Digesting Dallara’s victory

Ol’ Reliable came out on top today as current IZOD IndyCar Series carmaker Dallara got the nod to create the base rolling chassis and safety cell for the next-generation IndyCar that will debut in 2012.

Other manufacturers can choose to get involved with the next-gen chassis however as the creators of the car’s aerodynamic kits — things like front and rear wings, engine covers, and other elements that can make for a more diverse grid of cars. But after all the banter and debate about all the potential manufacturers’ innovations and faults, it feels somewhat strange that IndyCar decided not to be a bit bolder in their decision.

But really, how bold could Randy Bernard and the ICONIC committee be? The economy is still in the toilet, so multiple chassis were unlikely. Dallara has a proven track record, while new entities like DeltaWing didn’t. And there’s still the matter of attracting potential brands to make these aero kits plus the powerplants for these new cars. This is still an evolving situation and when one thinks about it, this may have been the best plan that IndyCar could have come up with at this time. If things get better economy-wise, then maybe fans will get their ‘big splash’ in the future and the chassis competition they crave will become reality.

Coming back to Dallara, I got the sense that their plan to manufacture the new cars in Speedway, Indiana was what put them over the top. They’ll be setting up shop on Main Street and in addition to the manufacturing process, the facility will be home to a few other things. Suffice to say, this is a major boost for creating jobs in Central Indiana’s motorsports industry and the town of Speedway’s ongoing revitalization efforts.

“We worked very hard in the last 90 days to be able to answer the very thoughtful questions and we came out with innovative solutions keeping in mind safety, cost, raceability and versatility,” said Dallara CEO Andrea Pontremoli. “Another aspect where we put attention was on opening a new facility here in Speedway, Indiana. What I want to say is that we will open here not only a factory to build up the new IndyCar, but in addition, we would like to have a knowledge center where we will have engineering capabilities and a new state-of-the-art simulator where drivers, race engineers, and “Why not” fans, could practice even before the IndyCar is built.

“This means that this will create new jobs from Dallara, but also for the third-party suppliers, and we need to link with Indiana universities to create the race engineers of the future.”

But you also can’t discount the two other obvious facts. The current eight-year chassis will finally be put to rest (it won’t be grandfathered in) and let’s face it, this has been long overdue. Also, the major price cut ($349,000 for the chassis, $385,000 for the complete car) will help increase the affordability of racing in the series and may get new teams into the fold. This is a 45 percent reduction from what the current chassis costs teams; it’s nothing to sneeze at.

However, I find two things a bit strange: The fact that Indiana-based teams will get a $150,000 discount from Dallara in buying the chassis and that once an aero kit is approved, the IndyCar becomes the brand of the aero kit’s maker and not a Dallara. To be honest, the latter is what confuses me more (even though I wonder if the cash discount is incentive enough for someone like A.J. Foyt to move his squad to Indiana). Dallara will get their cash, but they’re sacrificing a good bit of branding in the process.

“Once the kit is submitted and approved, the car branding will go by the intellectual property rights or by the owner of that kit,” IndyCar president of competition Brian Barnhart explained. “If a team does their own kit, if a Team Penske does a kit, it will be a Penske IndyCar. If any other manufacturers come on, it could be a Lockheed IndyCar, it could be a Boeing, could be a General Motors, could be a Ford.”

You get the sense that Dallara getting dumped for ‘Brand X’ will be worthless unless IndyCar can bag a carmaker/group that everybody knows, like a GM or a Ford, to make said kits. And that’s the big gamble in all of this: Convincing companies that the series has enough benefit to enable a return on their investment, whether they make the kits or decide to create an engine. It’ll be very interesting to see if Bernard and ICONIC can pull that off.

“I think now, we have to go and visit with them and convince them that we want partners,” said Bernard. “If they are selling cars and we can help them sell cars, that has to be one of our priorities,as well, and we have to be able to listen to them and understand what they need from a relevance standpoint.”


Quotes in this article were taken from post-announcement and teleconference transcripts.