Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Vasser urges holding off

(by Obi wan crapwagon.com 4-26-11)

I don’t see a probability of a variety of aero kits beyond the one that is going to accompany the Dudlara and perhaps one from Chevrolet (aka Penske). To see why, read Cotman’s muddled outline for how and when the kits will be produced:

The intent at the moment is to allow aero kit manufacturers to announce their intent to participate from May 2011 onwards, so they’ll be open to announce their intent to participate in 2012 and probably have a three or four month period where people can decide if they want it or not. It's going to be, there has to be a hard deadline eventually. People need time to go about design and manufacturing. And ultimately supply. I would say I have two or three different versions written right now. Really, very shortly, there's a couple of things that I kind of need to see how they fall into place and that will directly relate to which option we pick. But everything is on schedule and I think, like most things, people want information as soon as they can get it and we’re in a position to provide it. But we'll provide it at the right time. I don’t want to provide it and then be forced to make a change two weeks later.

So, according to Cotman aero kit manufacturers will “be open to announce their intent [i.e. a resolve or determination to do (something)] from May 2011 onwards” and then they [manufacturers] will “probably have a three or four month period where people [read customers] can decide if they want [to buy] it or not.” Cotman goes on to say that there’s “going to be a hard deadline [to announce one’s intent] eventually” because “people [manufacturers] need time to go about design and manufacturing” of the aero kits.

Which immediately raises the question of what the aero kit manufactures are going to be selling to prospective customers between May 2011, when they get to announce their intent to become a manufacturer, and August or September 2011 when Cotman says they will need additional time to design and manufacture their product (aero kits)??? Taking Cotman literally, the aero kit manufacturers will only have their “intent” to sell. In the real world, this likely means that Cotman and his bosses in the pagoda will finally decide on the exact aero kit “option” to finalize – according to the quote he has two or three versions (of the aero specifications) right now – but Cotman et al won’t release the final version “until the time is right;” which sounds like the end of May at the I500. Then, assuming the aero kit manufacturers are given the specification in May 2011, they have until August or September (when the engine manufacturers get to start testing) to brainstorm their ideas for spiffy-looking aero kits on their computers and then try to sell artist’s renderings of their ideas to potential clients. Will that work? Probably not.

Here’s why. Cotman et al are exhibiting confusion about what the function of the aero kits is supposed to be. Their main notion, expressed several times in Cotman interviews, is that the aero kits are supposed to uniquely “brand” the Dudlara “safety cell” so that a person can tell at a glance if it is a Dudlara safety cell or a Honda (branded) one or a Chevy (branded) one or a Lotus (branded) one. This is supposed to give the fans the diversity of equipment that they are clamoring for. However, Cotman goes on to assure us that some of the aero kit manufacturers will be other than auto manufacturers; rumors floated by the pagoda name NASA, Boeing, Oreca, and Swift. Okay, but these non-automaker aero kit manufacturers have a BIG problem. They’re not selling their potential customers a brand of automobile; rather they have to sell PERFORMANCE. The teams who opt to run a non-automaker aero kit have only one reason to do so: the kit performs better than the one that goes with the engine they are using. So, let’s say you’re an also-ran IICS team owner and you’ve leased your engines from FKK/Cosworth/Lotus. Lotus, for one, is probably going to want you to run an aero kit that identifies (brands) your car as a Lotus (otherwise, why are they funding an IICS program?). Lotus will probably give you a lower cost engine lease if you use their brand of aero kit (or conversely penalize you with a higher cost one if you don’t use theirs). So, it’s going to cost you in more ways than one to run a Lotus engine in your Dudlara safety cell but with somebody else’s aero kit. I can see only one reason (besides sponsorship from an aero kit company) why you would do that: the NASA or Boeing or Oreca or Swift aero kit makes your racecar perform better (faster, corner better) than the Lotus aero kit, so you’re willing to pay a premium to use it.

