Saturday, July 17, 2010
What did we learn? Well ... not a lot
(by Terry Blount espn.go.com 7-15-10)
Months of buildup and anticipation. Tons of speculation. Glimpses of futuristic new designs for what the new Indy car could be like in 2012.
Finally, Wednesday was the day. A decision was made. Everyone was waiting with bated breath for the big announcement at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
And the new car is? Umm. We'll get back to you on that one.
And the winning chassis manufacturer is? Umm. The same guys who make the chassis now -- Dallara.
If you were expecting a curtain to go up and reveal the shiny new car of the future, you're still waiting.
There was no wow factor. If this was the game-changing moment for the IndyCar Series, it came in a whisper and not a bleat from a vuvuzela.
What will the new Indy car look like? Well, that depends.
Dallara will continue to provide the chassis, known as the Safety Cell, but the actual shell of the car is up for grabs for any manufacturer. Different body styles are welcome, within reason.
It's safe to say the new Indy car will look similar to how the car looks today. You won't see a Delta Wing body on the Dallara chassis.
"We want it to be evolutionary, not revolutionary," said Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage, one of the seven men on the so-called ICONIC committee that was formed to make the decision.
A Speed Racer car or the Batmobile or the actual Delta Wing (sort of a modern version of Craig Breedlove's land-speed record car) isn't coming. The designs for the aero kit must meet IRL approval.
"We want to leave the parameters and the box open as wide as possible," said Brian Barnhart, the president of competition for the IRL and a committee member. "The front and rear wings, the sidepods and the engine covers all will have as much freedom as possible so fans can distinguish the cars from each other."
What they will be exactly remains a guess. It's all still a gigantic gray area.
What league officials want is more participation from various manufacturers that will bring slightly different design concepts.
"We are dressing the chassis in different and sexy ways," said Tony Purnell, another member of the committee. "Come on, Ford; come on, GM; come on, Lotus; come on, Ferrari; come on, Lockheed; come on, Boeing. We want you to rise to the challenge without a major raid on your piggy bank. Bring it on."
Nice challenge, but I doubt Ferrari and Boeing are jumping at the chance to design cars for the IRL.
Randy Bernard, the IRL's new boss and the man everyone is hoping can lead Indy car racing back to the promised land, said he believes the several auto manufacturers who left the series will come back.
"We've talked to some [auto manufacturers] that are very excited about what we're doing and the possibility of more brand identity with the cars," Bernard said. "How much more [body] space will be available for sponsorship, no one can say because it depends on the design."
That's the point: We still don't know. But the IRL has about 18 months to figure it out.
The entire public presentation Wednesday was robotic, totally scripted without any dramatic moment at the end. It included a video of the committee members voting Wednesday morning (using handheld devices) on their choice among the five candidates for the new chassis.
Do they really expect us to believe that decision was made this morning? It was like a bad reality TV show.
There was a brief look onstage, in holographic form, of what the car bodies might look like, but nothing that made anyone giddy with anticipation.
This was more about the steps league officials are taking to try to reach that big moment that can bring Indy car back to the good old days.
Some of the announced changes are huge steps in the right direction. The cost of buying these new cars, whatever they are, is about $385,000, 45 percent less than the current model.
Teams can choose two aero kits (body styles) a year. The kits cost a maximum $70,000, which may limit design options.
Dallara announced it will move its entire IRL operation to a stone's throw from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which will add jobs to the community.
In theory, the plan presented by the committee has a lot of good points, but Wednesday's announcement left most still wondering what's ahead.
"Today is a result of talking to all of you," Bernard said in the presentation. "You've all had input, and we've listened. This is a huge moment to know in 18 months this car will be a reality."
But the reality is, we still don't know a lot of things about what that car will be.