There been times that I thought I couldn't last for long
But now I think I'm able to carry on
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come
The focus on 2012 since the beginning of the season can be summed up thusly: CAR, CAR, CAR.
Whether you are a Swiftie or part of the Delta Wing fraternity, you have probably been salivating over the prospect of a hot new IndyCar ride for the Mayan Apocalypse Year* - a symbol of a new beginning for IndyCar racing.
You've probably also despaired as a faction of IndyCar ownership led by Roger Penske has preached caution and patience and the idea that moving the new car back two, three, or even four years down the road would be preferable.
My thoughts on the subject of the new car are well-documented here. I'm not going to rehash them for this article. Rather, I'm going to put forth a somewhat more aggressive theory - that simply rolling out a new car is not enough.
In fact, I think 2012 should be the year that the Indy Racing League goes the way of the dodo.
Now, before you start hyperventilating, I'm not calling for the demise of the IndyCar series at all. However, I am of the opinion that as long as there is a new car coming in 2012, the IndyCar series might as well undertake a few more changes to make the year a true "jumping off point" for a brighter future.
I think they need to start by changing the sanctioning body's name. There simply isn't a positive connotation left for the name "Indy Racing League." It stands for nearly two decades of strife, egotism, technological regression and stagnation, and a whole host of other pejoratives. Hell, even in their official communications the IndyCar series folks try their best not to mention the name.
So change it. You have two years - that's more than enough time to build a new branding package and get the legal machinations going to turn "Indy Racing League, LLC" into "IndyCar, LLC" or "Brickyard, LLC" or "Indy Competition, Ltd." or what have you.
Some may say that a name change is superfluous and unnecessary. I completely disagree. A word that becomes a pejorative stays that way, even though it may still have a non-pejorative connotation or definition. For instance, if someone mentions a Champ Car, how likely is it that the first thing their audience thinks of is the historic USAC championship cars of yore? No, they will think of guys like Chris Pook and Kevin Kalkhoven and a series that spent its short life fighting both Indianapolis and their own finances. Similarly, the IRL is a trigger phrase for memories of everything bad that has happened since 1995 (the "Injury Racing League," "EARL," and so forth are other less-savory forms).
So change the name and face of the sanction. The series already has a new face and look thanks to the stellar partnership of IZOD, which is making the IndyCar series its own every bit as much as PPG and FedEx made CART theirs. A fresh face and a new name would complement the new directions being taken by the series' CEO - directions that are bringing optimism to IndyCar for the first time in what seems like forever.
Speaking of new directions, it might behoove the ICONIC advisory panel to add some topics to their roundtable once they are through with the new car. A few that might be worth talking about for a 2012 adoption are:
- A minimum-speed rule in both qualifying and race sessions. The percentage (usually between 105% and 107%) of the fastest lap can be modified based on track format, but having the hard and fast rule will require teams to meet a fixed standard. It makes sense from a safety and image standpoint.
- Standing starts on road courses. As I have already mentioned previously, people outside the traditional fan ranks love standing starts. They would add an element of excitement and flair to the beginning of a race, as well as keep the field closely packed to give drivers an added opportunity to gain or lose position.
- A revised protocol for restarts. The IZOD IndyCar Series drivers are supposed to be among the best drivers in the world. Why can't they hold a formation heading to a green flag? I can't tell you how irritating it is to see IndyCars accelerating to race speed on the backstretch in anticipation of a green flag. The cars need to be in restart formation and should wait until the green comes back out - or, like NASCAR, at a predetermined area on the frontstretch in front of the fans. Also, IndyCar needs to sort out a new paradigm for lapped cars - particularly at road and street courses where overtaking is restricted by course layout. Whether it is a "lucky dog" or wave-around rule or whether the series adopts double-file restarts with lapped cars on a separate line, this needs to happen in the interests of improving the on-track product.
- Onboard starters. This may in fact be one of ICONIC's topics for the 2012 car, but it bears repeating here. It's simply ridiculous that a full-course caution should come out in order for a safety team to get a stalled car fired back up. Requiring an external starter might be a weight-saver in an already razor-thin competitive margin, but it looks anachronistic and unnecessary in the 21st century.
There are probably more ideas out there that should be considered seriously (make sure you post yours in the comment section), but the point is that we have almost two years to flesh them out and have the rules ready for a 2012 rollout. Some of the legwork on a couple of these issues was already done by teams who competed in Champ Car - so use it.
It may be a lot to process for a series so used to taking things at a snail's pace, but most birds only learn to fly when they're kicked into the open air by their parents. And IndyCar has been sitting in the nest long enough.
(* Ed. note: Actual apocalypse probability odds are about a billion to one. Just saying.)