Indycar News Eruption: 2012 Car is Less Than Promised, Brian Barnhardt and Terry Angstadt Gone, Belle Isle & China failures

The explosion you hear is the sound coming out of Indycar now that has released two major stories.  The first, by Marshal Pruett, explained the (many) struggles of the 2012 car.  Picking Dallara was suppose to mean less problems as they were the “proven” chassis maker.  Turns out that “proven” does not necessarily mean good.  Dallara’s new 2012 car has a fair number of problems.   The second, by Robin Miller, broke the news that both Brian Barhnardt and Terry Angstadt are no longer with Indycar.  The exact details of these changes remain unclear but Barhardt will be allowed to stay on as competition director, however he’s out of Race Control.  Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee then added their take on Trackside.

The 2012 car has been a pet issue of mine for a long time.  I have been a critic of Dallara since the beginning and it looks like I may have been right to be skeptical of them.  The idea was that the 2012 car would use a Dallara “safety cell” with multiple different aero kits that teams could chose 2 and run.  The idea was a car that would be lighter, more powerful, cheaper, have less drag, and faster.  The reality has been very different.  No aero kits.  I never finished my Aero Kit Rant over the summer but trust me when I say my views of that are likely to get this blog tagged as “mature.”  It’s safe to say that when a plan is designed around something and then it’s taken away that’s not a good thing.  But it gets better.  We were told that the new car would be a little bit more powerful on the road courses and less powerful on the ovals but it would be faster on both due to weighing less.  It does weigh less.  But it doesn’t weigh what it was suppose to.  Add onto the extra drag to get a car that is both slow and poor handling on ovals.  Read the entire three page article it’s both enlightening and, if you’re not a Dallara fan, rather funny.  The funniest line was the quote that made an HRT comparison between the 2012 car and the horrifically slow F1 team.  I’ve made that joke one or two times before and it looks more true than I had thought.

Still a Swift fanboy.

A few questions.  Dallara was picked because they were the “safe” choice.  So why are they so unprepared?  Did they have no design at all in July of 2010?  Did they scrap it completely instead of convert it into the “safety cell?”  Tony Cotman was suppose to be a super-genius who would make sure everything ran smoothly.  So what went wrong?

To me it feels like asking for a lighter, faster, cheaper, more powerful car was asking for too much.  I think a cheaper, faster (but heavier) car is possible.  A lighter, cheaper (but slower and cheaply designed/made) car is possible.  But all of those together was not.  More power appears to be the easiest answer and may happen.  It will however raise costs as it will reduce engine life.  That may be the sacrifice needed to produce decent racing in 2012.  It also appears from some comments that Indycar is looking to try and end “pack racing.”  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again that could be a huge mistake.  Especially if it’s done by aerodynamics and downforce.  Why?  Because it could make the races incredibly spread out and with no passing.  See a NASCAR COT race on a 1.5 mile oval.  Say, Chicagoland.  Compare with an Indycar race at that track.  One is one of the most anticipated races on the Indycar schedule, the other is one of the least anticipated races on the NASCAR schedule.  There’s a reason for that.  Also look at the Indycar race at Texas in 2009 and the Homestead 09 race for more examples.

HRT pedigree is showing

Pruett ends his article on a happier note.  He says that Will Phillips is a great engineer and that while there are a lot of problems none should be too serious that it can’t be fixed by St. Pete.   Everything should be fine.  Of course the 2012 car should have come in 2011.  We should have also had aero kits.  I’m concerned about the car.   While the fixes should be possible what happens if those fixes create more problems?  Nothing’s gone as planed so far so why should anyone believe that it will start to go as planned in the future?  The 2012 car just seems to be nothing like it was advertised.  The idea that it may not be that much better than the current car on road courses is especially concerning.  Indycar runs some of the worst road and street courses in America, and even a great car will struggle to put on good racing at tracks where motorcycles struggle to pass.  A sub par car, as we’ve seen, will struggle even more.  And we may be stuck with a sub par car on ovals that makes the racing worse.  And it won’t even race well on the road and street courses.  Hopefully things will work out and everything will be fine.  It’s not time to completely give up hope.  But I’d say it is the time for a pretty skeptical view on anything Indycar or Dallara tell us about the “new” car.

One last thing.  According to Pruett’s article all engines will have the same minimum weight.  So even if the Lotus is lighter it’ll get a weight ballasts.  I fear for Simona in 2012.  I really do.


