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Archive for the tag “Honda”

The Chevy aero kit: flicks, kicks, and wedges

Chevrolet revealed its aero kit at the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series media day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last week.  Finally.  Even with a sharp video and a detailed picture with all the bits and bobs highlighted and named the result was, well, about what was expected.  This is not meant as disparagement.  Really, what did the racing public expect?  Winged Furies?  What they got was a compromise, one that was settled upon during the tenure of Randy Bernard and was so far down the road that there was no going back.  What they got was differentiation without crippling development costs for the teams.  Goal accomplished.

Chevy and Honda, whose own aero kit will have the sheet pulled off on March 15, were both toiling under the restriction of the Dallara DW12 spec chassis the pieces had to fit.  Did people really expect the aero design to radically change the looks of the car?  It is different, but only the most aware of the IndyCar cognoscenti will really notice or care.  And that is acceptable.  As long as the aero kit capped Dallara DW12 looks like a proper race car – and it does – then everything is copacetic.

Making the assumption that the Honda kit is not radically different, does it really matter how they look?  Of course it doesn’t.  What matters is how they race.  Hopefully, neither manufacturer misses the target and creates a disparity between the two.  A situation like that doesn’t help the series, the teams, or the fans.  The racing the past two years has been superb, and anything that changes the balance of power too drastically can hurt the series.  Chevy and Honda need to be different, and both want to win.  Great.  But neither needs to embarrass the other.  The series needs competition, not dominance.  The series, teams, and fans need the engine builders to be happy and stay in the series.  What is really needed is another deep-pocketed engine manufacturer with a willingness to design an aero package.

If aero kits keep the hard-core fans happy, or at least in a reasonable facsimile of happiness, and keep the engine builders interested, then by all means keep building them.  Of course, the series might want to make sure the parameters of the chassis will support the engineering of the kits.  Both Honda and Chevy were a little put out to be informed that the downforce generated by the new designs went beyond the expected tolerance of the Dallara suspension pieces.  This was discovered, of course, after the fact and required significant change by the manufacturers.  Great aero engineering.  Great downforce.  Not so great communication.  In any case, both Honda and Chevy have invested time, effort, and wads of cash.  They each expect to win.

Aero kits having any effect on fan development is highly unlikely.  Fans pull for drivers – not aero kits, not sponsors, not engines, not chassis.   In today’s world, the fans that IndyCar wants to find most likely do not care about aero parts called upper flicks, main flicks, top flicks, side floor kicks, wheel wedges, and inboard fences.  They never will.  They need to be entertained by the racing and engaged by the drivers.  Those are the entrées.  Everything else, including aero kits, are side dishes.  If the main storyline in the Verizon IndyCar Series this year is how one aero kit is better than the other, then the series will once again fail to highlight what it has in abundance: great drivers and great racing.

 

 

 

 

A scary IndyCar Halloween

How about all the news out of IndyCar since the season ended in September?  You remember, right?  A race was announced for Brazil…and, uh….wait a minute…I know there’s something else.   Oh, James Hinchcliffe changed teams and has a beer named after him, and Simon Pagenaud is now driving for Roger Penske.  Did I miss anything?  The long off-season of the Verizon IndyCar Series has begun with what many predicted: a scary lack of anything resembling the buzz that IndyCar so desperately needs.  The fear that IndyCar will not build on its spectacular racing and personalities is only one of the tricks that the series may have played on it.  Here are a few more.

I sure would love to start planning my IndyCar travels for 2015.  To do that, of course, the series would have to release a 2015 schedule.  With all the talk about the importance of date equity, it seems that movement to new dates for Toronto, Milwaukee, Fontana, and Pocono may be in the offing.  Mark Miles and his team have suddenly gone quiet on when the schedule will come out after falling into the old IndyCar trap of talking about races before the checks have cleared.  Cue the sound of rattling skeletons in the closet.

Will one of the aero kits being designed (and clamored for by internet trolls everywhere) shift the balance of power between Honda and Chevy so much that the season will become class racing?  Could one aero kilt be dominant on ovals and another on road and street courses?  Sure.  The old Law of Unintended Consequences could be in full effect here.  Be careful what you ask for.  The racing last year was great, but that is no guarantee that next year will be.

