Editor's Note: This column is still reverberating throughout the racing aristocracy, so we're going to leave it up this week. Peter will return with a new "Fumes" column next week. -WG
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. Every year since Day One of this publication back on June 1, 1999, I have begged, pleaded, cajoled, demanded and cried out for a radical transformation of Indy-type car racing. In watching last Sunday's IndyCar race from Long Beach, I was struck - yet again - by the predictability of it all. That and the fact that the cars are so uninspiring to look at and so woefully lacking in appeal that it barely holds my interest anymore. And I have been an Indianapolis and Indy car racing fanatic for as long as I can remember.
Let's face it, something is drastically missing. To start with, the aero packages and the add-on, craptastic appliance effect they bring with them are simply dreadful. Let's quit pretending that these aren't some of the most hideous looking Indy cars that there have ever been because they are, there's just no getting around that fact.
And actually, we can stop right there, because therein lies the fundamental problem with IndyCar and the current state of Indy-type car racing. The aero infatuation that has dominated the sport has to go. Yes, I understand that the run-up to the 200 mph lap speed barrier at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was riveting and fueled the sport like no other time in its history, but since then it has been a long slide to oblivion as aerodynamic advances and other technologies completely overwhelmed the sport.
We have watched as the powers that be at The Speedway balanced the aero and horsepower to make the cars run at certain speeds. In other words, spec racing hell, year, after year, after year. And it's time for it to be relegated to the history books.
The sad thing is that the Indianapolis 500 didn't used to be this way, not even close, in fact. Every year creative minds would show up at The Speedway with radical new ideas and approaches, some of which would work, and some of which became failed oddities and historical footnotes in the now grand, 100-year tradition. And now, on the eve of the 100th Anniversary of the greatest single motor race in the world, it's time for the Indianapolis 500 - and the sport of Indy car racing - to embrace a radical, transformative idea.
I proposed a sweeping transformation of the Indianapolis 500 nine years ago, it was something called the Hydrogen Electric Racing Federation (see below) and it was designed to use racing to solve all the problems associated with a hydrogen-fueled automotive future. It was too much, too soon, even though two manufacturers in particular - GM and Toyota - were very interested.
My latest recommendation may not be quite that radical, but in comparison with what's going on now, it would be truly earth-shattering. I would start by throwing the current rule book out and creating a new set of competitive parameters consisting of three things: 1. A dimensional "box" that the cars can't exceed (which also implicitly means that everything else is "free"). 2. The machines must have four wheels and tires (again, everything else is "free"). And 3. A maximum of 50 gallons of fuel allotted for the entire 500 miles (an equivalency formula would be adjusted for diversified approaches in powertrains and energy density in fuels. Yes, in other words, "free"). Then I'd give everyone two years to come up with new machines designed to these new parameters, and we could all look forward to the first of the "new era" 500s in May 2019. I am convinced that the creative diversity of approaches on display at The Speedway would have a chance of transforming the sport and making manufacturer support and fan interest soar.
But, as of today, I don't see that kind of vision or diversity of thought in IndyCar racing, or at The Speedway. Instead, all I can do is anticipate the excuses, as in, "We are running a business, and that kind of technology hit could not be sustained by us, or by our sponsors. So fundamental changes of that sort are a nonstarter for the sport."
I vehemently disagree. A nonstarter for the sport would be for Indy car racing and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to just continue on like it is now. And if that is indeed the case, I see the gradual decline, or to be more accurate - the "death spiral" - continuing, until there's nothing left except the Indy 500, which will by then have to become an invitational event, because the rest of the series will have faded away.
Simply stated, doing what has been done for decades because everyone is comfortable with it is clearly not the answer.
The onslaught of technology may have precipitated the gradual decline of racing over time, but new technical rules - or non-rules as the case may be - have the chance to revive and rejuvenate it, or even save the sport altogether.
And that's the High-Octane Truth for this week.
Editor's Note: Ford has just released “The Cutting Edge” - the second of five chapters in “The Return,” which is a long-form documentary that follows the development of both the street car and race car versions of the Ford GT from the decision to build the cars to the return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Watch chapter one, "The Decision," here. (FYI: The Autoextremist makes a cameo appearance in chapter one.) -WG
Editor's Note: Many of you have seen Peter's references over the years to the Hydrogen Electric Racing Federation (HERF), which he launched in 2007. For those of you who weren't following AE at the time, you can read two of HERF's press releases here and here. And for even more details (including a link to Peter's announcement speech), check out the HERF entry on Wikipedia here. -WG
Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD
(Photo courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Indianapolis, Indiana, 1966. Jackie Stewart and Lola designer Eric Broadley give Graham Hill (No. 24 John Mecom American Red Ball Lola/Ford) an orientation before his first run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Stewart dropped out late in that year's Indianapolis 500 when leading by over a lap, while Hill inherited the lead and went on to win the race, followed by Jim Clark (No. 19 Team Lotus STP Gas treatment Lotus/Ford) and Jim McElreath (No. 3 John Zink Moore/Ford). After a massive wreck at the start and other race attrition, only seven cars were running at the end. Watch an excellent video here.
Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out www.fordimages.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD