Mixed reaction to IndyCar university tie-in (UPDATE)

UPDATE #3 Another reader writes, Dear AR1.com, I cannot believe that they left out my alma mater, Purdue University in the program that they will be rolling out. I mean come on, the IMS is in INDIANA and Purdue is THE INDIANA university when it comes to engineering. Seems like quite an oversight, given the fact that the university has their annual Spring Grand Prix race that has over the years been fortunate enough to have quite a number of open wheel drivers and even Pat Vidan back in the 70's as the flagman. Seems like the black and gold would also be a nice color combination for a car similar to the John Player days of Formula 1. Keep up the good work with the website. Regards, Dan N. Chicago

Another writes, Dear AR1.com, you have got to be kidding me? That article was an April Fool's joke? It was the best idea I have ever heard about how to turn the series around. Universities involved in Indy Lights and with the IndyCar teams designing the body kits is brilliant. You guys had me completely fooled, but now I am saddened to learn the best idea ever won't happen. Doug Bowlen

04/01/13 To set the record straight, the article was indeed an April Fool's joke, as were a few Hot News items (F1 at Lime Rock, Vettel to Toro Rosso and the DeLorean V8 Supercar) posted today. It seems we fooled a lot of people, all in good fun. With that said – the idea of IndyCar making a connection with universities was well received by a lot of readers. Remember, the universities did not have to be just in the USA. The trick would be for each team to find a university with a strong aeronautics department and nothing precludes a team from also hooking up with an outside design firm and make the body kit designs a collaborative effort between the team, their university and an outside design firm. We also received a lot of good feedback on the look of the IndyCar just by replacing the existing hideous sidepods. Not a single reader said they liked the look of the existing car. What does that tell you? Mark C.

04/01/13 Another reader writes, Dear AutoRacing1.com, Just a few comments on the University Idea.

1. Many Universities participate in a program called the Formula SAE program. This is a program set up by the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) that requires students to design, build, and fund a race car built to certain specs. This has been a very successful program over the years, and they go to compete against each other where a champion is crowned each year. Having worked for a component supplier, we were always asked to supply components for these cars, as each university is required to pay for their own supplies. I believe that there is actually a maximum amount that each can spend on the car. They have to go out and ask for donations and sponsors to help pay for this as well. My feeling that with tuitions increasing, universities are not going to fund a program where they pay for development of an IndyCar program. If they can't pay for a Formula SAE, they surely cannot pay the hundreds of thousands for an IndyCar program.

2. This idea is not new. When the current car design was being developed, it was sold to team owners that Any One would be able design and build body kits, including universities. The concept was that universities, companies, even individuals could submit designs for body kits and if they were approved (based on safety and rules), then those entities could sell them at a fixed price. As we all now know, the body kits concept has been shelved (and don't tell me it’s about cost, teams have to buy body work anyway as spares).

3. University programs will not bring back the "youth" as fans. University student are not considered "Youth" in marketing. They are part of the 18-34 demographic. Youth is considered anyone under 18, and as we know this is not college students. Actually, F1 does a good job reaching the youth through their "F1 in Schools" program in various countries that uses F1 to teach math and science in elementary and high schools. This is the kind of program that might help get the youth market. Another thing that helps is the upcoming video game that IndyCar is helping to develop. Today's youth is about the coolest cars, the best video games, and technology. What made Indy so popular with previous generations of kids was the fascination with the cars and drivers that drove made them do the impossible. We now have street cars that can go 200 mph, so that is not the magical number anymore. Indy was followed by the public to see what kind of new technology was going to show up in an effort to win the race. Was it going to be front engine, 4 wheel drive, turbos or not, or even a turbine. Today, that fascination is lost in that all the cars are the same, and that does not capture the fascination of today’s youth (and tomorrows fans). Steve Sunderland

04/01/13 A reader writes, Dear AR1.com, finally someone in IndyCar gets it. This tie-in with universities may be the single most important announcement in the history of IndyCar racing. The problem IndyCar has is its lack of visibility with today's youth. This not only solves that problem, it gets engineering student actively involved in a real-world sport. I cannot think of a better student co-op program than this. And I love the two pronged approach – Indy Lights team as well as designing new body kits for the 2014 IndyCar. Not sure if this was Mark Miles' idea, but it is brilliant. Dave Donatello

Another reader writes, Does anyone actually think this is a good idea?

These cars are designed by people with years of experience designing race cars, in wind tunnels that cost multi-millions of dollars, and take several seasons to accurately correlate with CFD and/track data. I’m not aware of any US university that has a tunnel that is even close to the standard required to do the job properly. Sure they could us some of the commercially available tunnels, but do they have a clue what the cost would be.

Ten years ago the cost to rent a well respected tunnel in the US was $1100 per hour! This program needs probably two weeks of testing, plus another week of final mapping. That doesn’t include the cost of all the parts that will have to be made to be evaluated which don’t come cheap!

The idea that they will be guided by the team race engineers is, I’m afraid, a huge misunderstanding of the process of designing a car. Admittedly there are a few race engineers who have design experience at this level, but the vast majority don’t. Designing a car and engineering one at a race track are two very different functions. I feel this shows a naivety that is completely consistent with most of the decisions that have come out of IndyCar recently.

Having said all that regardless of any performance results they could hardly design a car any uglier! Except that most of the parts that make this car so awful looking aren’t (or at least weren’t) available to change.

A lost fan becoming ever more disinterested . . Ian Ashdown

Leave a Reply