Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stop Naysaying! / You Try Creating Something!

Uh, yeah, about that more frequent posting rate-it will happen, I promise! See, I'm posting at least once a month!

Anyway, on to the matter of the day:

The Indycar series' off-season has produced a number of interesting topics for discussion. Chief among them is the Dallara DW12, the all-new race car set to equip the entire field in 2012. Contrary to rumors and pessimistic speculation, a sufficient number appear to have been ordered to ensure full grids all next season. The car is praised for improved road course manners compared to the 2003-2011 car. Internet articles, comments sections, forums, and letters columns show a deep dislike for the car's aesthetics and near-panic over its large-oval handling characteristics.

I'll tackle the less serious issue first. Over and over again, in place after place, I've read that the new car is "ugly," "hideous," and that it "doesn't look like an Indycar." These comments puzzle me. First, though I know it's subjective, I can't see what exactly is unattractive about the 2012 car. Nor can I see how it doesn't look like an Indycar. The appearance of an "Indycar" has been largely unchanged for 40 years now: Four exposed wheels, centrally-located open cockpit, narrow body, wings front and rear, and sidepods. The same goes for Formula 1 cars. Like it or not, the layman couldn't pick an "Indycar" out of a lineup of modern and historic American open-wheel and Formula 1 cars. The appearance of the 2012 Dallara changes none of that. The educated eye (i.e. the Indy car fan) will point out the unique nose outline, the add-on strakes/sharkfins/splitters, and the largely enclosed rear wheels. None of which make for a radical departure in appearance or an eyesore more offensive than the cobbled-together "Indycar" "ideal" already is. I'll go further and point out that I went on the record as firmly and proudly pro-Delta Wing. Not because that concept was particularly attractive or gorgeous, but it was new and different-both in appearance and concept. And that is what Indycar needs-embrace the future and BE the next big thing. I don't want Indycars or Indianapolis to be confused with "those F1s" ever again. A new, unique, and special brand needs to be built-and the 2012 Dallara with it's nearly covered rear wheels and unique (to American open-wheel cars) use of aerodynamic blades and surfaces-is a good start.

The more pressing issue is the DW12's teething problems. Multiple stories have been published discussing the car's wicked fast-oval handling. Apparently, it exhibits extreme oversteer on corner entry (too extreme for even loose-car aficianado Dan Wheldon, it is said), followed by understeer on corner exit. Excessive rear weight bias is pointed to as the culprit. Fixes are underway, but the Indycar fan community at large is up in arms, and certain that the future of their sport is in jeopardy, thanks to The Worst Race Car Ever to Turn a Wheel. Is anyone really surprised that the first prototypes of an all-new design specified to perform at over 200 mph are having problems? Or that a company whose business is building race cars hasn't had similar problems in the past? I'm pretty certain that nearly every new race car (like most products) didn't perform particularly well on its first shakedown runs. That's why the company employs test drivers, engineers, and technicians. If you didn't hear about other new race car teething problems, that's probably because of a couple of reasons. First, the internet facilitates frequent articles and updates from journalists and fosters communities that discuss and analyze what those journalists write about. Aiding this is Dallara, probably trying to establish a level of transparency as an advertising or public relations move. Something that would be unheard of in an era of chassis competition. So, we have a race car that is brand new from the ground up that does not perform as promised in its first few tests. Dallara, acting in an open, free manner likely inspired partly by its brand new, taxpayer-funded facility in Speedway, shares the new car's problem areas with the public, and is ripped apart for it. I have no doubt that the DW12 has problems. I also have no doubt that the engineers involved have a pretty good idea how to solve those problems and are working on them. I don't believe that is cause for concern, I believe that is the normal order of development. By the first race weekend of the year, I'd be willing to bet that most of the major problems will be ironed out.
In fact, latest word has it that the car is acceptable to race as-is on road courses, and that adding ballast is proving to be a workable stopgap solution. The initial deliveries (probably as you read this) are even on schedule!
There are a lot of questions about the 2012 season, but at this point I'd be willing to be that when we look back at this time next year, the DW12 will have not been a big problem.

Be back soon,

1 comment:

  1. What? You mean that major American Open Wheel Racing has existed for more than 3 years? And that cars in the past might have had problems as well? And that real, actual engineers fixed those problems? And that same said real, actual engineers might just be able to fix the DW12's problems as well? Surely, you jest, sir.