IndyCar – What Happened to Competitive Racing?

In year’s past, the IRL Kansas race has been outstandingly exciting. Don’t believe me? Check out this video of the final laps in 2005.

Fast forward to 2008. Although TCGR dominated the race up front, there was still a lot of exciting racing behind Dixon and Wheldon. The quality of the racing was still diminished as a result of the aero changes to the rear wing mandated by the league to produce more separation between the cars. This year, it was worse. The 2009 race, as you may have seen on NegativeCamber’s video on the front page of our friends at, was an even bigger step backwards. Quoting WonkyDave from F1B when asked his opinion of the event, “It SUCKED!” Quite honestly, I can’t argue with this. It did suck. But why? Its the same chassis and engine that has produced fantastic racing in the past. What changed?

I suspect that what changed was the wheelbase rules. This year, the teams are not permitted to change the wheelbase or stagger of their cars. The cars must run a neutral 122″ wheelbase. This leads to cars that might be ok on road and street courses, but suck on an oval. To be sure, the gusty winds had an effect on the available racing lines, but I would argue that if the team engineers were allowed to adjust the suspension setup with more latitude, as they’ve had in the past, many cars would have been able to run in more than one line around the track, and there would have been better racing. The IRL is becoming more and more spec with each new set of regulations. I understand that fixing the wheelbase minimizes the cost due to the reduction in development possible with the chassis and the number of different suspension pieces needed. However, if the racing sucks and sponsors don’t wish to be involved, what does the reduction of operating costs matter?

Raphael Matos at Kansas
Raphael Matos at Kansas

The solution? Return engineering decisions to the engineers and allow the teams to race both on the track and in the garage. There are some outstandingly talented engineers in the IndyCar Series, let them strut their stuff. It will improve the racing product, allow for better battles on track, and offer a wider variety of interesting story lines to follow during the race. Will it stretch out the field? Sure it will, but I’m not that keen on seeing how long drivers at the back of the pack can stay on the lead lap. There may be an occasional race where one team gets the set-up and engineering of the car spot on and goes on to win by a mile, but I’d bet that even in those races, you’ll still have plenty of exciting battles to watch throughout the rest of the grid. Let the engineers back into the sport, and the on-track product will benefit!

What do you say to that? Let us know in the comment section below, or in the forums!

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One Thought to “IndyCar – What Happened to Competitive Racing?

  1. Helio was able to work his way through the entire field and pick off Kanaan showing everybody the drive of the race. There was plenty of dicing through the pack as well.

    I agree though, the 1.5 milers have not been providing the same close racing as before. I personally don’t think the wheelbase had anything to do with the parade at the front. The aero changes to the rear wing a couple years back are in my mind the main culprit that has changed the racing. At Kansas in particular, the high winds caused for some crazy wing settings that also contributed to the problem. Whatever the case, the racing has not been the same for a while.

    The fixed wheelbase in my opinion will serve to tighten the field more than spread it out. I agree though, the move to even more spec things is bad.

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