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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Opinion: A More Balanced Reaction to the Dallara Announcement

So we're about 30 hours removed from the groundbreaking announcement that the IZOD IndyCar Series will move to a single chassis - ahem, "safety cell," excuse me - produced by Dallara for the 2012 season and beyond. The majority of the reaction to this decision has been tempered disappointment layered with guarded optimism for the future.

Certainly, what was unveiled on Wednesday was not what most of us expected, or really wanted. The cars that we will see on track in 2012 look nothing like any of the concepts presented to us beforehand by BAT, Delta Wing, Lola, Swift, or even Dallara.

To be honest, we still don't even know what the car will look like for certain - we just have the general idea of how a handful of the parts on the safety cell will appear.

The content of the announcement was a far cry from what most of us had hoped for. Instead of the beautiful Lola chassis, one of the many innovative Swift designs, or even one of Dallara's three less groundbreaking models - or better yet, an entry from each - we don't have any definitive designs to sink our teeth into for quite a while. And that's a disappointment, to say the least.

It's especially disappointing because of how amazing some of the chassis in play would have looked. The Lola was perhaps the best-looking open wheel car since Lola's last Champ Car, which was retired at the end of 2006. It's a car that should be used in some form, by some series, somewhere in the world. Hell, even if only the Indy Lights version of the car makes it to that series, that car needs to be in competition.

The return of Dallara, and Dallara alone, also put a lot of people off. Yes, anybody who wants to design an aerodynamic kit for the car can, but it's not quite the same as a full-blown chassis war, where two or three different companies vie to produce the greatest vehicle overall for their teams. And a lot of people are sick of the same company producing the vehicle, especially when the current chassis that dominates the series has been panned by a lot of fans, particularly when Champ Car produced a new chassis in 2007 (four full years after the Dallara's introduction).

But sit on this decision for a little while, consider it more rationally, and you have perhaps the greatest move that the sport has made since Randy Bernard came on board.

By allowing anybody to design their own aerodynamic kits while only allowing Dallara to produce safety cells, the series maintains the best of both worlds: the fairness of a single unbiased supplier for the safety cell, and the innovation, visual variation, and on-track advantages that come out of different aerodynamic kits.

Any engine manufacturer looking to join the sport can now find ways to add aesthetic cues that reflect their street cars to an IndyCar, perhaps the most purpose-built racing machine in the world. (Lotus' Formula 1 head, Tony Fernandes, has already hinted that the brand may up their commitment in 2012 from their current sponsorship of Takuma Sato.) Keep in mind that one of the reasons fans flocked to NASCAR was because the cars used to resemble what we saw on the road every day; now, IndyCar has a little crack at that, too.

Let's also keep in mind what Dallara offered to maintain its relationship with IndyCar: a brand new facility in Speedway that will churn out these new safety cells. Indianapolis becomes a racing town all year once again, as the engineering schools of the Midwest (fun fact: my grandfather studied engineering in Purdue) will produce the future minds that shape the sport. The facility creates new jobs that should help rejuvenate the local economy, something that should not go without consideration.

I will concede that for all the fanfare that came with this announcement, and all of the high expectations that we the fans and writers developed on our own, we were a bit let down. But it was our own grandiose expectations and rigid mindsets that let us down. We all wanted something for the series that nobody starting from scratch could really provide us with in 2012, while still making a reasonable amount of money. As much as I hate to say it, racing is a business... a business in which my vision of Honda, Porsche, Cosworth, and BMW 3.4-liter V6s in Dallara, Lola, and Swift chassis is not quite feasible at the moment.

Once we all get over those elevated hopes, dreams, and expectations we had, I'm sure that IndyCar and Dallara will not disappoint, and we're going to see a fantastic 2012 IndyCar season. It'd just be nice to have a few more complete and concrete images and specs drawn up at this point, especially since the new car has been such a long time coming.

But alas, we shall keep waiting... and in the meantime, probably drawing up our own aero kits. Let the art project begin!

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