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My Take on IndyCar’s Aero Kit Controversy

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Over the weekend at the race in Brazil, IndyCar’s team owners took a vote and announced that they unanimously (minus A.J. Foyt abstaining) that they didn’t want to move to different aero kits for the new 2012 cars in 2012, that they wanted to wait instead for 2013.  Contrary to what was agreed to last year, they would prefer to run with the new chassis and engines in 2012 using the stock Dallara body kits and wait until 2013 to start using customer body kits. For more information on the vote, check out Robin Miller’s story at Speed.com. This post will probably come out random and incoherent since I’m up at 3 in the morning writing it, but ever since the vote was reported, I’ve had thoughts swirling around in my head that had to come out.

For more eloquent and coherent analysis and perspective, check out these excellent bloggers:

I understand that $75,000 per aero kit is expensive, but is saving the money next year worth losing fans and the potential death of the series? IndyCar has been racing the same identical spec Dallara chassis for 10 years now.  The Fans that the series has NOW, the fans that will be the core of the series’ fan base in the future are sick and tired of watching these identical sleds run around the tracks.  I think a lot of fans hoped that the 2012 cars would be from multiple manufacturers and we would have different looking cars racing against each other.  Given the economic times we’re in that was just an impossibility we’re told by IndyCar; in a compromise we were promised a common chassis with mulitple aero kit choices so that there would at least be some difference in appearance and potential for engineering innovation.  Many fans understood this and accepted what was coming for 2012, many of us are looking forward to it.  Now, the team owners are telling us that they want another year of identical cars.  Needless to say it has gone over like a Led Zeppelin.  If there isn’t some variety in IndyCar in 2012, it could result in a fan exodus, the loss of the current fans who have stuck by American Open Wheel Racing through a nasty split and recent reunification in hopes that IndyCar could once again be great.  Without that core of fans, IndyCar has very little hope of growing and becoming anything close to what it once was.

I’m not sure, however, that money is what this really has anything to do with.  I think it is really about power.  The owners are testing IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard and trying to take the reins of the sport.  If it was really about the money, would Mike Hull from Ganassi really have spoken so vociferously about how much the body kits are needed next year, then went along the vote to delay?  Randy Bernard cannot, I repeat CANNOT bow to this vote by the owners and go along with their demands.  IndyCar cannot be run by the owners, history has proven this.  The owners ran CART and ran into the ground; their leadership was partly responsible for the CART/IRL split and following the split, the continued decline of CART.  Bernard must have a Truman-esque moment and tell the owners “The Buck Stops Here.”  It seems that Bernard is the only one who has the fans interests at heart and realizes that the fans are what the series is all about.  I  can only hope that he tells the owners that they don’t run the series, he and the IndyCar officials run the series: “Here are the 2012 rules, abide by them.”

The owners can still decide not to buy the optional aero kits, but they do so at the peril of the series.  If the series decides, then they don’t have a place to play.  I hope they realize that.

If the owners and IndyCar don’t want to listen to fans like me, perhaps they’ll listen to the one of the most successful promoters they deal with, Eddie Gossage.  In his motorsports blog for ESPN Dallas, he writes:

I can tell you this: I do not know how to tune an IndyCar engine…I’ll leave that to the experts. But as the guy who has year-in and year-out sold more IndyCar tickets than anyone in the sport outside of the venerable Indy 500, I can tell you this expert will tell you that cannot continue to sell this to the fans.

I have never been a fan or supporter of Eddie Gossage, but he is right.  This whole controversy is a pivot point for IndyCar.  As much as it is in Randy Bernard’s hands for how he chooses to handle this, it is also in the owner’s hands and how they chose operate in the future.  Do they continue to look at things from their selfish perspective or do they start to realize that it is about the fans?


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