party for this decision; why develop something that would only see service for a year?

Remember back to initial Indy testing of the shiny new Dallara kit. Speeds were down… way down… 215-ish top speed down. Dallara was emphatic their chassis hit all the items on the IndyCar checklist, and a Dallara manufacturing engineer here in Indianapolis planted the blame squarely on the overweight engines being supplied.

Of course, Chevy and Honda held the line and pushed blame to Dallara. I have always wondered if the current turd of an aerokit was more to blame than chassis design or engine weight. It’s much cheaper to fix an imbalance problem by changing a-arm geometry than developing a new aerokit.

But the teams, drivers and the series marched on and developed that sorry aerokit until it could turn blistering times at nearly every facility visited.

Now enter 2015 manufacturer testing.

IndyCar and Dallara anticipated a huge increase of downforce from the new kits and proactively made downforce decreases to the existing under tray in testing as early as fall of 2014. And rightfully so, IndyCar and Dallara both knew how sloppy the existing kit was and how much potential there was to be found in the chassis.

Even with the new, less efficient floor, Honda and Chevy maxed out the suspension strength as early as October of 2014; a concerning mark to hit so soon in development. The response? IndyCar axed even more downforce by making the tunnels and diffuser more inefficient. Not the way we want the chassis to be developed in concert with these new aerokits.

I wasn’t thrilled about the initial floor change, but the need is understandable as Dallara has clearly improved the base design slowly over the past three years. But this second round of technical de-evolution is concerning.

What exactly was Dallara thinking when they OKed the suspension ahead of the 2012 season? Did they not ever expect downforce increases over the life of the chassis? Were there no actual plans to introduce manufacturer aerokits?

This malarky makes me believe that the idea of an “aerokit” was a red herring fed to us by Randy Bernard. Yet another big check written by the-starry-eyed-every-fans-best-friend that IndyCar and Dallara would be unable to cash once push came to shove.

Remember proud Randy standing in front of us with the amazing revelation to move downforce from the wings to the under tray? It did wonders for competition, but sent the wrong message regarding the evolution of the DW12.

Should I be concerned about nose to tail racing now that the downforce has moved from the floor to the wings? During the years leading up to the sweeping rules changes ahead of the 2009 Formula One season, we saw just how bad the racing can be when you continue to take away downforce from the floor and force teams to claw it back with the wings.

This is not how chassis and aero development is supposed to go. Chevy and Honda have gone above and beyond the call. They fight tooth and nail on the engine side by bringing updates as quickly as possible and utilizing the rules in an attempt to strangle the series. The inability of either to complete this task is proof positive that both manufacturers are leaving nothing on the engine development table.

The reports that both manufacturers have maxed out the stock DW12 suspension is even more credence to their commitment to winning in IndyCar. Honda and Chevy are clearly pushing the limits of what they can do within the rules and finding huge gains to complete the IndyCar choke hold.

I’ve long been a supporter of Dallara, but such poor planning and design cannot be overlooked. Neither can the memory of Randy Bernard constantly selling us on things he would ultimately fail to deliver.

Did Dallara deliver exactly what was asked within the monetary design constraints? Did Randy know he was selling a Ferrari on a Fiat budget? Did he assume there would never be aerokits, as witnessed by the DW12 design compromises, only to sell fans something he assumed would never be delivered?

I really believe the answer is ‘yes’ across the board. Randy was not a stupid man. He knew what the fans wanted and was able to sell us hope instead of giving us truth. I also believe Dallara delivered the promised chassis, but was not able to developed the flexibility needed to handle dynamic aerokits due to obvious time and budgetary concerns.

Considering how volatile the IndyCar fan base is (Myself included along with everyone reading this post) fudging the numbers may not have been the worst short-term solution. A short-term solution because he knew his time was limited and he was already tired of the noise?

Black helicopter territory now.

This racer article put the final pieces in the fishy Dallara/Bernard/IndyCar puzzle that has been rattling around for a while. I always felt Randy was a better salesman than a leader, but I was never able to clearly pinpoint the root of my concern.

Regardless of what happened years ago, the idea that we have Skunk Works level secrecy taking place in our tiny slice of motorsport heaven is almost too exciting. Honda and Chevy are primed for an epic battle and they clearly do not care if IndyCar or Dallara is there to help.

Add the renewed commitment of Firestone to increase development in 2015, we are primed for an excellent year of technical warfare the likes of which we haven’t seen in nearly a decade.

Roll on Brazilia!

Eric Hall

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8 Responses to Dallara, IndyCar, Randy Bernard and Black Helicopters

  1. Jim Gray says:

    Great article!

