This year, all Indy teams will use the same chassis from Dallara Automobili . And they'll all employ an engine from one of three manufacturers -- Chevrolet, Honda or Lotus. Engine displacement, electronics, aerodynamics, batteries, dashboards and countless other system configurations are spelled out for the racing teams in a 203-page PDF document called the "2012 IZOD IndyCar Series Rulebook".
Let 'em compete The purist argues that teams should be allowed to customize their cars to deliver the fastest vehicle to the track with the most chance of winning, regardless of cost.
But that's not how it works.
As we learned on our Drive for Innovation at Elkhart Lake, Wisc., last year, building a level playing field for racing teams is important, even if it limits innovation.
But part of that importance has little to do with engineering or race-day preparations. It has to do with sponsorships, according to James "Sulli" Sullivan (below, making a point), a principal with SH Racing, a commercial partner of KV Racing.
Tight engineering rules "allow companies like Littelfuse and Mouser to participate," Sullivan said in a pit row interview this weekend. In fact, a number of electronics-industry companies are sponsoring Tony Kanaan's car (KV Racing) here at Indy, including Littelfuse, Mouser, TTI, Kemet, Molex, Bosch and Murata.
"If you don't have that (tight rules), you end up with Formula 1 and $300 million budgets where people are doing whatever they can to get the advantage," Sullivan said.
"The 380,000 people here Sunday don't know whether a car doing 237 mph is a spec car or a custom car. At the end of the day, this is a form of entertainment. If you can do it for $6m rather than $300m that's what it's all about."
At the end of the day, it's sort of ironic that limiting innovation in electronics actually allows electronics companies a greater presence in racing events.
So how do you actually measure innovation? How do you know when you are getting more or less of it?
I really think that limiting a budget will tend to generate more innovation than limitless budgets. A tight budget and timescale helps people focus whereas limitless time and money seems to help generate lots of pork barrel projects that get nowhere.
I've worked on various projects where there was a need to generate a killer new product in a one-year timeframe. There was no time for rounds of marketing meetings, strategising, etc etc. We basically figured out what was needed to be done, figured out the obstacles and got stuck in. Those projects have tended to be very successful.
At the opposite end I've worked on projects where the goal was to generate a new architecture/product line in 4 years. Cost was pretty much no object. We had countless evaluations of different FPGA options, tens of thousands of man hours of marketing sessions etc. Nothing came of those, but everyone essentially got a 4 year sabbatical to experiment with interesting tech.
@Himanshu_Gupta: well said! I used to cringe when I sat in design review meetings where the product managers would be stipulating design-to-cost goals in the early stages of my career. I find myself preaching that now. Rules are constraints that let you innovate!
Once when I had the opportunity to interview Mario Andretti about racing "then" and now, he said that although with more rules and regulations today there may be less "innovation," one overall positive result is greater safety.
Putting a budget does make sense in the light of argument that more teams can participate in the game but putting a cap on the individual parts and how the car should be make does not. Innovation is about getting best in least time and money.