Onto the Barnhardt and Angstadt news.  Barnhardt’s removal was expected. Deserved, too.  What idiot thinks restarting a race in the rain is a good idea?  What type of person gives Dario one set of rules and everyone else another?  The answer is Barnhardt.  Angstadt’s removal please me quite a bit too.  Terry is the most vocal/public supporter of street races and international races.  He’s involved with the schedule.  The rumored 2012 schedule doesn’t look too good and Terry’s a big part of that.  So I’m glad they’re being shown the door.   It could mean many things however.  Not all of those things are good.  Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee’s Trackside Online podcast adds a lot of good information on this.

For example, it could be a cleaning of house before a sale.  I’m not saying I think Indycar is about to be sold.   Though those rumors surface every few years.  It could mean that Bernard has more influence and power within the series.  It could mean he has less power as well, and if the board or Hulman family is leading this push, then these firing’s could be a warning to Randy.  Terry’s move could mean nothing.  Terry and Randy are both marketing guys;  Curt Cavin and Pressdog have both made some good points on that subjects.  I don’t know what the truth is.  I would hope the end of the Angstand era means a lessening of the international street races and that with Barhardt gone race control will improve.  But we know how hope and Indycar go together.  It’s also worth noting that there are two opening’s in race control as Unser is unlikely to return.

Race control  needs to improve.  Everyone can agree on that.  What improvement means though… that’s the question.  Should the blocking/defending rule go?  Should contact be punished more or less?  What worries me the most is the potential that Race Control will become very strict on contact but repeal the defending rule and become loose on blocking.   If that happens expect even more processional “races” next year.   I don’t like the defending rule at all.  But I believe if it goes away and contact penalties increase no one will risk making passing attempts and already dull races will become Infineon-like in boredom.  I prefer the more hands off “libertarian” style of officiating but for whatever reason most open wheel fans prefer the “nanny state”style of race control.  Since a race control how I want is so unlikely I’ll settle for one that is consistent and not too overbearing.  For the love of god, please not one like F1 that takes away wins after the race.

Onto the short list that Miller (among others) have mentioned.  Scott Pruett is intriguing.  He has raced NASCAR, CART, Grand Am and more.  In terms of diverse experience he’s hard to beat.  He’s got a major problem.  Scott Pruett is a long term Ganassi driver.  That makes me uncomfortable.  However Barhardt and Unser were Penske employees and that never stopped Indycar before.  It should have but it did not.   He’s still a competitive driver in Grand Sham, does he really want to retire? Wally Dallanbach Jr. has also been rumored.  Interesting idea but A. I like him on TV and B. does he have the desire and experience?  I don’t know Steve Horne well.  Tony Cotman has struggled with the car.  I don’t think they need to give him another job. Even Miller said he wasn’t interested in the job.   The most intriguing possibility is the ALMS Race Control leader,  Beaux Barfield.  Go read the guy’s twitter feed.  He’s got a sense of humor and sounds like a fun guy to have around.  He also used to work in Champcar and as steward of the Atlantics.  Here’s a “five questions” interview from Motorsportunplugged.  As far as I’ve seen the ALMS doesn’t have Indycar style Race Control Disasters.  He is used to a very complicated racing series and having to deal with a variety of situations and challenges.  My two concerns with him are this; ovals and contact.

If you succeed in race control for this, can you succeed with Indycar?

On ovals, how much knowledge does Beaux Barfield have?  The good news is he has been around them some in the earlier years of Champcar.  Judging by his twitter feed he’s also watched some oval racing.  That’s good.  But how much officiating of ovals has he done?  How long will it take to teach him?  On contact I don’t know his thoughts well.  Again going off his twitter feed he seemed pretty anti-Kyle Busch.  On the other hand asking Ross, who writes here and is a sportscar fan, Barfield is “not as stringent as indycar. There are calls but they are blantent ones.”

I have concerns but overall he seems like a good choice.  If you can manage a 4 class series that varies between ALMS and ILMC you should be able to do Indycar.  He manages Petit and Sebring without disaster so as long as he’s willing to adapt (and he adapted to ALMS from Atlantics) than he should be good.  He certainly sounds good from the interview I read.  He talks about making rules clear and working with his race control team.  Both were lacking in Indycar this year.   For the driver role I really don’t know.  Pruett and Dallanbach both have major positives and major negatives.  Maybe there’s someone else?  Or maybe it goes down to just one guy in charge and his assistants.

