The interwebs have been all a buzz over the release of the chassis concepts for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series from Dallara, Swift, and especially the much anticipated Delta Wing. There’s been much commentary offered for and against all of the designs, but none has received more discussion and more scorn than the extremely radical concept car from Delta Wing, LLC that was revealed last Wednesday at the Chicago Auto Show. We’ve gone over various aspects of the proposed concepts here, as have many others, and there are certainly a wide range of opinions. There does appear to be a general consensus that the three Swift concepts are the best looking, and that the Delta Wing concept is uglier than sin! That was certainly my reaction to the concepts as well.
After I threw up a little, and once my eyes stopped burning, I started to think about the Delta Wing concept again. No doubt that there are some very interesting engineering concepts and innovations deployed in this concept, but the appearance of the car is really wretched. It doesn’t look modern, it looks like a design exercise from the 1950s. Amongst the numerous outcries of, “I won’t watch that abomination,” and, “If that chassis is chosen, I’m done,” there were a few comments of, “What does looks have to do with anything?” Valid question, what DOES looks have to do with this? This is about racing! Reaching the finish line first, and showing that your driver, engineers, mechanics, and fabricators are better than the rest is what this is supposed to be all about. Right? …well, sorta.
In a perfect world, the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race would be contested by the Speedway saying, bring your best design, but you only get 50 gallons of fuel. I that case, you’d see all kinds of crazy designs, but they’d all have a purpose. Speed! Did the rear-engine cars looks funky during the roadster era? Sure it did, and it was viewed with scorn and skepticism as well, but it proved itself as the best design by besting its competitors on the race track. We saw a similar revolution in design as the cars sprouted wings, creating the standard formula that we see today. Now we have a very new style of chassis wishing to be allowed on the track. Unfortunately, times have changed, and we won’t see the Delta Wing chassis compete on track against the cars from Dallara, Swift, and Lola, so we won’t be able to judge these separate proposals based solely on their on-track performance. What remains without a competition of speed? The only thing we have left is visual appeal and cost.
In the title, I ask the question “Beauty Pageant or Racing Series?” So which is the IZOD IndyCar Series? Sadly, I think the answer is a little of both. Motorsports now is as much of an entertainment business as it is a competition of man and machine. Fans are what pays for most of the costs of racing, directly in some ways such as through ticket and merchandise purchases, and indirectly in others such as TV viewership. If a car is so ugly that fans, en mass, refuse to watch it, does it matter what engineering specs it has or how well it will perform? Nope. None at all. So as we look at these different chassis concepts, we must keep in mind that they are NOT going to compete on track together. That leaves only appearance (including the quality of the show/racing) and cost. Because we can’t ignore the fact that this chassis competition will be a bit of a beauty pageant, I don’t think that the Delta Wing group can completely ignore the aesthetics. That being the case, they’d better do some quick rethinking about their car, regardless of what engineering improvements they may bring, if they want to be continue being considered as a 2012 challenger.