The Score - Anthony Schoettle

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Sports Business

IndyCar chassis plan may lure multiple engine makers

July 15, 2010
KEYWORDS Sports Business

The real prize of yesterday’s chassis announcement has not yet been realized.

But I give new IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard points for laying the ground work.

By allowing any company to come in and design the aero kits—and thus brand the car with their moniker—IndyCar officials are hopeful that those same brands will want to throw their engines in the mix. At long last, the days where everyone is running a Honda would be over, and a new level of excitement could be brought to the open-wheel series.

That could give rise to myriad testing programs from the likes of Ford, GM, Ferrari, you name it. And that would be a powerful driver for this struggling series. Testing programs could even become a platform to develop young—perhaps American—drivers.

But it remains to be seen how many manufacturers will be interested in putting their aero kits on Dallara’s main body. Already, the much respected Ben Bowlby, who developed the hyper-hyped Delta Wing chassis, said he would not be interested in combining his technology with Dallara’s body. I doubt Bowlby will be alone.

There’s another scenario. Some manufacturer comes in, spends a few million dollars on research and development and makes an aero kit that few can compete with. It’s true that companies can only charge teams $70,000 for the aero kits. But as far as I can see, there’s no cap on how much a company can pour into R&D.

So over three years, maybe a company tries to corner the market. Or worse yet, maybe an aero kit maker only deals with certain teams for promotional consideration—and the top teams become that much more dominant. I’m not quite sure how the series could force aero kit makers to work with teams they don’t want to deal with.

If Bernard is able to broker the best case scenario, where manufacturers big and small become interested in the series, and the likes of Lotus and Ferrari get so jazzed about their branded cars they beg to produce engines for the series and non-traditional companies like Boeing get involved, I’d be very impressed.

I’d be impressed enough to bump Bernard’s letter grade up to a B. But he only gets an A if people start paying attention to the series, start buying tickets and watching on television. And by their actions drive the real prize makers—big-time sponsors—back into the series.

P.S. I hear Bernard is going to officially scrap the Indy Racing League moniker from all existence by Jan. 1. I’ll give him a half a letter grade bump for that. Though some would give him more than that. And some would downgrade him for tardiness on that maneuver.

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