The 2012 IndyCar announcement in 2010 outlined the cost savings for the new platform - apparently not enough, however, for owners to sign on for the aero kit principle until 2013. (Photo: Walt Kuhn/LAT/IndyCar.com)
It'd be so nice to be able to say, "Well, there goes Robin Miller stirring up the pot again."
Sadly, when I read an article like this, I know it's not just Robin creating a scoop to boost his page views. I know it's accurate. I know this, because if there's one thing about INDYCAR team owners that can be accurately generalized, it's that they are terrible both at working for the greater good and correctly judging the ramifications of their own self-interest.
I've said before that optics are what bloggers are best at representing, so I'll lay it down for you in black in white - the optics of this "owner revolt" against the 2012 introduction of aero kits are horrendous.
I know the official excuse - teams are going to have to do a 100% turnover in equipment for the new 2012 IndyCar which will cost a fortune, and any unnecessary costs should be done away with if possible. Why introduce the cost factor of different aero kits immediately when you can amortize the cost across multiple years?
Never mind that the aero kits were a compromise that bridged the gap between cost containment and the appearance of innovation - the former a concession to these wealthy owners so that they could continue to afford their plush motor coaches, the latter to try and convince auto manufacturers that investing in INDYCAR was more than just throwing money down a deep, dark hole. Never mind that, since the fans have been so sick of the nearly-decade-old Dallara chassis and the vanilla cast that it gave their favorite series because there were no other alternatives, the aero kits were like water for a desert wanderer to the faithful.
Maybe we also shouldn't bring up the idea that, for the first time in a decade, a Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi might not be ruling the roost if they chose the wrong aero kit for their race cars. For teams geared towards throwing piles of cash that other team owners don't have into R&D and building custom parts for supposedly "spec" race cars, the required adaptation to aero kits and the potential competitive disadvantage cannot sit well. But that wouldn't play into their thought processes... would it?
All of that aside, though, the real issue here is one of power and control. The very idea that the team owners believe that they can band together, take a vote, and thereby collectively dictate policy in the series (enforced by consensus action such as, "We're not gonna buy your aero kits!") is a callback to the bad old days when the inmates were running the asylum. To paraphrase a well-respected colleague, these same folks who said that the mice shouldn't guard the cheese are now saying, "But it's our cheese."
That's where the optics get really ugly. Because in the end it's not about aero kits - it's about who is pulling the strings in the series. The team owners want it known that, as the guys writing the checks, they are the ones who approve or disallow a future course of action. Maybe if this was an isolated incident it wouldn't be that obvious, but this is the second "official" owner pushback on series policy in less than a year. Only Randy Bernard's ability to mollify the owners kept that first instance from blowing up in everyone's faces. One has to wonder how many more of these "revolutions" Bernard will tolerate before getting fed up enough to take a job with Bruton Smith or someone else.
The sad thing is that, privately, it's virtually certain that at least some of the owners are not on board with this move. They want the aero kits. They want what the fans and automotive industry want - a more compelling INDYCAR that is worth time and investment. But the same guys who fomented the 1995 revolt that irrevocably crippled the sport, only to turn tail and kill CART/Champ Car when the going got tough, are back to their old tricks - and with Penske in bed with Chevrolet, his words and actions carry significant weight.
The problem is that resistance to outside authority seems to be ingrained in these people. It's easy to imagine that if the aero kits were the owners' idea, then they would be carping at the series to implement them ASAP. But since the aero kits are being mandated to them, they want to pick and choose when - if ever - they acquiesce.
What's the worst part? This is happening in May. This is the sport's greatest month! And we're kicking it off with... a revolution! Like a gang of Somali warlords, the owners are trying to assert their power when they can't even get the water running in the faucets.
Sooooooo, here we go again. The owners are in revolt. Again. INDYCAR's positive momentum is brought to a screeching halt. Again. The racing world is casting an eye on our niche and shaking their heads sadly, noting that the more things apparently change, the more they stay the same.