Friday, July 23, 2010

Turning On the Lights

Now that the soon-to-be-name-changed Indy Racing League has made the decision on the relative-ish-ness amongst where they will later decide on some specific rules for the IndyCar Series; it leads many… ok.. maybe a small group… ok maybe just a small few of us… to wondering, so what does this mean for the minor leagues?

We now know that there will be a base chassis frame (to be built by Dallara)  which at first sounded like the perfect opportunity for the IRL to steal borrow Lola’s idea of having a similar base that could be used for Indy Lights and then upgradable to the full IndyCar Series.

It would have been technically feasible as there could have been 1 approved body kit and smaller engine for Indy Lights, and then for any team to upgrade to the major leagues, they’d simply need to buy a different kit and better engine, not a chassis too. Dallara probably would have been super happy to oblige too, that’s even more base chassis they get to make and sell, right?

Only it was not to be, because shortly within the chassis announcement came a slight problem to that theory; the minimum cost of this new “safety cell” announced earlier this month was $345,000. A nice cut for IndyCar teams but nothing that an Indy Lights team could touch, especially since the engine and body-kit are still needed to be complete.

It seems it would have to made sense to have Dallara’s base chassis a little cheaper but guarantee them that they would get 100% of the body (I’m not calling them aero) kits in Indy Lights and then make IndyCar body kits a little more expensive (which would help the other IndyCar Series body kit makers get more ROI too). But since I’m not the type to waste time debating what could have been; lets spend time talking about what can be.

So we know 3 things:

1.    Indy Lights teams will not be offered a chassis upgradable to the IndyCar Series.

2.    The current Indy Lights chassis isn’t known for being all that relatable to the current IndyCar Series chassis, and certainly won’t be to the new one

3.    The current Dallara IndyCar chassis will not be relatable to the new chassis coming out.

So what does that mean? It means Indy Lights gets a chance to re-invent itself right along with the IndyCar Series. It means they should take this moment to do the MOST important thing for Indy Lights drivers AND team’s crews. Make sure the 2012 Indy Lights chassis best teaches and prepares drivers/team members for the new 2012 base chassis that will be constructed by Dallara.

It only makes sense to keep it in the realm or relevance. Right now most in the paddock think the current transition is more akin to a baseball player going from college baseball with classes to attend, aluminum and graphite bats and only 50 games, straight to the pros with 162 games, wood bats and full time players with no class to attend. Its not a total shock to go from one to the other, but its definitely missing that relatable step… the A, AA and AAA minor leagues.

Since the Indy Lights Series is the final step before the big leagues, it should be the most like the big leagues. Which is why I agree when the series decided not to take the current Dallara and move it to Lights. But lets take it a step further and make this recommendation:

Submit an RFP to only Swift and/or Lola for the Indy Lights chassis of 2012.


For starters, it would be a good consolation (and profitable one) to one of the chassis makers you just told ‘no’ to on their IndyCar Series proposal. More importantly, that consolation would be the sign of good faith to them that you DO want them to be involved in your leagues; and maybe enough that they would be a little more encouraged to join the body-kit competition in the IndyCar Series.

While she’s an engineer and surely not Swift’s official spokesperson, the idea in theory alone made sense to Swift’s Pinkgineer (Rachel Nichols) via twitter:

“Walking into this question blind but I don't see why not”

More so, both Lola and Swift would certainly give us something sexy to look at on the track which would make both fans and drivers happy, and just might help bring more interest to the series.

But most of all for me, doing so would sure go a long way in easing the pissed off-ness of all these people on the internet who won’t seem to shut the f up complaining about Dallara being picked for the tub maker duties, which is responsible for about 80-90% of the pissed off-ness... and truly shutting up internet whining and getting a cool looking new car is the best win-win I've heard of since drinking beer to help restore the Gulf Coast.


Pat W said...

I like this idea. The Lights cars must be getting pretty old by now as well, right?

I'm not 100% sure but my understanding is the current Lights car suffered the same fate as the ICS car - it was designed for ovals and is good on them, but is a bit lumpy on the road courses (perhaps it has got better over time as the main series cars have, dunno, I don't follow Lights all too closely). So they could use a replacement designed to work on all tracks.

It doesn't make sense to me to use nearly decade-old cars for the driver development series so that throws out the current cars, and as you say the expense basically rules out the new Dallara-that-they-say-isn't-one. I wonder if a more basic version could be produced for less?

I think one thing GP2 has proven is you need the immediate tier below the top level to have similar dimensions to the top series, a drop in power, and a fairly high technical level when it comes to setup and dashboard buttons and such, it greatly helps driver development. Only below that do you reduce the size and power accordingly.

I couldn't tell you the lap differential between Lights and the most recent Swift Atlantics but that seems like a very tidy car, perfect in fact. Not too old either, so perhaps if cost is an issue they could be pressed into service? May be hard for the Powers That Be to accept politically though, or are we beyond that now?

Or if not, Atlantics itself could come back. It is a shame it is on hiatus and I hope it comes back but I'm struggling to see where it fits. Perhaps where FRenault 3.5 ('World Series', allegedly!) does in Europe, basically taking anyone who can't afford GP2 and not far off in laptime and not under the main umbrella of F1. Maybe it could be America's WSR to Lights' GP2 if people can find the money to run it.

The junior ladder does need fixing though, the 'Road to Indy' concept is a good start but it is only a start.

Incidentally, some of the IndyCar teams might expect a call from these guys soon, a few DP01s found their way there..

The Speedgeek said...

I actually think that the Atlantics cars will be even more relatable to the new-style IndyCar than they were before (and many people thought they were a better prep ground than Lights was). This is because they're lighter (same as the 2012 IndyCar), higher downforce (more like an IndyCar than the Lights cares), smaller high-power, low torque engine (like the new turbos will be), and on and on. Swift is perfectly suited to building a car like that, as they've done the last 3-4 generations of the Atlantic cars. If they were to do an update of the latest Atlantic car for combined oval/road use, I think it'd be an absolutel slam dunk.

Allen Wedge said...

Posting a comment Mr. Geek... I could swear we gave you a GBS hard card :)

The Speedgeek said...

My daughter's been using it as a teething ring. One of these days, I'll wrestle it away from her and get something up on this fine site here.