It was announced earlier in the week that all four of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ major manufacturers have signed long-term deals with the American open-wheel series.
The announcement that engine manufacturers, Honda and Chevrolet; chassis manufacturer, Dallara; and tyre supplier Firestone, have all committed to the sport for the foreseeable future came during the season opener of the 2017 season in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Jay Frye, IndyCar president of competition and operations said that this was a ‘unique moment’ for the series.
“To have all of our major manufacturers locked in with us for the foreseeable future points to the fact that they all have bought into the vision for the Verizon IndyCar Series. It’s another sign of the positive momentum we continue to build as we grow this sport into the next decade.”
And while I agree this is a positive step for stabilizing open-wheel racing in America, I do not share the same level of optimism, that it will grow the sport in the years to come. If anything I believe that it will hinder the sport.
Before I get into reasons why, some context.
When the Indy Racing League (IRL), the former name of the the IndyCar Series, was founded in 1994 due a split from Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) by owners and board members over, among other things more prominence for the Indianapolis 500 and more importantly, changes to the technical regulations that limited engine leases and chassis introductions and changes.
IRL founder Tony George, then president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway argued against the technical limitations that the CART owners held dear. George was against the rising cost of CART and the insistence on more road course racing, as opposed to the oval racing that is a staple of American circuit racing.
George promoted more parity by deregulating and at less cost for his new series and that is what ultimately caused CART to declare bankruptcy in 2002 and allowed George to absorb some CART assets during liquidation.
While CART survived until 2007 as the Open Wheel Racing Series (OWRS) before reunification after a second bankruptcy in 2008, into the present-day IndyCar Series. It was no longer the behemoth it once was. The one that attracted former Formula 1 champions like Emerson Fittipaldi and Nigel Mansell, it was a shadow of its old self.
Which brings me back to the question at hand, is the Verizon IndyCar Series hurting itself by becoming its absorbed former rival? Is the IndyCar Series banking too much on the stability of the sport by relying on four key suppliers, that it has forgotten the principles on which it was founded?
I say yes.
By committing to four brands, the IndyCar Series is stabilizing, but it is also moving away from the original principles of the IRL. It might also contradict with the series’ NEXT campaign, intended to move the series forward.
By committing to Honda, Chevrolet, Dallara, and Firestone, what IndyCar has inadvertently done is close off competition.
While Honda and Chevrolet, say they welcome a third engine manufacturer and are working with IndyCar Series representative to make it happen; by signing long-term deals with the series it allows both engine suppliers to worry less about possible outside competition and more on improving their own established brand to attract teams within the series because they already have an in. Currently Honda power holds a team advantage over Chevy-powered teams.
The same applies to chassis manufacturer Dallara and sole tyre supplier Firestone.
Being a single chassis series, Dallara don’t have to worry about IndyCar teams having better rival chassis, unlike in F1 where teams build their own.
Firestone’s contract extension gives it free reign to improve the compound without worry of competition, similar to Pirelli’s exclusive contract with F1.
While opponents will argue that these supplier extensions are not exclusive to the IndyCar Series, they might as well be.
As a third party manufacturer looking to join, you are less inclined if the manufacturers already in have an R&D advantage because they started at the same time. See Honda’s recent struggles in their F1 return one year after the grid went to V6 Hybrid power and Honda’s own insistence that the IndyCar Series freeze aero development in 2016 so they could close up the performance gap to Chevrolet, for examples.
What I would like to see is, IndyCar open up bidding for chassis and tyres, and homogenize engine development to easily attract more suppliers. Yes, it’ll be unsteady but it allows potential manufacturers to see that the competition is open and within reach. Essentially revert to the core principles of the original IRL.
Among the IndyCar writers for ReadMotorsport, I am in the minority on this however, as the other writers see stabilizing IndyCar as the way to go.
ReadMotorsport IndyCar writer Tim Lumb said, “I think it is very good for IndyCar and for the American market. Having the likes of Chevrolet, Honda, Dallara and Firestone stay in the sport not only provides consistency for the championship, it’s good for the fans.”
“I’m happy with the direction IndyCar is going in. The competition between the two aero kit providers gives the sport a unique edge and always keeps us guessing heading into a new season and even sometimes each weekend.
“While I’m not that impressed by Dallara’s current offering, I’m excited to see what they can bring to the table in 2018. I see no problem with Firestone as a supplier although a mix up of their compounds wouldn’t be unwelcome,” said ReadMotorsport IndyCar contributor Joshua Suttill.
What do you think? Is the IndyCar Series extending contracts with its suppliers a good thing or should they open up competition by making it a bidding war for suppliers?