Here’s the one thing we know for sure about the IndyCar aero kits: They’re controversial. And they’ve been a point of controversy in the IndyCar paddock since they were first discussed in 2010.
That controversy has only intensified this May, with high-profile team owner Michael Andretti taking the wheel as the most vocal detractor.
The aerodynamic body work was supposed to set the Honda and Chevrolet cars apart. IndyCar also sought other manufacturers to make aero kits and bring more variety to the series. In the end, though, manufacturers besides Honda and Chevy took a pass.
The kits were supposed to bring the promise of higher speeds and potential new track records for the Indianapolis 500—qualifications and race.
They were supposed to attract more fans and curious onlookers who might become fans upon seeing the variety of fancy cars and higher speeds.
Andretti, who will run five cars in this year’s Indianapolis 500, said the expensive aero kits will likely do none of that. In a recent interview with IBJ at his team’s compound at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he blasted the aero kits—and what they mean to the sport.
“These aero kits this year added $1.7 million to my budget for nothing,” Andretti said. “All we did was spend a lot of money and hurt the racing. We split the field up. I don’t think the cars race as good as they did. It’s a negative, negative, negative across the board. I don’t think there’s one positive to it.
“It’s not good for the health of the series,” Andretti added. “It put the burden of expense on the teams and I don’t think there’s one more new fan in those stands because of it.”
There have been a rash of crashes—with some cars going airborne—this May at the IMS. Some think the new-this-year aero kits could be at least partly to blame.
IndyCar officials—after talking to officials from the teams, Chevy and Honda—decided to reduce the cars’ horsepower during last weekend’s qualifications and run them with less aerodynamically aggressive aero kits designed for the race itself.
As a result, qualifications speeds this year dropped by an average of about 5 miles per hour from practice.
Any hope of breaking the 19-year-old qualifications track record went out the window. This year’s pole winner was more than 10 mph slower than the track record set by Arie Luyendyke in 1996.
The thud from the aero kit failure at Indianapolis was heard globally, said motorsports analyst Derek Daly.
“These aero kits and the increased speeds have been the story line all year for this series,” Daly said. “They had people in the motorsports industry and the motorsports specialty media from around the world paying attention. Last weekend caused the IndyCar Series a significant loss in the credibility [series officials] so desperately crave.”
Daly isn’t convinced the aero kits had anything to do with the crashes and said Sunday’s decision to scrub speed at qualifications was “an overreaction.”
Either way, IndyCar officials are holding out hope the aero kits could lead to higher speeds and possibly track records next year for the 100th running of the Indy 500.
“This problem is solvable,” said Derrick Walker, IndyCar president of competition and operations. “We just wanted to err on the side of safety, and I’m very confident we will resolve whatever issues we’ve got.”
Despite the setbacks this month, Mark Miles, CEO of IndyCar parent Hulman & Co., thinks IndyCar technology—and the aero kits in particular—will continue to progress and lead to higher speeds.
“It was never intended to be a stunt to get to a certain speed, or above a certain speed, next May,” Miles told Autosport.com. “We’re not determined to get to a certain number come hell or high water. We think that the evolution of our racing is ongoing, and we think it will continue.”