JUST ENOUGH TECH TO MATTER
question won’t be an IndyCar.
But despite IndyCar scoring low in the
“fresh and innovative” stakes, even the
current spec-heavy formula has more road
relevance built in than one might think.
“As long as we’re looking in the general
direction of a smaller capacity, V6, direct
injection, turbocharged engine, that all has
carry-over application to our road cars,”
says Roger Griffiths, Honda Performance
Development’s technical director. “The days
of running larger capacity V8s, certainly for
Honda, isn’t relevant. We don’t even have
a [road-going] V8. So for us, the smaller,
more efficient formula is more important.”
Chris Berube, IndyCar program
manager at Chevrolet, says that a lot of
the value GM derives from the series is not
immediately obvious from the outside.
“It’s the context of the relevance that
always needs to be made clear,” he says.
“We don’t limit it to just the products,
or the physical parts. We’ve got people
involved from the production side, we’ve
got processes involved from the
production side, and the parts become
From the manufacturer’s perspective,
the need for some sort of relevance in
motorsport is obvious: it costs a lot of
money to go racing, and they need to get
something out of it. For the series itself,
the picture is a little more complicated.
IndyCar president of competition and
operations Derrick Walker revealed the
first tentative road map for IndyCar’s
technical future in June, and while the
plan offered theoretical timeframes for
engine updates and the rollout of bodykits,
there was little specific information about
how the technical philosophy of the series
might evolve over the next decade.
“IndyCar has never been that high on
the ‘relevancy’ list,” says Walker. “We’re
guided by the manufacturers that want to
participate in our series. What they think is
important is important to us, and also
obviously what the fan base thinks about us
being relevant to what they’re buying. We
try to gauge those two benchmarks and
mix it with what we think IndyCar should be.
“I think racing can be very relevant when
it comes to development and the speed
at which development can take place.
What always holds us back is the balance
between cost and competition, because
obviously if you open up too many areas
for creativity or development then you’ll
have divisions between the front and the
back of the grid in the amount of money
that everybody has at their disposal.
“We’re still a form of entertainment in
many ways, so it’s a fine line between trying
to allow technologies that make sense,
he world is changing, and motorsport is
changing with it. Societal priorities
regarding natural resources have shifted:
people are less receptive to anything that
could be interpreted as a frivolous use of
dwindling resources, and many are
concerned by the icecap-melting potential
of continued excess.
Just to make things trickier, the sport
also faces competition for its fans’ leisure
time on a scale unimaginable not all that
long ago – which means that racing has
to work all the harder to secure its slice of
your attention. In a sense, the future of
motorsport will be shaped not only by how
it sells itself, but also by how it justifies itself.
Ominous as that might sound, racing
holds an ace in that it remains unrivalled as
both a test bed and a showcase for the road
car technologies of the future. If its path to
sustainability is linked to road relevance,
that’s good news for sports cars, alt. tech
Formula E, and potentially even Formula 1.
But what if you’re an open-wheel category
with a large percentage of spec parts and
massive restrictions on development?
Historically, you could argue – at the risk
of upsetting a few people – that technical
relevance was never really IndyCar’s strong
suit in the first place. True, there was more
technical freedom in previous eras, but
relevance and freedom aren’t necessarily
the same thing. No matter how things
play out in the next few years, that’s
unlikely to change: when the day that a
racecar featuring a flux capacitor finally
arrives, it’s a safe bet that the vehicle in
RELEVANCE BY DEGREES
Close competition and technical relevance aren’t mutually exclusive. But
for the spec-heavy IndyCar Series, finding a balance is key going forward.
WORDS Mark Glendenning MAIN IMAGE Phillip Abbott/LAT