Dear Aerokits, Thanks for Everything. Sincerely, This Old Fan

As we draw to a close this latest of Indycar seasons, we also dedicate to posterity what may be labelled as the ‘Aerokit Era’.

I see it as the last remnant of the Randy Bernard era or the second half of the DW12 era (2012 through 2014) pushed on by Derrick Walker, and spanning from 2015 through 2017.

How it will be viewed is a matter for time to decide. Marshall Pruett has a fantastic article in Racer Magazine that reviews the Aerokit era from a more technical point of view including the feedback of several drivers during that era.

Some may judge it harshly for the on-track product, possibly labelled as a step back from to the previous and surprisingly-racy DW-12 spec chassis era. Expenses related to development, expenses related to repairs, extensive clean-ups times from in-race contact, ineffectiveness of abating contact via the rear bumper-pods, detrimental effects on trailing cars’ handling, and even serious questions of safety for both driver and race fan from flying debris and flying cars when not retained or pointed in the prescribed direction, were all unintended consequences and valid concerns which needed addressed only weeks into the practical application of the aerokits. Maybe those who judged them harshly were right. History will also show they weren’t a significant “needle-mover” with fans or TV ratings.

What I had hoped for and saw from this era, however, is something less practical and more widely symbolic – a significant turning point in American open-wheel racing.  The DW12/aerokit era represented a new way of thinking about many things, one of which was a perceived shift in sport-to-fan relations.

In an age of unprecedented access and information to the mass public, what remained of the dwindling legion of AOWR fans had multiple platforms to make their voices heard, often and loudly. Demands for progress in the sport on many fronts were frequent.  None perhaps more frequent or symbolic than the car itself. While the relative cost to own and race an eight-year-old spec chassis design may have been more owner-friendly, it also wasn’t providing the fans or sponsors with any confidence that the sport was moving in a positive direction.

Count me among those, so when the earthquake of leadership at Hulman and Company brought in a fan-focused and visible leader in Randy Bernard, there was finally reason for fans to embrace a bit of optimism for progress. Perhaps quite emblematic of his tenure, the Bernard era that begat the Aerokit was also not without a raft of unintended consequences.

On a larger scale though, I still deem it to be an overall success as the tumult from what became the Aerokit era, was also a seismic shift away from the stale and somewhat rudimentary past, providing Indycar fans, sponsors, and teams a fresh glimmer of hope for the future.

While only two manufacturers committed to the aerokit era, what was discovered through their competition and experience formed the foundation for what could be one of the most impressive overall eras for safety, performance, driving, racing, and watching Indycars we’ve ever seen.  So much so that teams, drivers, and sponsors in the staid and classist Formula 1 series, have cause to take a serious look at what is going on in Indycar.

Much of the credit goes to the Mark Miles era of leadership and more specifically to the appointed work of Jay Frye and Bill Pappas in taking the lessons of the aerokit era, amplifying the positives, reducing the negatives, and developing the new spec chassis for 2018 and beyond. Many great fan-produced liveries also attest to, and are emblematic of, the enthusiastic reception this new car has received.  Dare I say I cannot wait for February 2018 already?

When weighed against past eras, I am very optimistic that this era we approach, the IR18, with the all-around amount of technology, safety, performance, and aesthetic appeal, coupled with one of the greatest generations of drivers, Indycar should see a revival of sorts. All of this would not have been possible, however, without the engaging experiment that started with the Randy Bernard leadership and ended with the Aerokit era.

Never a fan of the concept of spec racing, I see the oncoming Indycar era as what might represent the pinnacle or ‘best possible solution’ of spec racing in its most overall sense. The next step (and final piece), in my opinion, should include more variety of power plant configurations (and manufacturers). If this proves to be true, the coming era of Indycar may very well be at the forefront of the best auto-racing on the planet.  

       

Now THAT’S a season.

As Indycar seasons go, that was one of the absolute best in recent history and as good as any I can remember. The finale was all anyone could ask for (save for maybe Will Power and Penske).

Seriously people, how could one have any beef at all with the ON-track product this year?   


Lists and bullet-points are to my thought process as Salt and Vinegar kettle chips (or perhaps a fine Belgian White Wheat ale) are to my taste buds (can’t not partake in them) so any doubters may want to try to fairly consider the following items of 2012;

  • the aggregate depth of talent for the entire field, 
  • the aggregate competitiveness of teams throughout the field, 
  • the aggregate competitiveness of equipment through the field (Lotus motors being the only real glaring exception),
  • the quality of racing provided by the new equipment, rules, and officiating,
  • the variety of venues to test driver versatility, 

It’s hard to quickly come up with another season that beats the one just finished.  Given the current auto-racing and economic climates, what more can we fans really and truly ask for?  Before a critic can list the requisite (and typically relatively minor) bitch-du-jour, consider these stats:

The 15 Races (5 ovals, 10 road/streets) of the 2012 season yielded:

  • 8 different winners
  • 5 different winning team owners
  • 5 different teams in the Top 10 of points
  • a first-year team owner in winner’s circle
  • a Championship hanging in the balance until the completion of the final lap of the final race
  • a record-setting number of passes for the lead in the Indy 500 
  • an Indy 500 win in the balance among 17 leader-lap drivers going into the final lap



Feel free to do some requisite research by purchasing the combined Indycar records book.  I’ve already looked up three sample seasons from the Golden Era of CART/PPG Champions (1983, 1987, 1991, not including any USAC Championship Points listing). 

Here’s the tale of the tape:


1983 – 13 races (7o, 6 r/s), 7 winners, 7 winning teams, 8 teams in Top 10.
          (can you imagine the uproar if we had just 13 races today?!)
1987 – 15 races (5o, 10 r/s), 7 winners, 6 winning teams, 9 teams in Top 10.
1991 – 17 races (5o, 12r/s), 7 winners, 5 winning teams, 6 teams in Top 10.

When you consider the ratio of different winning teams vs. number of teams scoring championship points for those years, 2012 had the highest (5:15, 1:3) weighed against 1983 (6:24), 1987 (5:23), 1991 (5:19), one could argue that 2012 had more evenly spread competition than during the heyday of the CART years. 

I know, I know… figures lie and liars figure, but I think it’s safe to say there is reasonable evidence to support the feeling I’ve had these last several months that 2012 was as good as any season we’ve seen.

If anyone still has any doubts about the greatness of the 2012 season, I encourage them to spend some time early in this off-season, go back into the records, and get a more clear picture of the schedule and competition in those golden days. They just might find that today isn’t as bad as they think… if they care enough to get an accurate picture that is.

If you haven’t yet bought the combined records book, you may use the terrific and free resources of ChampCarStats.com or even search Wikipedia for solid CART/Indycar info.

This off-season might seem unusually long coming off the great race and season finish we had in Fontana. Increase your INI (Indycar Nerdery Index) and check out some history while we wait for 2013..

..should the Mayan apocalypse theory fail us, anyway.