According to the Indianapolis Business Journal, a movement has started to make the Indianapolis 500 the most prestigious race in the country again. And boy, it's a doozy.
Many of the proposed changes center around the car and innovation. The current IndyCar is expected to be replaced by IndyCar's version of the COT in 2012 (just as long as it's not the Delta Wing, please), so there will already be sweeping changes across the board.
But according to Mike Hull, Scott Dixon's crew chief, and Dennis Reinbold, co-owner of Dreyer and Reinbold Racing, there also needs to be more connection between the consumer auto industry and open-wheel racing. From the Journal:
"Changes need to be made in IndyCar to make it relevant with what people in the automotive industry are talking about today-green technology; smaller, more efficient engines; fuel use and performance; and lighter cars and engines," Hull said.
"Everybody is so caught up in what the car will look like," he said. "Instead, we should be creating an avenue for car manufacturers to get back in this series with the technology they can provide. We have to have a fresh approach. We can no longer think in a shoe box."
Dennis Reinbold, a local car dealer who co-owns an IRL team, said aligning more closely with the mainstream automotive industry "makes a lot of sense."
"Becoming relevant to the car industry is how the Speedway began," Reinbold said. "Getting in line with that could open up some serious doors."
Reinbold said the IRL must get in tune with mainstream auto consumers, too.
"We have an eight-horsepower pig engine and a race-specific chassis," Reinbold said. "We have to start talking the same language as the auto industry. They used to say 500 miles on the track is worth 50,000 miles on the highway. I think there's still merit in that."
NASCAR realized that they had gotten away from the "stock" factor over the last 15 years, hence the return to more manufacturer identity in the Nationwide Series with that new car. However, NASCAR is the most popular motorsport in the country, certainly the only one with enough power to actually influence the "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" mantra. Are there really enough open-wheel racing fans to make a concerted consumer auto overlap worth it?
Well, there's apparently a plan for that too.
(IMS CEO Jeff) Belskus confirmed that the idea of opening up the engine and chassis formulas and allowing more innovation at Indianapolis has been bandied about, but added the idea "would need more in-depth discussion" before it is adopted.
Addressing safety issues and the expense to teams is essential, he said, adding that the changes would also require input from series partners such as chassis maker Dallara and engine maker Honda.
Dallara's deal with the IRL is year-to-year and Honda's deal runs through 2011, making 2012 an ideal year to launch new regulations.
Helio Castroneves' pole speed for Sunday's race was 227.970 mph, so it's not inconceivable to think that if the rules were opened up for the race, the pole speed could be between 240-250 mph. And just how fast is too fast?
Danica Patrick said Saturday that she was scared — something that a driver never admits — so what would drivers be saying about going 240 mph? And Indianapolis isn't exactly the raciest track in the world either. Because of the (lack of) banking, it's a one-groove track, and very rarely can cars run the corners side by side without any calamity.
Add to that the fact that racing tends to get worse the higher the speeds, so are those that are pushing for the rule relaxation shooting their competition foot in their quest for speed?
And there's this:
"If you open up all the rules, the difference between the haves and have-nots would be so great," said Team Penske President Tim Cindric. "Whether that would be interesting or not, only time would tell."
Given that the IndyCar Series is already switching to a new car, maybe changes to the cars for the Indy 500 should wait a few years because the more things change, the more they stay the same. Smaller teams will already be behind in switching over to the 2012 car, and if the 500 has a new set of rules, they'll be miles behind, instead of mere feet. The IndyCar Series is already a two-team show between Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi. Do series officials really want that to continue?