Sunday, June 23, 2013

Accidentally Changing the World. For the Better.

The current Indycar is basically a spec formula. Dallara produces every chassis and every part of that chassis, and each team is required to buy and run it. Yes, there are multiple engine manufacturers, but I would imagine that they weigh nearly the same and produce nearly the same amount of power.
Historically, this is a recipe for dreadfully boring racing. The 2012 and 2013 Indycar seasons, however, have given us something different. Very different. The 4 tracks the 2013 season started out on were a street course, a natural road course designed for motorcycles (i.e., it's narrow), a street course, and a street course. Every one of those races was interesting, if not just plain great. Even the Detroit Belle Isle street circuit doubleheaders were good races. But why, when before 2012 seeing another street circuit coming up was reason to groan, were these races so good?

These races have been so good because Indycar has changed the nature of top-tier professional racing. A team's performance on any given weekend depends on several factors: The driver, chassis setup, fuel/tire strategy, and race tactics. The most important factor is the one not mentioned: The equipment. Every team uses an identical Dallara chassis and either a Honda or a Chevrolet engine. That's it. No individual engine calibrations, no trick suspension components, no proprietary aerodynamic packages. Driver performance and chassis setup are the same factors they have always been. Different ways to swing the hammer, so to speak. Things get interesting when the other factors come into play. I'm thinking in particular of the Option tires and of Push-to-Pass. I'm the first person to speak up about the "purity of racing" and to decry such artificiality as a video game gimmick-but I think I've changed my mind. Push-to-Pass and the Option tires have taken racing from the manufacturers, designers, and engineers and given it to the drivers, teams, and strategists. No longer is racing an (extremely expensive) engineering contest, but a game-a sport!-with strategy and tactics and courage and spirit played by teams. Teams that must manage resources, execute strategy, and rely on every member to step up when the time comes in order to win.

I never would have guessed, but it appears to be the way forward for Indycar. Elevate the heroes-both in and out of the cars, and celebrate the different paths they can take to Victory Lane.

The danger still exists for a team with deep pockets to exploit its advantages and find a way to make the base car outperform the other teams'. I believe Indycar has baked a solution to this issue with the upcoming aero kits... But that's for a future blog...

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