Monday, February 20, 2012

What's the Over/Under on Indy Qualifying Speeds? And Should We Really Worry About It?

I've been reading more and more lately that the development of the DW12 on ovals is improving, and it is now possible that Indy speeds this May could come close to reaching the levels that we have been seeing the last few years. Bobby Rahal mentioned in an interview that he could see the cars turning 230 mph laps by May.

If that is the case, it's quite the testament to the work of the drivers, crews and of course Dallara to get the early bugs ironed out of the new chassis. When Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon were struggling to hit 215 at Indy back in November, people were starting to get a little restless.

I'll admit, when the plans of new engines and chassis programs were announced, and Randy Bernard commented that he would like to see track records at Indy, I was one of those who hoped that in the coming years the drivers could threaten Arie Luyendyk's now 16-year-old record. I still feel that way for the most part. Altough I'll admit the fact that it isn't going to happen -- at least for now -- isn't a huge deal-breaker for me.

As I've mentioned in a previous long ago post, I was fortunate to have witnessed the one-lap track record broken 17 times between 1982-92. It was an amazing time and amazing place to be to watch year after year the speeds rise from Rick Mears' 193 mph pole speed in 1979 to Roberto Guerrero's track record of 232 set 13 years later. But again, that was the past, and sooner or later we reached a point where for several reasons that may or may not happen again.

I want to see the track record broken. Don't get me wrong, I would be absolutely, and will be absolutely, jacked when or if that day comes. But I don't NEED to see it happen to get excited about qualifying or the race itself. Maybe they have broken tradition by implementing the Fast Nine shootout and giving cars three chances to qualify each day, but has that changed the drama of qualifying? Nope. I still get as excited for it as I did back when I was a kid, and over the last few years the final hour of Bump Day has provided a lot of excitement.

I think those of us who are fans need to really readjust our priorities. Looking back over the last couple of years we have been spoiled by great qualifying runs and even better racing. Helio's pole run in 2010 in the extreme heat was epic, as was Alex Tagliani's dash last year. And twenty years from now people will look back at the 2011 race as one of the best in history.

Honestly, would you trade ANY of what has happened in recent 500 history for a couple of track records? I wouldn't. No way. Let's be real, 225-230 mph is still hella fast, and faster than any other race in the world. Maybe it isn't what we want, but do we have any room to complain?

I have heard the argument that higher speeds will bring back the fans. Maybe to a point, but we are kidding ourselves if we think 100,000 people will show up for time trials if the cars are going 240 mph. It sounds like a broken record, but times have changed. People have other things to do. I was watching Daytona qualifying today and the stands there were close to empty.

We need to stop thinking track records would validate IndyCar and bring back legions of fans. It might, but we are better served with putting on a good show week after week and sustaining fans for more than one weekend.

As many of my fellow bloggers have said, let's remember the past (fondly) but let's stop being stuck there. Instead, let's focus on the fact that we are at what I believe is the forefront of an incredible era at the Speedway. The drivers and teams now in the series have shown that the last couple of years are just a preview of what is to come.

IndyCar is slowly building something, and as long as they keep building a day will come when people start paying attention. A few 240 mph laps isn't going to do it any faster.

1 comment:

  1. Totally correct, all the way around, Mike. Personally, I think the DW12 will get into the 222-224 range by Pole Day (weather allowing), and after the intro of the aerokits next year (and a year worth of engine development), we'll probably be flirting with 230 again. New track records? Probably out of the question, due to safety reasons (impact forces go up by a gigantic amount with every 10 MPH increase, once you get over 200 MPH), but we could still see some good racing and speeds right back in the range of what we've seen post-1997. That's fine by me.