Monday, January 9, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Expect IndyCar Fans to be Disappointed

It was a White Orthodox Christmas. Teams tested for the 24 Hours of Daytona. Weather cancelled stage six of the Dakar Rally. Formula E drivers played a video game. There were actual races in Thailand and Anaheim. An IndyCar driver tried to get voted into Race of Champions and it appears he will lose to the driver who finished fourth in Nissan Micra Cup in 2016. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Expect IndyCar Fans to be Disappointed
While we are still two months away from the start of the 2017 IndyCar season, the most notable change of the 2018 is on the horizon. According to TrackSide Online, IndyCar will have a discussion on the philosophy of the universal aero kit at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, which takes place from January 8th-22nd.

If this is a public event, I know what will be said. There will be three or four or five people on stage and someone will start by talking about approving the aesthetic of an IndyCar to have it match the tremendous speeds the series loves to flaunt. The next person will probably say "hey days" and might even talk about what an IndyCar should look like. A third person might use buzzwords like "innovation" and "sexy." And then there will be the optimist saying it will lower costs for the teams and hopes to attract new teams and engine manufactures to the IndyCar grid in the near future.

Don't get me wrong those things aren't all bad. We all want another four to six teams on the grid and car count to be somewhere between 24 and 28 full-time entries and at least one if not two new engine manufactures in IndyCar. Those things can only help the series. I know how IndyCar fans are and change is rarely met with overwhelming positivity.

From the looks of it, the universal aero kit manufacture might not be a change at all. It likely will be a familiar but not necessarily favored name with IndyCar fans. One common belief is the universal aero kit manufacturer has to inspire people and of the four companies rumored to be bidding or interested, maybe one checks off that box.

Let's start with the first and most unlikely company, Automotive Research Center, which is based out of Indianapolis and run by Adrian Reynard, yes of that Reynard fame. You might be thinking, Reynard made inspiring cars in the past, why not have ARC be the universal aero kit manufacture? The reasoning I have is because Reynard has recently signed on to be a member of the Ginetta LMP1 project that is scheduled for the 2018 season. I can't see how he could take on both projects and the announcement of his participation in the Ginetta subtly suggests ARC is out of the running for the universal aero kit.

Dallara has also put its name in the ring but while being a staple on the IndyCar grid for nearly a decade and a half Dallara hasn't ever really grabbed the imagination of the IndyCar fan base. Most voiced displeasure with its IR03/05/07 chassis and the same could be said of the original DW12 aero kit used from 2012-14. I bet few hold any hope third time would be the charm if Dallara were to be announced the universal aero kit manufacture.

Wirth Research built the Honda aero kit and reportedly is bidding for the universal aero kit but just like Dallara, Wirth is not a name held in high regard by the IndyCar fan base. It is a name associated with failure. It is associated with being a half a second off the pace. Awarding Wirth Research the universal aero kit project will only have fans thinking in 2018 the car is about a half a second slower than it could be. That might be unfair but it is true.

However, the final company holds out some hope. It has Formula One roots and successful Formula One roots at that. It is based out of Milton Keynes. It employs an Indianapolis 500 winning designer and it is arguably one of the most known brand names in the world today. It is Red Bull Technology. Why wouldn't you want to hitch your dinghy to the Red Bull mega-yacht? First, there is that sect of pretentious IndyCar fans that believes the series is too good to be associated with Red Bull (it's not). A real concern would be what would Red Bull try and do with an IndyCar? Innovation is nice and through the video game world we have Adrian Newey design a fan car that produces speed that would rip off your face but could that actually be replicated in the real world and could the IndyCar grid afford to run those cars full-time? Could Newey and Red Bull be able to produce something that erects every hair on your neck and arms but at a reasonable price to have around two-dozen full-time entries as well as slightly north of 33 cars come the Indianapolis 500?

Then there is the chance of something coming out of left field. Some will be rooting for something out of left field.

One thing IndyCar fans want is fresh air in the series and while the likes of Jay Frye and C.J. O'Donnell have done great jobs over the last few years, the fans want fresh air when it comes to the race car itself. Fans don't necessarily want a replacement to the DW12 itself but I would be surprised whenever the universal aero kit manufacture is announced if the IndyCar fan base responds positively. Will all it take to win people over be a car without an air intake over the driver's head, the absence of rear-wheel guards and a simple front wing without cascades of carbon fiber? And if that is all it takes, what took the series so long to get there?

Winners From the Weekend
The #35 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca-Nissan of Gustavo Menezes, Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent won the Asian Le Mans 4 Hours of Buriram. The #4 ARC Bratislava Ginetta-Nissan of Miro Konopka, Mike Simpson and Darren Burke won in LMP3. The #3 DH Racing Ferrari of Olivier Beretta, Alex Ribera and Rino Mastronardi won in GT after the #5 DH Racing Ferrari was penalized for driving too slowly in the fast lane of the pit lane.

Ken Roczen won the Supercross season opener at Anaheim.

A Dakar Rally update:
Stage four winners were Cyril Despres (Cars), Matthias Walkner (Bikes), Walter Nosiglia (Quads) and Gerard de Rooy (Trucks).

Stage five winners were S├ębastien Loeb (Cars), Sam Sunderland (Bikes), Kees Kolen (Quads) and Gerard de Rooy (Trucks).

Overall standings in each category heading into stage seven:
Cars: St├ęphane Peterhansel leads Loeb by a minute and nine seconds with Despres in third, four minutes and 54 seconds back. Nani Roma trails by five minutes and 35 seconds in fourth. Mikko Hirvonen rounds out the top five, over 42 minutes back.

Bikes: Sunderland leads Pablo Quintanilla by 12 minutes. Adrien Van Beveren trails by 16 minutes and seven seconds. Gerard Farres Guell is 20 minutes and 57 seconds back with Walkner rounding out the top five, 29 minutes and one second behind Sunderland.

Quads: Simon Vitse leads by eight minutes and 14 seconds over Sergei Karyakin, Axel Dutrie trails by 10 minutes and 35 seconds with Ignacio Casale 14 minutes and 36 seconds back. Daniel Mazzucco trails by over 47 minutes in fifth.

Trucks: De Rooy holds a two-minute and 23-second lead over Eduard Nikolaev. In third is Dmitry Sotnikov, who trails by six minutes and 36 seconds. Ayrat Mardeev trails by 16 minutes and 32 seconds in fourth. Pascal de Baar is fifth, over 32 minutes behind de Rooy.

Coming Up This Weekend
The conclusion of the Dakar Rally.
The Dubai 24 Hour.
The Chili Bowl, where Rico Abreu looks for his third consecutive victory in the event.
Supercross from San Diego.
Toyota Racing Series opens at Ruapuna Park.