May 16, 2012
Indy is still Indy, but the clock is ticking.
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 5/14, 12:00 p.m.) Detroit. There is nothing like the Indianapolis 500. Nothing. You can say it isn't what it once was, you can criticize the way they go about things, but when all is said and done it is still the greatest single motor race in the world. And there is still nothing like the start of the Indianapolis 500, too, which to me remains the most electrifying moment in all of motorsport.
But as much as I love the traditions of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 itself, I'm afraid that a golden opportunity was squandered by IndyCar with its latest rules package. The reluctance by the powers that be at IndyCar to embrace change when the sport of Indy car racing so desperately needed it will resonate - and negatively so - for years to come. Stepping back and evaluating the new cars after they've been on track for a while this year reveals that after all of the hand-wringing and the promise of change, we're basically left with yet another rehash of the spec formula that has been hovering around for a decade or more. And it is simply unacceptable.
I urged in column after column leading up to the new rules package that IndyCar needed to press the "reset" button, that the sport desperately needed a new direction based on diversity of thought, alternative power sources, creative and individualistic approaches that would come with a newly-minimalistic rules package, and a long list of other things that would bring the Indianapolis Motor Speedway back to the center of the racing world.
And what do we have? The same ol', same ol' with a little different bodywork and turbocharged engines. The turbos are of course welcome, but the rest? I'm afraid it's mainly asleep-at-the-wheel stuff, almost mind-numbing in its predictability.
In its heyday the Indianapolis 500 bristled with creativity and "different drummer" thinking. Blue sky dreamers were allowed to bring their wares to The Speedway and go for it. It was a tradition. Every May the garages would burst with creativity and brash, alternative thinking. Would it all work? No, of course not. But dreamers dared to dream and the efforts were remarkable in their creativity. And that thinking helped make the Indy 500 the singular event in the racing world.
I am well aware of the long list of reasons why the IndyCar committee did what they did, but the reality of the situation is that there were only two main reasons that we are where we are today with these new cars. The first was cost, of course, but the other was abject fear of the unknown, that if IndyCar officials dared steer off of the expected path they would ruin the sport.
Well, guess what? Here we are with "new" IndyCar cars that aren't really new. Yes, of course they're much safer, which is always critically important, but beyond that, we're left with yet another version of spec car racing, and for my money it stinks.
I share my colleague Robin Miller's thoughts on what IndyCar needs and it's a pretty damn simple formula of: More Horsepower (1,000HP minimum) + Dramatically Reduced Downforce = The Return of Great Racing. The drivers should never be able to flat-foot around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway again. And I will add to this the fact that a diversity of car manufacturers has to return to The Speedway as well, from the super teams to the backyard geniuses, in order for things to get juiced up again.
If you want to show up with a DeltaWing chassis with a 1,000HP 4-cylinder turbo, so be it. If you want to build an elegant chassis that satisfies all of the IndyCar safety requirements yet you want to run a production-based supercharged V8, that should be perfectly fine as well.
The point being this: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 cannot go on functioning indefinitely in this swirling maelstrom of spec car predictability. The diversity in the look and the feel of the cars has to be a part of a new, unlimited (within reason) formula, and the drivers have to be made to use their brakes to get around the 2.5-mile oval again. It's that simple.
Is the Indianapolis 500 still the greatest single motor race in the world? Absolutely.
But unless there are visionary changes made, I'm afraid the luster of the race and The Speedway itself will grow dim.
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, 1965. An overhead view of the No. 98 J.C. Agajanian/Hurst Lotus-Ford driven by Parnelli Jones outside his garage at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Jones would qualify fifth and finish second in the Indianapolis 500 to Jim Clark driving the No. 82 Lotus Powered by Ford, which was entered by Colin Chapman. Mario Andretti came home third in his No. 12 Al Dean/Dean Van Lines Hawk-Ford. Watch two excellent videos from the 1965 Indianapolis 500 here and 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
See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" with hosts John McElroy, from Autoline Detroit, and Peter De Lorenzo, The Autoextremist, and guests this Thursday evening, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.
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