  2. Gary Orr says:

    I thought this was a great blog and anticipated sending to my other IndyCar friends until the “blame game” set on Randy Bernard and seemed to blame everything completely on him. I don’t agree. Maybe all his ideas did not work but I think IndyCar was much closer to what fans wanted than they are currently. Standing starts and double file restarts for example. Fans wanted them, Randy gave them. Who knows how the chassis would have evolved if he was able to stay in his position. Don’t make him the skapegoat when he wasn’t here at this part of the development. He could have made different choices along the way. But what do I know? Maybe you know something about Randy that I don’t to make you hate him.

  3. Eric Hall says:

    Thanks for the reply Gary. I definitely do not hate Randy, but I think his insistence on quelling the multiple fan uprisings ultimately led to his demise. It is an undeniable fact that the fans are the only way the bills get paid, but without manufacturers, sponsors and most importantly teams, there is no series for us to be so passionate about.

    Randy was an amazing pitchman and he was never able to fully grow into that role due to the lack of board approval to hire an appropriate support staff; something that the current regime doesn’t seem to have a problem with. Good or bad, but that is the reality of the current situation.

    I *do* believe that we were super-served as fans during the Bernard era, and that is something that cannot be denied. We had a strong voice in the series, but I do not feel like anyone is more or less upset than usual during the Miles era verse the Bernard era. There will always be a consistent baseline of fan discontent.

    This discontent shook Randy; the life of an indycar fan is a difficult thing for another sport or motorsport fan to comprehend without simply putting the time in the saddle. And I feel this discontent pushed Randy to do what he could to help fans with or without the support of the many parts of the indycar machine.

    The news that came out regarding the suspension collapses kind of connected the dots and made me think the aerokit dance is one of his biggest miss-steps and possibly one of the larger straws to land on the camel.

    Do I think that IndyCar is better off today? Yes. But only because Miles has the support to not make such rash decisions. IndyCar, for the first time *ever* is actually structured like a business that finally has the ability to miss its own foot when firing from the hip.

    But will they? Time will tell. Had Bernard been given the support seen now by Miles, I think we may have been in an even better place today because he could have side stepped so many land mines from the start.

    Nothing personal against Randy, this was more me crafting a story to explain 3 years crazy talk without much follow through. But I still believe the initial idea of aerokits was a red herring to mask other issues that were present at the time.

    • Gary Orr says:

      I’m sorry but you can’t say “aero kits” covered anything. Before the current DW12 we had a 12 year old car that was maxed out 10 years before.

      • Gary Orr says:

        No body makes a plan as big as the DW12 and think it’s going to go perfect without needing upgrades/revisions as time goes on. My point is if Randy was still in charge we have no idea whee we’d be right now. Wow Miles put IndyCar into the Black. Randy said he was close too!! Eventually a successful series will make a profitable organization but rushing it at the expense of the entertainment on track will make a short term success. Our current success and excitement for the next season was all created out of Randy’s ideas. Miles wouldn’t do anything as crazy as changing a car because he’s afraid of being the next Randy… Gone.

      • Eric Hall says:

        I am 100% not commenting on the old chassis. The DW12 is lightyears ahead of that old pig and I am clearly excited about the introduction of aerokits. This was a narration about interesting subjects (aerokits, suspension collapses, IndyCar’s financial and managerial state in 2011) and how they could possibly be interconnected. It’s unfortunate that Randy is made to be the bad guy in this situation and maybe it would be better to portray him as the messenger. And he was always willing to deliver the message no matter what the fallout may be.

        Randy needs to be viewed in a more balanced light as his tenure becomes more distant. Randy is the reason IndyCar is enjoying continued momentum, but he also was not the savior of IndyCar. He set in motion a chain of event that continues to manifest positive results today, but he also made missteps.

        I don’t want to comment on the perceived success or failure of Miles quite yet, but he is continuing to build on the IndyCar that Randy started to revitalize. IndyCar is in an exciting place because of Randy; I just want to start making sense of the events during his time because they may still have implications today.

      • Gary Orr says:

        I agree the current product IndyCar provides is awesome and I’m very excited for next year. I say I’m theost excited every year. But I am also bumed as the loss of standing starts and double file restarts. Short season sucks and the lack of communication to the fans in the Miles era makes miss the old. However I will watch 2015 and beyond regardless who is making the decisions.

      • Eric Hall says:

        IndyCar for life… it’s what makes us so passionate! Change sucks but I’m always willing to give time to new regimes. 2015 *will* be epic. Strap in for the ride!

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