We need this

The last part of the Indycar News Explosion is the schedule.  We still don’t have a schedule.  The status of Baltimore, Texas, and Vegas are unclear.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again dropping Vegas would be a mistake.  We still race Indy and Toronto, after all.  It would be doubly a mistake because dropping Vegas would piss Bruton Smith off.  If ISC is owned by NASCAR and Smith is mad at you then kiss goodbye to the ovals.  I’ve heard many rumors about the 2012 schedule.  Some good.  Most bad.  The worst so far is the 14 race, no Vegas or Texas rumor.  That’s only 14 races with only 3 ovals.  I have been criticized in the past for over reacting to rumors so I’ve avoided responding on here to this one.  There’s no point in having me meltdown and get this blog tagged as mature for something that doesn’t happen.  Because trust me… should that happen my reaction will be strong and have an extra dose of my trademarked Triple League Racing Negativity.  I have no idea whether it will happen or not.  Honestly I don’t know what’s going on with the schedule.  There’s been so many rumors I don’t know what’s fact from fiction.  After listening to Trackside and Bruton’s comments I’m more optimistic than I was when I started writing this article on Tuesday.  Still… until we see the final schedule I won’t take anything for granted.

We have had two things confirmed.  Neither of which are positives in my opinion.  Belle Isle and China have been confirmed.  Belle Isle was confirmed with the same track map as was seen in 08.  So it’s hard to get excited about that one.  As for China I’m still against it.  It may make Indycar some money but there are a lot of negatives.  A 2 am race in China drops Indycar even more off the radar in the US.  There are a host of other issues with racing in China.  I know I’ve heard of a lot of issues with the various racing series that have raced or attempted to race there.  I was able to track down a podcast I remember that really had some enlightening information.  It took awhile but I finally was able to find Rumbestrip Radio #77 (early in show) and #78. (around 50 minute mark)  You need to go listen to it.  I would consider the question if the 2nd largest racing series in the world had issues in China what will happen to Indycar?  Especially as Indycar struggles with races held inside the US.  Here’s quick anecdote from the podcast to make my point.   The Chinese government tried to force the motorcycle manufacturer KTM to change colors of it’s team shirts from orange to something else for the race because orange is used on Tibetan monks robes.  So yeah… I’m sure the Indycar race in China will be a total success.  Note the sarcasm.

What does the future hold?

After a tragic start the Indycar Off Season has begun.  News has erupted out this week.   The 2012 car struggles are both funny and depressing.  But at this point, since it’s way to late to bring Swift in it’s just depressing.  About a year ago I came around to the idea of the safety cell and aero kit.  After Lotus, Chevy, and then Honda all agreed to make them I actually felt pretty positive about it.  And we’ve seen it go backwards from there.   The schedule?  I don’t even want to go there until I have to.  The change in race control and management could be a sign of good things.  Some were suprised and a little upset Terry Angstadt left.  I am not.  He’s the biggest Street Course and International Race supporter on this side of the Atlantic.  Hopefully his leaving means a refocusing on the USA.   This seems like what always happens.  Just when I’m about to give up all hope there’s a potential ray of light.  We’ll see if it works out.  Many of the past “beacon’s of hope” have failed.  I have some reservations but if Indycar can steal Beaux Barfield from the ALMS it seems like it would be a good start.  All that said I find it a little hard to get too excited about the 2012 season.  A new car and new engines may or may not work as planned and then you throw in a schedule that’s filled with street courses and motorcycle road courses you get a recipe for disaster.   2012 was suppose to be a “reset” for Indycar.  And it very likely will be a “reset”.   The problem is the “reset” could turn it into something even worse than what it currently is.

Posted on December 1, 2011, in Indycar and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. it will do little good to lose Barnhart but not simplify and clarify the rule book.

    the new chassis is still in development. yes, it’s rear weight sure is a problem, but there’s still time. the reviews on road courses have been good, it’s just the big speedways that are problematic.

    as far as China, it’s too bad that Indycar couldn’t have worked more on finding suitable race tracks (oval and twisty) and building the fan base in the U.S. before going to China, but at this point they have to go where the money is (and where sponsors want them to go.)

    • With Barfield, he likely would re-write the book/or at lest clarify what he planned to do. The chassis is not great on the road courses, read the mid point of Pruett’s article. It doesn’t have the torque that was expected. That’s not good at all. You really should listen to those podcasts. China very likely will be disastrous. It may make money, but between the time and attention it takes the series it doesn’t look like a good deal.

  2. Mad Mick in Milwaukee

    2012 and beyond is looking real bad. People are not going to watch hideous open wheel race cars with baby bumpers for 2hrs. Does not matter if it’s oval,streets,US,China tim buck too, people will just say, “wow that thing is ugly” and change channel or do whatever helps them unsee what they just saw. I’m very dissapointed that Barnhart will still be involved.

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