IndyCar Series: Grand Theft Automobili

Andy BernsteinCorrespondent IJuly 16, 2010

The best chance for variety in IndyCar racing just got stolen.

Thank you to Dallara Automobili for publishing this rendering, as it is the only time we will see true variety on the racetrack for the next few years at a minimum.

This picture was the best reason for retaining the current chassis for future use, financial advantages aside. That's a 2010 Dallara and a 2012 Dallara, gettin' after it.

The third variant would have been the Verizon car without the airbox and with a redesigned engine cover, concealing its four cylinder turbocharged engine. Perhaps some alternate wings if you really want to go crazy.

And the alternate body kits for the 2012 chassis: we'll see lots of those too, right?

Dallara has been awarded the contract to manufacture the new IndyCar, and it has been announced that production will begin in a new Indianapolis factory next year.

That's a good thing. Dallara builds great IndyCars, and a purpose-built design for road course and oval track racing will reduce cost by eliminating the current redundancy of alternate suspension and aero packages.

And eliminating the redundancy of running the old chassis? That turns all of the existing inventories into show cars and stacks of dusty spare parts. Too bad, the variety demonstrated in the photo makes a better show.

Dallara is undertaking a huge investment to build a plant in Speedway, Indiana. The groundwork for this decision was laid last November by Indianapolis Mayor Ballard, and representatives from the Speedway Redevelopment Commission. This was a good thing too, reported at the time and repeated in the months since. If it came as a recent surprise to a lot of folks, they were looking at the wrong pictures.

Tax breaks, jobs, and real estate sales aside, the greatest advantages of the IndyCar arrangement were pointed out by Dallara's Andrea Toso in February, 2010:

"Our first idea of establishing the Dallara USA was in 2002 and has gradually improved over the years. And a must for developing appropriate engineering services, not only to assist the racing cars but also design high-road vehicles performance for the American market. Suitable for everyone (teams, organizers, Dallara) to make components in the U.S. because labor costs in the U.S. is lower than in Europe because it eliminates the unknown fluctuations of the euro-dollar exchange rate because it reduces the cost of shipping and delivery times." [From Stop and Go, Feb. 3, 2010.]

Tomorrow might thus bring a site for domestic production of the X Bow supercar, and even a great source for "ladder series" race cars: the current Dallara Formulino. More good things, for everybody.

The cost of the 2012 Dallara, pictured in blue and red above, has been promised as a complete rolling chassis with body kit for the total of $385,000. That price has been touted as a 45 percent reduction from the current car, and service life expectancy has also been improved. As per the ICONIC announcement, there will be little additional cost beyond the addition of the leased Honda V6 engine.

The IRL mandated the costs, Dallara devised a plan to meet them, and the rest is history. Including the current cars.

Why? The same cost savings wouldn't apply to producing replacement tubs and spares for the current chassis in Indy? Agreements for subcontractor supply couldn't have included the manufacture of parts for the old cars too? This seemed like a no-brainer to me, and from all indications it was never given serious consideration.

I like good racing, not track records or cutting edge technological advantages. Good racing is the result of as many variables as you can introduce, not the least of which are the sights and the sounds of the race cars. Good racing is born of the variation in efficiencies between drivers, engineers, and the equipment they race.

And in 2012, the best opportunity for that variation will be parked.

Some teams who cannot generate the cash infusion to buy new chassis and spares will be parked. And the parking lot at the new Dallara factory will be full, as Indy's best craftsmen attempt to finish 66 complete new chassis by May, 2012.

The budgetary concerns facing IndyCar teams are nothing new, nor is the discussion about how best to insure a full field at Indianapolis and every other event. Roger Penske acknowledged these facts at St. Petersburg this season:

"If there's going to be an engine (and car) change, let's do the engine change and put it in the existing car because that would save us. You've got 24 teams with two or three, that's 75 cars, you've got 20 million bucks that would have to be spent by the teams right now in an environment where you don't want to spend that (much) capital. That's a lot of money." [Tampa Bay.com, March 28, 2010.]

That one got me excited, as my research for available four cylinder turbo racing engines had been ongoing for several months. No doubt others had been looking, or at least reading their email.

There was a 500HP plus GM Ecotec four cylinder turbo that was first raced in Formula Drift in 2006. This engine initially underwent a factory development program in 2002, and current variants for drag racing produce 1500 HP. Stock block.

There is an 800 HP Ford Duratec four cylinder turbo engine that has been raced in a Fiesta rally car since 2009. Pikes Peak and X Games competitor, often in the hands of Indy 500 winner Kenny Brack..

And there is the variant of the Mazda MZR-R built by AER. That engine is not only a viable candidate, but its semi-stressed installation in the Dyson Lola ALMS car serves as the exemplar presented to a few independent engine builders. The semi-stressed installation of a four cylinder had been accomplished, and Penske likely knew it was entirely possible too.

Dallara has now confirmed the viability of the package, and the stressed engine design of their new chassis will accommodate an inline four cylinder engine. Just like what could have already been done with the 2010 Dallara.

No, none of this is easy. Inviting the participation of auto manufacturers has not proven to produce easy results either. Perhaps the dyno room, and not the roundtable, was the better place to invite racers.

"Here's your invitation, show up at Rick Long's shop in six months and we'll run what you brung." And that's where you meet with team owners, and auto manufacturer reps, and real guys who build real engines that make real power.

Maybe Cosworth or Ilmor isn't interested. Maybe you only have two or three independent builders who demonstrate a capable platform, but no ability to fully develop or mass produce it. To the table you go, and start cutting the business to business deals that power IndyCar racing today.

That is a path to one of the major variables which the ICONIC strategy has promised. It only gets better when you include the prospect of retaining the current chassis for competition: it creates the opportunity for team owners to transition from the cars they own, to the cost-efficient engines they demand, to the chassis they hope to buy after another season or two of sponsor hunting.

Penske gave the idea credibility, and Dallara has verified the design concept. Run a 2010 Dallara/Honda V8. Add a 2011 Dallara/ turbo four...that's a different sounding car, with a different profile after the airbox is removed. Add a 2012 Dallara/Honda V6. Include the body kit variations for either chassis.

These are good things. These are pictures that look like Wildcats and Longhorns and Marches and Penskes, old and new, which we once enjoyed on the same grid. Variation in straightline speeds, grip and downforce levels, engine performance characteristics, fuel consumption rates, you name it. Good racing, and at least the potential for David vs. Goliath...or proven reliability vs. unproven new flavor of the season.

We can look back at the Dallara picture above, and now we can forget it. Barring divine intervention, 2011 and 2012 are seasons of full spec racing.

There are a lot of people that read my writing, here and in a number of other outlets. Who knows if these ideas are simple reinventions of the wheel. Perhaps you looked at the picture and stopped reading a long time ago.

The picture in my mind was the one from 1982, full of variety and excitement. The picture sketched to reintroduce this variety was painted for a lot of readers, and they did not respond. So you see the picture tonight, and realize it could have looked even better than the one atop this page. That's what "Stay On Track" was all about.

I hope the picture you see next year is a good enough show, and that 2012 will provide an even better one. The outcome will depend on significant new investment on every level: from teams, to auto manufacturers, to fabricators who hope to test and produce their own body kits.

"Engineering is about doing the best you can with limited resources."

Andrea Toso said that in an interview too. I thought I understood what it meant. Somehow I got the wrong picture.


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