The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Robin Miller (apparently after talking to Mike King's Breakfast Spectre) has dropped the big bombshell that some of the IZOD IndyCar Series owners are up in arms about the 2012 IndyCar and the ICONIC committee recommendations. Robin titled his piece "Owners Reject 2012 Car" and led with this sphincter-tightening thought:
What happens if the IZOD IndyCar Series builds a new car for 2012 and most teams refuse to buy it? We just might find out.
Now, Robin being Robin, this breathless inducement to panic doesn't quite play out the way you'd expect in the article. It's a hook designed to get your brain screaming and your eyeballs dangling from their sockets.
Still, there's plenty in Robin's story to get in a tizzy about, and probably the biggest is the fact that some of the IndyCar owners seem to be regressing into some very disturbingly familiar thought patterns.
Robin talks about a "near unanimous message" that developed from a team owners' meeting at Sonoma this past weekend. Tellingly, though, there are only three of the current owners quoted in the article, and only two elected to go on the record - Eric Bachelart and Dennis Reinbold.
The prevailing idea is that the owners are upset that IndyCar officials signed off on a deal with Dallara to build a "safety cell" that was open for third-party aerodynamic kits and bespoke engines within a certain horsepower range. What this means for them, they say, is a complete turnover of inventory starting in 2012 - a very expensive proposition, says Bachelart:
"The league decided to do a new car and never consulted the teams and we're all wondering how we're going to be able to pay for new equipment given the current economy and value of the series..."
If you take Bachelart's comment at face value without any contextual reference, you might think he has a point. Imagine that you own a two-car team like Bachelart does and basically have hired ride buyers to keep your operation afloat. Suddenly, the series drops the hammer on you by saying you will have to buy completely new equipment in two years and, by the way, nobody's going to want your old tubs. A daunting prospect, to be sure, and a bolt out of the blue that you don't appreciate.
The problem is, the idea that Bachelart or any of the other IndyCar owners didn't know this was coming is complete horse hockey.
The ICONIC committee sent out three pages' worth of questions to the team owners to solicit their opinions on the new direction for 2012 before anything was ever decided upon. But before ICONIC was even formed, team owners were already forming ranks behind the Delta Wing project as a way to bring innovation and cost savings to the series. In fact, the general consensus back then was that with aging inventory and stagnant technology, the series would actually die if steps were not taken to change things.
Now, I'll gladly admit to more than a little naivete but I can't possibly imagine how a complete turnover for Delta Wings is any different at all from a complete turnover for the 2012 ICONIC spec - except for who is holding the political reins.
Delta Wing, of course, made it clear that if adopted the technical side of matters would be under the supervision and control of DeltaWing, LLC, which by all reports had the support and vested interest of the owners. ICONIC's recommendation keeps technical control vested in the series.
All of that aside, one of the more confusing aspects of all of this is that the owners are voicing their concerns now. We are months removed from the start of all of this "new car" business and many weeks past the ICONIC announcement. For any of the owners to start freaking out about this in August smells very fishy to me - even if the "revolt" as some are inevitably going to call this is more a product of Robin Miller's wording than it is a reflection of reality.
You'll also have to pardon me for some cynicism when I hear about Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi allegedly worrying about the turnover costs of recreating inventory in 2012. Give me a break. Chip was and is bankrolling Ben Bowlby and Delta Wing, as well as monolithic racing programs in several other disciplines. Penske, while not a partner in Delta Wing, also has the wherewithal to compete in the top levels of many other expensive racing series. Moreover, the infrastructure they bring to the track and the R&D that they expend on their racing programs makes the rest of the IndyCar paddock look like Dickensian paupers. If they are making a stink, in my mind it has to be politically motivated.
I'm very interested to see the aftershocks from Miller's article to see how many owners will either grow a pair and voice their concerns publicly or back off of the whole concept of "owner revolt" that Robin has reintroduced to the IndyCar world today. I'm not sure how much of this is all hype and how much of it is genuine rebellion fomenting among the teams.
What I am sure of is this: this is not CART, fellas. If you threaten not to buy the new IndyCar, then you should know that you're not irreplaceable. The 15-year Split war that demolished the sport and devalued your racing enterprises to the point where you have to get ride buyers just to stay afloat was as much your own fault as it was Tony George's. Bringing that ethos and those motivations back to the table is the last thing you should be doing if you have any interest at all in rescuing IndyCar racing from the brink of extinction.
I don't agree with every choice made by ICONIC, but given the context of where the series is and where everyone wants it to go, it's a valid compromise that has potential. Running 2003-vintage Dallaras for another two years does not. We could talk all day about what happens to carbon-fiber race tubs after a season or two of strenuous racing activity, but the bottom line is that sticking with the current equipment screams STAGNATION. And stagnation means death to IndyCar racing.
At present, this "revolt" appears to have about as much political weight as an Internet petition. But if there is some truth to the matter that a handful of owners will refuse to go along with the 2012 IndyCar, then they should be prepared for that plan to backfire. Indeed, maybe what IndyCar needs is an influx of fresh blood in the ownership ranks - owners who don't have the long, ugly history of the past decade and a half of ego and strong-arming.
Robin has delivered your message, owners. Here's one from us: Stay, or go - but crap or get off the pot. Spare us the whining about victimization. Fool us once...