FUMES
Monday, June 7, 2010 at 11:12AM
Editor

June 9, 2010



Let 'em all run.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

(Posted 6/7, 11:30AM) Detroit.
While IndyCar has announced its engine package for 2012 - a 2.4-liter Turbo V6 with accommodations for 4-cylinder engines - it's also deeply immersed in sorting through the details of the various scenarios from competing chassis manufacturers who have expressed interest in participating - Lola, Dallara, Swift, Delta Wing, BAT. And while doing this it is becoming more and more clear to me that Randy Bernard and his team of advisers have to abandon any pretense of the status quo and set IndyCar racing on a new course once and for all.

What IndyCar has been doing for over a decade now - through the recycling of "packages" and the tweaking of rules and restrictions - is simply revising the same spec formula that has been in place since the split with CART. And even though the hard-core open-wheel faithful - me included - watched and relished every mile of this year's Indianapolis 500, the TV ratings numbers were down again and there's no sign of the ratings switching to an upward trajectory anytime soon.

That's not progress; it's an excruciatingly slow ticket to oblivion.

Indy needs "buzz" right now and there's not much of it to be had. It used to be that major league open-wheel racing in the U.S. could at least count on the "once-a-year" race watchers to bolster the Indianapolis 500's ratings, but it's clear to me now with these latest numbers that this isn't the case any longer. And the painful reality is that it hasn't been for quite some time, either. And IndyCar's plodding pace of action while setting sail in the direction of evolutionary change - instead of revising its fundamental raison d'etre and just going for the new and yet-to-be-explored - threatens to not only continue IndyCar's downward rating and interest spiral, but accelerate it.

I've been writing for years now that Indianapolis has to change, that it has to return to the role it once enjoyed decades ago when it embraced new ideas and technologies - albeit reluctantly in some cases - that eventually trickled down to our production vehicles. As a matter of fact, the first "Fumes" column I wrote back on June 1, 1999, hammered home this very idea.

And even though I do find reason to harbor some genuine optimism about IndyCar - as I wrote a week ago - and I am bullish on the idea that Randy Bernard and his advisers are bright enough to eventually get this right, I also think that this situation has reached a critical juncture. The decision that IndyCar makes on its new chassis and rules package will not only determine the future of IndyCar, it will determine the future of major league open-wheel racing in this country once and for all. We'll either see a rejuvenating shot of creativity and a subsequent renewal of interest - both with casual and hard-core fans and the media - or we'll see IndyCar do a pirouette into irrelevance and obsolescence.

That's why I strongly believe that it's absolutely critical for IndyCar to throw open the rule book and invite everybody in. You want to run a twin-turbo direct-injected V6? Great. Or, if you are a major European manufacturer like VW and want to run a four-cylinder engine, that's fine too. You want to run a blown flat 6-cylinder engine with electric assist? Or even an all-electric car? Have at it. You want to run the Delta Wing, or any of the other chassis in question, or one that hasn't even been envisioned yet? Cool, it's all good.

The only rules I want to see for IndyCar in 2012?

1. A dimensional size envelope that the car cannot exceed, while meeting all of the safety system requirements.

2. Each car would be allowed 50 gallons of fuel - adjusted for different power densities of the various fuels obviously - to run the 500 miles at Indianapolis. Fuel allotments for other tracks on the schedule would be determined on a track-by-track basis as long as the target of 10 mpg was achieved. And then over an agreed upon number of years the mileage target would rise until cars were achieving 20 mpg throughout qualifying and the race, no matter what the track.

Period.

At this point it becomes really quite simple, because if you - as a competitor - can meet the fuel-efficiency and safety requirements and you can build a car that fits inside the dimensional envelope, then you can run. And if you do it better than the other competitors, you're going to succeed.

The most obvious counterpoint to this argument is that costs would skyrocket and it would create an even more non-sustainable model than the one that exists now. I am not so sure about that because let's face it, major league open-wheel racing in this country cannot exist without manufacturer participation. It simply can't. And as a counterpoint to the counterpoint, I would also argue that right now manufacturer participation in a spec series is actually the thing that's not sustainable.

Give manufacturers a reason to run their latest fuel-saving, high-performance technology against other manufacturers in serious competition - including in the biggest single motor race in the world - and you give them a reason to not only boast about their engineering and technological prowess through marketing, it also allows them to make a direct connection and tout the real world benefits to the consumer. Something they can't do now, or at least not to the degree that they could with a high-performance-with-efficiency racing series platform.

My message to Randy & Co.?

If they meet the requirements, let 'em all run.

 

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)
Le Mans, France, June 11, 1967. A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney talk after their brilliant win in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The all-American duo led all but the first 90 minutes of the race, covering 388 laps and averaging 136 mph, while beating the 2nd-place factory-entered Ferrari by four laps. This after the consensus among journalists in attendance was that Gurney and Foyt couldn't keep it together and didn't have the discipline it would take to win. It was immediately after this race that Gurney invented the tradition of spraying Champagne on the victory stand after a race win. "I was so stoked that when they handed me the Magnum of MOËT ET CHANDON, I shook the bottle and began spraying at the photographers, drivers, Henry Ford II, Carroll Shelby and their wives," Gurney said. "It was a very special moment at the time, I was not aware that I had started a tradition that continues in winner's circles all over the world to this day." It remains the only all-American victory - with an American-built car, prepared and entered by an American team (Shelby-American Inc) and driven by American drivers - in the history of the world's greatest endurance race.

 

Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out ford.artehouse.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD

 

 

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