Rebuilding the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race
Now what can you allow and not allow beyond the standardized tub and safety features? For one, I think you can open up the engine design. Put a cap on the output power of the engine, but allow teams to achieve that power however they wish. Want to run a four-cylinder twin-turbo engine? Great. Twelve-cylinder normally aspirated? Fantastic. Heck, throw one of those super cool Wankel engines in there! Just make all teams bring their engine to a league-operated dyno to check that the power curve is within the regs. This will allow the league to keep the speeds in check without having to stifle engineering creativity.
Keeping all of the various engine designs somewhat competitive with each other is a seriously difficult chore. We need only to look back a couple of years and see what happened when Toyota missed the mark and was significantly underpowered relative to the Honda engine. My simplistic statement above of setting a power limit is also a bit misleading. The peak power produced by an engine doesn’t necessarily speak to the overall performance of the engine. Rather, one needs to look at the entire power curve. So when I say that a max power should be set and let the teams have fun within that, keep in mind that there’s really a lot hidden in that statement.
no images were foundWhat’s the width of the power band? What’s the torque curve? So setting up the engine regs would have to be a bit more intricate than a simple P_out < 900 hp statement. That doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be possible or effective. Allowing different designs will make the event and the prospect of competition far more appealing to manufacturers, both major automotive brands and specialty speed shops. Getting more industry involvement in the sport brings more money to the sport, and more stability. Right now the league is reliant on Honda’s continued support and business success. With competitors fielding a variety of engines, the league gains stability through diversification. If one engine manufacturer fails or decides to leave the sport, the entire field is not crippled by a sudden lack of power plants. Diversification is a good thing. The Chassis
As for the chassis, there are a few considerations other than just the engineering and car performance the league must have. As Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee have so correctly emphasized, any new car must undeniably be an IndyCar. A fendered prototype car I’m sure would run just fine in the 500, and likely compete well, Indianapolis has always been a Mecca for open-wheel racing. Whatever designs the teams or manufacturers develop, they must be open-wheel, open-cockpit designs. The wheel-base and overall dimensions must also conform to some range. Right now, they must conform to a single spec, and while I don’t think the current state is right, I don’t think a completely open rule is proper either. Allow a reasonable range of wheelbase and car width. Wings also shouldn’t be over regulated. Right now, the league mandates a specific wing profile that all must use at the speedway. Rather than mandating a spec wing, set a maximum total wing area, and let the aerodynamicists have fun! The opening of these regulations wouldn’t mean that every team must now also become a constructor, as in Formula 1. There are a number of quality chassis manufacturers both here in the United States as well as overseas. Panoz and Swift is just a couple of examples of domestic companies that are highly skilled at developing top-end single-seater chassis.
Opening these engine and chassis regulations to allow teams and manufacturers to flex their creativity builds the excitement for the Race. People will be curious to see what crazy ideas are going to be brought to the Speedway each year, and with that interest comes the attention of sponsors. I know what some of you are thinking as you read the previous two paragraphs: “Doug, don’t you know all this will cost money? We need to reduce costs!” In some ways, it will, but there are offsetting factors that will bring the costs back down, or at least keep them under control. First and foremost, keep the rules consistent. Preferably revisit, but don’t feel compelled to revise, the rules every five years. A consistent rules framework will keep teams and manufacturers from having to reinvent the wheel every season. By opening up the chassis and engine development game to all, you create competition which will bring down costs. Competing businesses do not escalate costs, monopolies do. Lastly, if the event grows in strength because of the greater interest, then it will be easier for teams to raise the sponsorship money needed to race. Cost is a relative thing. The cost as compared to the available amount of sponsorship is what the league really needs to consider. By increasing interest and viewership, the available sponsorship goes up significantly. If operating costs go up slightly, the teams are still coming out ahead.
Have different ideas? Think I’ve nailed it? Think I’m full of crap? Let’s discuss it in the Forum or in the comments section below.
2 Thoughts to “OP-Ed – Rebuilding the 500 – Part 3 of 5 – Creative Engineering”
I agree that the series needs diversity and innovation to remain viable. I remember when I was a kid going to IMS every year excited to see what all of the new cars were going to look like and what speeds would be. Why am I gravitated to IndyCar and F1 rather than stock cars? The cars are just cooler. It means something to me that the cars I’m watching are on the bleeding edge of technology. It just isn’t the same with an 8-year-old engine/chassis combination.
Innovation also adds intrigue to the racing – like Michael Andretti blowing his engine with a 2-lap lead in 1992, or Parnelli Jones’ vastly superior car failing to finish. Things happen with new technologies – engines blow, cars crash. That’s part of the fun of racing. The Honda powerplant they are using now is incredibly reliable – but that’s because it isn’t running anywhere near capacity. That should never happen in the Indy 500. I agree with you, if you want to dial back the horsepower to save engines throughout the year, great! Just do it in the other 20 races during the year – don’t do it at Indy.
For the Indy 500 to return to its place as the greatest race in the world, it needs to have the very best cars in the world running in it. And having the best cars in the world will draw teams and manufacturers from all forms of racing and all over the world to want to race and win there. There should be incredible prestige accorded to the car and driver that won the Indy 500 – they proved they had the best car in the world. The just can’t happen with an engine and chassis design that hasn’t changed in 8 years.
I think we see eye-to-eye, Henry!
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