Monday, April 11, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: It's Not 1966 Anymore

Kyle Busch swept the weekend again and rain made its first appearance on the NASCAR schedule. Andrea Dovizioso can't catch a break. A few series open their 2016 seasons this weekend and some very familiar faces were victorious. Someone is getting closer to another championship. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

It's Not 1966 Anymore
Have aero kits been a disaster or has Honda been a disaster?

I go with the latter. Honda got caught with its pants down at the start of 2015 but slowly Honda made gains at the end of last year. Honda was given a waiver to improve its aero kit and it appears Honda has fallen flat. It made up zero ground whatsoever, at least that is how it appears through two rounds.

However, Honda's failure isn't held on Honda, its held on IndyCar. Why? Because we love to sucker punch IndyCar. It has been the most inept organization in all of sports; constantly one-step forward two steps back for two decades. It's an invertebrate that you can torture every way without breaking its back. And in someway, the current aero kit situation is IndyCar's fault.

It's not the 1960s or 1970s or 1980s or 1990s where teams could test four days a week and constantly tweak a car. The aero kits are frozen for the season. As much as the teams would love to tinker, they can't because tinkering has been effectively been banned by the rulebook in hopes of saving teams money but now the teams are spending more money than prior to the aero kit era just to have their hands tied behind their backs and pelted to death.

There are no alternatives for the Honda teams. It's Honda or nothing. They can't switch to Chevrolet nor does Chevrolet have the resources to take on additional teams. They can't take the Chevrolet aero kit. They can't go outside of IndyCar and find another manufacture to construct an aero kit that potentially could make up the gap to the Chevrolet aero kit. Along with no testing and tinkering, the teams can't turn up the turbo boost to 200 kPa and hope to make up the aero deficiency with loads of horsepower.

You can see why the Honda teams are defeated. Everyone yells at the Honda teams to work harder but the truth is they can't work harder because they aren't allowed to work at all. This is why the teams are looking for a lifeline and that lifeline is rule 9.3, which IndyCar created for this exact reason. If the Honda teams were allowed to test like crazy or turn up the turbo boost than they would have nothing to be upset about but they can do neither and this is why IndyCar has to step in.

The other issue that exacerbates the difference in speed is reliability. Reliability is not an issue in 2016. Things don't break like they use to. Look at past Indianapolis 500 box scores. Majority of the retirements were because of mechanical issues and there would be a handful of accidents. In the last two decades, that has flipped around. Mechanical failures are rare and pretty much everybody can make it 500 miles. Think back to all the great cars from Indianapolis 500s of yonder. Building the best mousetrap wasn't just building the fastest car but the fastest car that could go 500 miles.

People who saw the Novi gush over it but it never won the Indianapolis 500 despite the Novi setting the track record on multiple occasions. Jim Clark and the Lotus 34 won the 1964 Indianapolis 500 pole position by a mile per hour over second but a suspension failure ended his day before the quarter post in that race. The turbines were the fastest cars in 1967 and 1968 but they all had mechanical failures and it never won. There are plenty of occasions when the fastest car didn't win the Indianapolis 500 because something broke. That doesn't happen today. Honda can't even hang its hat on the hope of the Chevrolets not being able to go 500 miles.

IndyCar finds itself in an ideological crisis. There is the old school train of thought that the Hondas are crap and should be beaten to a bloody pulp and there is the new school train of thought that does not want the predictability that all it is going to take to win is having a Chevrolet engine and aero kit. The one thing IndyCar shouldn't want is the belief a driver's success is all because of the car. Some people discredit motorsports for not being about skill and simply being about leasing the right engine. People want sport to come down to skill, not a team having superior equipment. Gregg Doyel's Louisville Slugger vs. aluminum bat analogy is an easy one to understand, especially for people who aren't diehard fans. Imagine if the Milwaukee Brewers were the best team in baseball and it hit seven home runs a game and it was the only team in Major League Baseball using aluminum bats. People wouldn't bother tuning in if the result was that predictable.

What can IndyCar do? If IndyCar does anything to narrow the difference, which it is allowed to do by rule 9.3, it is going to be perceived as handicapping Chevrolet for the benefit of Honda. An older generation will lose its mind while a younger generation sighs in relief and looks forward to a return of unpredictability. The only guarantee is anger will persist no matter what is decided.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Marc Márquez and Kyle Busch but did you know...

Laurens Vanthoor and Frédéric Vervisch won Blancpain Sprint Series season opener from Misano in the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS. The #8 Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 of Andy Soucek and Maxime Soulet won the qualifying race.

Defending GT500 champions of Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli won Super GT season opener in Okayama in the #1 NISMO Nissan GT-R. The #65 K2 R&D Leon Racing Mercedes SLS GT3 of Naoya Gamou and Haruki Kurosawa won in GT300.

Álex Rins won the Moto2 race from Austin. Romano Fenati won in Moto3.

Ryan Dungey won the AMA Supercross race from Indianapolis.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar makes it annual spring trip to Long Beach.
Pirelli World Challenge and IMSA join IndyCar on the streets of Long Beach.
The FIA World Endurance Championship opens its season at Silverstone.
The European Le Mans Series also begins its season in Silverstone.
The third round of the Formula One season will be the Chinese Grand Prix.
The third round of the V8 Supercars season will be at Phillip Island.
NASCAR heads to Bristol.
Assen hosts the fourth round of the World Superbike and Supersport seasons.
The WTCC heads to the Slovakiaring.
AMA Supercross heads to St. Louis.