Ah, but the fly in the ointment is that according to Cotman the only 2012 car being tested before September or October 2011 is going to be the Dudlara-Honda prototype, which is trying to nail down the production specifications of the new car. Come September or October, the engine manufacturers are going to get a car each to begin to field test their engines and especially their installations. But the teams aren’t going to get a car – one each – until December 2011. SO, where are the various aero kit manufacturers going to get a car to do aerodynamic testing of their aero kits? Cotman glosses over this problem for the engine/car manufacturers by saying that they are supposedly already testing their engines on dynos as we speak; Honda is, Ilmor might be, but it is highly unlikely that Lotus-Cosworth is up and running. Be that as it may, Cotman quickly acknowledges that dyno testing is not enough. The engine makers have to test their engines in a real racecar on a real racetrack in real time to learn all the things they are going to need to know in order to succeed.

The same is especially true of the aero kit manufacturers. Their computer CFD analysis and CAD/CAM software can tell them only so much; scale model wind tunnel testing a little more; but to nail down their performance envelope they need to test the full-size aero kit in the real world. Are they going to be able to do that (according to Cotman)? No. They haven’t even got hard dimensional data for their computers yet; and they’re not scheduled to introduce their new aero kits until May 2012! Cotman and his bosses put so little thought into this that they don't even have a part-time staff aerodynamicist on their payroll.

Imagine you are a Boeing or NASA or Oreca or Swift salesman plying your wares between May 2011 and whenever the hell it is that your firm can get its hands on a real Dudlara safety cell to begin real-world testing of your aero kit and you approach, say, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing to try to entice them into buying one of your $75,000 aero kits. What have you got to show them? Maybe some 3D CAD drawing and/or an artist’s rendering of your aero kit. First thing that is likely to come out of their mouths (after greeting) is a question: “How does your [fill in the blank] aero kit compare in performance to the stock Dudlara aero kit and/or the Chevy and/or Lotus?” What are you going to say? The truth is, you don’t know; the best you can say is “We hope so.” Is that wish enough to get D&R to part with 75 large to buy your vaporware aero kit? I don’t think so.

But that’s just the start of the problems. Who are you going to get to test your aero kit when you finally get your hands on a mule and have some prototype aero kit pieces knocked together? In all probability you’re going to have to wait until the teams have all gotten their second and third cars before the League will give you access to one. Are you going to put together a beaucoup expensive test team to wring out your product (because most of the regular teams are probably going to be busy testing their own equipment)? How much are you willing to spend to fine-tune your computer-generated prototype aero kit in testing and then gear up to mass produce the kits? Especially, when you’ll probably be lucky to sell a half-dozen of them? If the design is a dog, you won’t sell any. What’s the big pot of gold at the end of the rainbow worth? Six times $75,000 or $450,000? Are you willing to spend $4.5 million to prove the potential worth of a $450K project?

Of course, the propagandists at 16th & Georgetown are probably going to prattle on about the “priceless prestige” of having your aero kit in the I500; but we know that’s a crock; nobody is watching and fewer people care. Your money would be better spend on a minute advertisement during a NASCAR Cup race (and keep the change).

And that’s why the “other” aero kits aren’t going to materialize (IMO). No team is going to use an off-brand aero kit without it first being demonstrated to them that it can win. That’s a classic Catch 22: One can’t win without the aero kit being on a competitive racecar and one can’t get it on a competitive racecar without it winning a race (or at least leading one for real). To get your spiffy new aero kit on a competitive car, you’re probably going to have to sponsor a team; i.e. pay them to use your kit. But wait! Isn’t this supposed to be a business? Aren’t Oreca and Swift, for two, supposedly in this to make a profit (they already have a name and a brand)? How are they going to do that if they have to pay $5 million (minimum) to sponsor a team to get a half-million back in gross revenues? It’s that sort of business plan that has nearly bankrupted the clueless Hulman-Georges. Are there really other rich people (or firms) out there as stupid as they are such that they’d be willing to pour their limited resources down a rat hole in imitation of the Hoosiers (rhymes with Losers)?

This whole Indy farce is like that hoary old joke: “How do you make a small fortune in auto racing? Answer: start out with a large fortune.” The Hulman-Georges “business plan” just flushed more than a half billion dollars down a sewer – never to be seen again – with a strategy that calls for paying dollars to earn back pennies. It’s conceivable that there is another sucker out there with bucks – ones he/she no doubt inherited – willing to buy into the H-G’s pipe dream and lose his/her shirt/blouse; but more than one, or public companies (besides GM)? No way!

I’ll believe it when I see it.

JMO

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