Derrick Walker has stated that the series is closing on on having race control sorted out.  This recurring Nightmare on 16th Street could wreak havoc on the credibility the league has been so desperately pursuing if the decision is somehow mishandled.  With the track record of the series, this has the potential to be a flaming paper bag full of potential problems on the front porch of the series.  On one side, the hire needs to have the support of the owners and drivers form the beginning.  Beaux Barfield was an outlier and his support in the paddock was lukewarm, at best.  Brian Barnhart was a control freak that was liked in the paddock but had terrible PR with the public.  How about somewhere in the middle?  No tricks here, please.

One of the things I like about the holiday triumvirate of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas is the buzz.  You cannot escape the marketing might of corporate America from October to December.  Granted these marketing mavens have a lot of money to throw around, but they are out there selling every day.  Where’s the sell, IndyCar?  I know it is too early to have commercials on television, but where’s the buzz?  Did you know that John Green (3,296,107 Twitter followers), best-selling author of The Fault in Our Stars, was in the two-seater at IMS?  How about Deadmau5 (3,015,012 Twitter followers) being on track with James Hinchcliffe?  It should be noted that IMS did tweet about these appearances as they happened, but not much before or after.  Build the buzz.  Both of these artists have more followers than the total viewers of every IndyCar race the last two years combined.  Leverage that.  And if Deadmau5 plays at the Snake Pit this year, that is HUGE, even if you have no idea who he is.  He wears a mouse head as he DJ’s electronic dance music, for what it’s worth.  Costumes are big this time of year, right?

So Happy Halloween, IndyCar!  The fans are still waiting for their treats, but keeping their fickle interest may be the biggest trick of all.

 

Truth in advertising: how to market IndyCar

The (your name here) IndyCar Series, by whatever name you want to call it, has a checkered past when it comes to marketing acumen.  In recent years the Indy Racing League and its scion, the (your name here) IndyCar Series, have been second-rate at best in the selling of the series.  The folding of the series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway sales and marketing departments into a single entity called Hulman Racing will hopefully end years of internecine battles for sponsorship and sales.  Mark Miles smartly hired C.J. O’Donnell as chief marketing officer and Jay Frye as chief revenue officer to work not only for Hulman Racing but for him.  Their marching orders are simple: make us visible and make us money.

Of course the marketing bar for both the series and the Indianapolis 500 have never been set very high.  If not for marketing partners Firestone, Honda, and IZOD, the series would have had no advertising of note in the last few years.  And the Indianapolis 500 has always sold itself in odd ways.  The Gene Simmons “I am Indy” experiment should never have been let out of the laboratory, and last year’s #Indy500orBust Twitter campaign, while trendy, probably did not increase attendance to any great degree.  As a long-time sell out, the 500 never really had to market extensively.  When attendance waned after the split, the 500 found itself having to market a race that was once a guaranteed full house.  I just want to let C.J. O’Donnell knows that New Track Record is here to help.  Allow me to offer some new marketing slogans that highlight the truth about IndyCar racing.

IndyCar – No title sponsor needed.  Just embrace the reality.  This series can stand on its own.  Let people know that pride and history are all that are needed.

The IndyCar Series – Now condensed into a shorter season.  Don’t hide from the fact that the series is afraid to go head-to-head with NASCAR, college football, and the NFL.  Sell that decision as somehow benefiting the race fan by freeing them up to watch other programming.  IndyCar is the series that cares about all of your teams.

The IndyCar Series – You don’t have to worry about what to wear after Labor Day.  IndyCar can position itself as a cutting edge pop culture icon by appealing to the female fan’s interest in fashion.  No longer will someone have to decide if white is acceptable at a race after Labor Day.  The IndyCar Series will make that decision for you.

IndyCar – Quite possibly an international series.  Remember, you can sell not only what is, but the possibility of what may be.  IndyCar wants to be international.  We can just leave it at that.

