With Aero Kit Excitement, Could IndyCar Rival F1?


Widely thought of as the pinnacle of motorsport, Formula One’s the supposed star of the racing world.

If that sounds enviable, F1’s troubles paint a different picture.  Television viewership dropped by 25,000,000 in 2014, following a decline of 50,000,000 the year prior.  With outrageous ticket prices, the few fans who showed up at some venues had plenty of space to spread out.  Two franchised teams, Marussia and Caterham, had to skip races out of financial hardship, and others like Force India and Lotus barely seemed to be better-positioned.

On a slippery path, it might be time to call F1 into the pits for some wet weather Pirellis.

Where F1 has problems, though, the Verizon IndyCar Series just may have the solution: aero kits.

After a Honda unveiling this week, and a Chevrolet one a few prior, the future look of IndyCar is now public: a common cell fitted with manufacturer-specific bodywork, differentiated for the first time in years and wickedly edgy.

It’s a so-called “wow factor” that’s been lacking in F1, which sees its popularity declining in conjunction with stagnant competition and economy-based regulations that have slowed the cars and quieted the engines.

Aero kits solve both.  By being cost-effective, all Honda and Chevrolet teams can (and will) carry the same bodywork, making it harder to achieve the dominance Mercedes AMG had in F1’s 2014 contest.  However, with such open aerodynamics, the cars are vicious, unlimited, and artistic in a strictly utilitarian way that used to define F1.  Early indicators suggest track records will be scorched throughout 2015.

One look at the sleek oval racer of Honda, captured here as a screenshot, and that’s easy to believe.  If the speeds are as breathtaking as the designs, IndyCar will be an aesthetic spectacle from trackside to TV.

IndyCar has created a performance-driven product that screams over-the-top excess in its every winglet or swan neck mount, yet remains sustainable in a cost control that F1 lacks.  A balance has been found to put an exciting car on the circuit without sacrificing the quantity of those same cars in the future.

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It would be ridiculous to believe that IndyCar could overtake F1 in worldwide popularity; even in its decline, F1 would be decades away from losing its advantage.  However, IndyCar could prove a viable alternative for those fans disgruntled with fuel-sipping engines that lower the revs and beef up the lap times.  If an international calendar can be established (an admitted weakness of IndyCar in its many attempts), it could be a new home for fans priced out of attending a Grand Prix.  Even on TV, F1 no longer has an accessibility advantage, moving to premium pay TV channels that are no more convenient than those that air IndyCar races internationally.

Not since the 1990s has IndyCar been in this position.  Then, grids featured a few different cars, each campaigned by many teams.  They reached unfathomable speeds in the midst of manufacturer and team-fueled development wars.  Aero kits are poised to do all of that for today’s IndyCar, giving hope that it can ascend the racing community’s ladder to the stature it once had when it lured Nigel Mansell, the sitting World Champion of F1 at the time.

Faster, more technical, and more strategic cars may help IndyCar fill the void for those watching F1 cars, now choked by fuel flow meters that prevent them from hitting maximum revs and force drivers to be conservative.

Indeed, as F1 begins to slip, it just might be the new aerodynamics of IndyCar giving it traction to succeed in its niche.