No. 898
May 24, 2017
 

About The Autoextremist

@PeterMDeLorenzo

Author, commentator, influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. Editor-in-Chief of .

Peter DeLorenzo has been in and around the sport of racing since the age of ten. After a 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising, where he worked on national campaigns as well as creating many motorsports campaigns for various clients, DeLorenzo established Autoextremist.com on June 1, 1999. Over the years DeLorenzo's commentaries on racing and the business of motorsports have resonated throughout the industry. Because of the burgeoning influence of those commentaries, DeLorenzo has directly consulted automotive clients on the fundamental direction and content of their motorsports programs. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the sport today.

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Fumes


Monday
May152017

SHAPING THE FUTURE OF THE "500."

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. After last week's column - "The 500 is still magic, but is it enough?" - I received several emails asking basically the same thing, as in, what would I do to move the sport forward? As I've stated many, many times before, it's far easier to suggest things when you don't have any skin in the game. And as I've been reminded by IndyCar team owners in the past, suggesting changes to IndyCar is far easier when you aren't responsible for the livelihoods of a large group of people and their families, while running a viable business in racing. Indeed, there is no question that it is one of the more difficult endeavors you can choose to do, no matter what the racing series (NASCAR owners have been struggling for years to maintain their sponsorship momentum in a series that's clearly in a downward spiral). Much of these reminders from IndyCar team owners have been blunt, as in, "until you try to run a racing team and have the responsibility for many livelihoods, you don't have a frickin' clue as to what you're talking about." Or something like that. And they do make an excellent point.

But still, "racing in a vacuum" - meaning, racing for the edification of the team owners and the business-to-business deals in the paddock - is not sustainable. Yes, the Indianapolis 500 is the monumental exception, but as I pointed out last week, IndyCar can't keep stumbling along with one major league, must-see event, and the rest of the schedule being a forgettable mishmash of races with varying degrees of attraction (Road America being the one shining exception). So what to do? How can the sport of Indy car racing evolve and change to generate real interest going forward? I'm not talking about the cleaner look of the 2018 cars here, which is a decidedly positive step in the right direction, as I find the current cars to be relentlessly ugly, I'm talking about what comes after next.

Once upon a time the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a hotbed of innovation, with each May brimming with new, creative ideas in the quest for speed. But then again, waxing on about the old days isn't productive at this juncture. It's no secret that advancements in technology - specifically in aerodynamics - swallowed the sport whole, and Indy car racing became a game of restrictions and speed management with controls put in place designed to keep the cars qualifying at around 235 mph and racing between 220 - 225 mph. And the sport has been in this holding pattern for 35 years now.

In an attempt at breaking out of this holding pattern, ten years ago I proposed a radical departure for the Indianapolis 500 that involved racing hydrogen-fueled electric vehicles. The Hydrogen Electric Racing Federation (see more on HERF at the end of this column - WG) was designed to accelerate the development of hydrogen electric vehicles for mass transportation applications, allowing the creative minds of racing to attack the problems associated with these vehicles in terms of hydrogen storage, range, refueling time, safety, heat management, etc., etc. The HERF proposal was well received and it drew serious consideration from several manufacturers, but alas, it was way ahead of its time.

Am I proposing a jump-start of HERF again? If the manufacturers wanted to do it, I think a 500-mile demonstration race one week ahead of the "500" would be very interesting and technically beneficial for all. But given the current financial climate, I don't see this as a viable proposal. That doesn't mean that I think we should leave the status quo intact, however. Not by a long shot. As I stated before, the 2018 IndyCar machines are a step in the right direction, but given that, I still think the Indianapolis 500 could be an even more compelling event than it already is today.

How to go about it?

First of all, I would create a dimensional box that an entry into the "500" must not exceed, which would not be too far off the footprint of the current Indy car. Secondly, I would allow 40 gallons of fuel - a corresponding fuel measurement for alternative powertrains would be factored in - to run the 500 miles. And that's it. Everything else would be "free." I believe these specifications would spark a new wave of creativity in the sport as a whole. This new specification package would mean that the technical issues would have to be solved all over again. How fast you wanted to go would have to be weighed against how you actually go about going fast. Yes, speeds would come down dramatically at first, as managing fuel consumption would be paramount, but I believe speeds would start climbing in no time as manufacturers focused their considerable technical resources on maximizing efficiency and speed.

And that's the key to all of this. My recommendations for shaping the future of the Indianapolis 500 would require intense manufacturer commitment and participation, as IndyCar and its teams cannot be expected to foot the considerable bill. But I also believe it would be well worth it, bringing about the dawn of a new age both at The Speedway and for the overall relevance and viability of the sport as a whole.

And that's the High-Octane Truth for this week.


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

(Courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Indianapolis, Indiana, 1966. Dan Gurney (No. 31 All American Racers Eagle Ford) leaves the pits in the first AAR Eagle Indy car built by his own company during practice for the Indianapolis 500. A shirt (below) worn by the Wood Brothers when they crewed Dan's car that year.

(Photo courtesy of the Wood Brothers)