The IndyCar Series – Family owned and operated.  Markets often use the “plain folks” sales technique.  This appeals to the small town person inside us all.  A family owned and operated business always means folksy advice and values.  We just won’t mention provincialism, shortsightedness, family squabbles, and soap opera stars masquerading as celebrities at the 500.

The IndyCar Series – It’s all about the month of May.  Don’t hide the fact that the series takes a back seat to the Indianapolis 500; embrace it.  I’m sure the glitter of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing will sprinkle the pixie dust of success on the series.

IndyCar – What we lack in innovation, we make up for in dysfunction.  If you can’t sell what you want to have, then sell what you do have.  The series has a car that allows little team innovation.  Every garage has the same car and looks the same.  If you can’t sell the tech, sell the screwed-up relationships among the owners, drivers, officials, and the series.  And go ahead and add the fans in the mix.  They’re crazy, too.

IndyCar – Where innovation and technology don’t exactly go hand-in-hand but kind of walk together, not like friends but more like acquaintances or people you know at work.  OK, this one needs a little work.  There’s a kernel of truth in that sentence somewhere, but it might need a little editing.

There you go.  I want C.J. O’Donnell to know he can use any of these.  Consider them my gift to the (your name here) IndyCar Series.  Of course, my marketing slogans may be a little too truthful.  The marketing team at Hulman Racing may have another direction in mind.  At least I hope they do.

The tale of the turbo in IndyCar: let’s all just get along

Derrick Walker, the IZOD IndyCar Series president of competition and operations, recently announced that both Chevrolet and Honda have agreed to move to a twin turbo engine for the 2014 IndyCar season. The press release says in part, “In an effort for parity throughout the turbocharger range, mandating only a twin turbo system simplifies our efforts to ensure even closer competition.” What a sound political statement. Allow me to translate: “Because Chip Ganassi won’t shut up about performance, Honda has decided to scrap their single turbo to make life easier.” Or something like that.

Look, I’m not a gearhead. I have a general understanding of how things work, and I’m a pretty good listener if you explain something to me. Concepts might have to be dumbed down a little (OK, a lot) to help me truly grasp the intricacies of an exotic racing motor, but even I get what a turbo does: it increases horsepower by using exhaust gases to spin a turbine injecting more air into the cylinders. More oxygen into the cylinders equals a bigger explosion when fuel and compression are introduced. The bigger explosion equals more horsepower. Simple enough. But why all the fuss?

Basically, the IZOD IndyCar Series is tired of refereeing the pissing contest between Honda and Chevrolet and the teams using the two engines. In 2012, when Honda was allowed to upgrade its single turbo, Chevrolet issued tersely worded press releases with veiled threats of doing something about it. In 2013, Chip Ganassi publicly questioned whether Honda was working hard enough to be competitive. All this is about regulating how much turbo boost (the amount of air) to allow the different turbos. It’s like two garden hoses with different nozzles and two neighbors complaining about which one creates more pressure to wash their cars. Both neighbors want the pressure to be equal as long as their nozzle works better. Anything else is unfair. And yes, I understand that does not make sense. But then again, we are dealing with the IndyCar rule book.

So there we have it. In a series that has identical cars and identical tires, the rules now stipulate that one of the differences in the two motors used in the series must be changed to make them more identical. Not only has team innovation been stifled in every area other than shocks and dampers, one of the areas of engine development that was significantly different has died a quiet death. Our sensitivity to political correctness and creating an even playing field for everyone has led to another decision to just keep everyone happy.

In the end, I’m torn. The competition with the DW12 has been superb. If you want exciting racing with passing for the lead, the IZOD IndyCar Series is the nonpareil. If you want a series that lacks innovation and legislates conformity, then this is the series for you. Somehow the slogan “IndyCar: the series that simplifies its efforts to ensure even closer competition” just doesn’t seem to send the right message.

Honda: Checkered Past to Checkered Flag

(Editor’s Note: Steve Wittich, today’s guest blogger, is one canny Canuck.  New Track Record was lucky enough to get him to write about some real history instead of the semi-lucid ramblings usually found here.  We hope he will follow this up with another post next Thursday.  You can find a daily dose of racing opinions from Steve on Twitter @stevewittich.)

I’d like to thank Mark for this opportunity to guest blog on NewTrackRecord.  I had a grand plan to explain the IndyCar engine wars of the past and dovetail that into explaining why engines are leased instead of purchased.  I decided that might be a little deep for my first blog attempt, so I have instead decided to focus on a study in perseverance for one of IndyCar’s current engine manufacturers.

Honda’s mid-80’s foray into IndyCar racing was a disaster.  Their “badging” of the Judd AV lasted only one year.  Fast forward to the mid-90’s, 1994 to be exact, and this commercial:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osNyXkMWnSE

This time instead of partnering with a third-party engine manufacturer, Honda took matters into their own hands and formed Honda Performance Development.  They chose to partner with Rahal-Hogan Racing with drivers Bobby Rahal and Mike Groff.  As far as the overall season went, it wasn’t a total disaster.  Bobby Rahal finished 10th in points and Mike Groff finished 20th in points. The results were extremely inconsistent with mechanical failures being quite common. .

But remember that the tag-line in the above commercial was “See ya at Indy”.  From the beginning Honda has made it quite clear that winning Indy was their goal.  Unfortunately for Honda the month of May didn’t quite go as planned.  Rahal and Groff were unable to get their Honda powered Lola’s up to speed and ended up leasing two Ilmor powered Penske PC22s from Roger Penske.  Both easily qualified for the field.  Groff’s day ended early when he and Dominic Dobson made contact, and Rahal was able to ride his rented mule to a third place finish.

One might think that after those two missteps, Honda would reconsider their involvement in IndyCar racing.  They doubled down and pressed on, and in 1995 they joined forces with Tasman Motorsports.  Tasman fielded one full-time car for Indy Lights standout Andre Ribiero as well as a part-time car for Canadian Scott Goodyear.

The year started off slowly for Tasman and Ribiero with three DNF’s in the first three races, but their luck started to turn around at Nazareth.  Giving us a hint of Honda’s new found power was a sixth place start and 11th place finish.  It was now on to Indy where Goodyear would drive a second Tasman car.  Goodyear’s surprising outside front row starting position was overshadowed by the failure of Team Penske to qualify for the race.

The Honda’s race day horsepower was evident as soon as the green flag dropped when Goodyear swept to the lead and led the race for 42 laps.  Unfortunately while leading during a late restart, Goodyear passed the pace car, and his refusal to acknowledge the black flag meant he finished in 17th place.  Honda came “that” close to achieving their goal in only their second try.  I’m not sure anybody knew at that point that it would be almost two decades before they got another shot.

The rest of the year for Tasman and Ribiero was a mixed bag of results as they generally qualified in the top 10 but due to mechanical issues and incidents failed to finish many races.  They did have one VERY bright spot as Ribiero put his Reynard Honda on the pole at New Hampshire and proceeded to run away with the race.

The following season (1996) saw Honda greatly expand their effort to include seven full-time cars including Chip Gannasi Racing.  Honda won all but three races that season and won their first series championship with Ganassi’s Jimmy Vasser.

This started an impressive string of six straight CART championships including two by Alex Zanardi, two by Gil de Ferran and one by Juan Pablo Montoya.

In 2002 Honda announced that they had unfinished business at the Indy 500 and would begin supplying engines to IRL teams in 2003.  They had some success in 2003 with wins by Tony Kanaan and Bryan Herta, but they would have to wait until 2004 to finally taste victory at Indianapolis.

Buddy Rice came out on top at the 2004 Indianapolis 500 giving Honda victory exactly two decades after they went home with their tail between their legs.  It was a dominating performance by Honda that saw them take home the first seven spots in the race.  That win began an era of Honda domination, and they have won the last seven Indianapolis 500’s and drove their competition from the series

Honda came to dominate IndyCar, but I’d like to remind people not to forget their inauspicious start and applaud them for the perseverance and dedication that it took to overcome that.

Whether Honda can make it eight Indianapolis 500 victories in a row is a big question mark.  Engine competition has brought some new story lines to IndyCar and watching Chevrolet try to wrestle control of the Indianapolis 500 away from Honda is definitely the headliner.

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