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For IRL, future could bring a bold new look

If the blueprints for several of the proposed new 2012 Indy Racing League cars go missing, IRL officials should have the FBI head over to the Batcave with a search warrant. Batman and Robin are the most likely suspects. The Joker might be in on it, too. For a league looking to shake things up, rejuvenate its fan base and improve its open-wheel racing cars, a proposed 2012 IndyCar series car is about as futuristic as you could imagine.

And while several proposed versions conjure up images of a superhero in a cape on the way to the rescue, not everyone wants to follow such a radical course.

League officials, team owners and drivers will spend the next few months researching and debating the merits of redesign. It's clear there are many opinions and no definitive answers.

"I think it's a question that will go along with being one of the defining decisions of the decade," new Indy Racing League CEO Randy Bernard said. "We're doing research right now. I'm a firm believer in research and understanding what our fans want."

Bernard must balance what fans want with what drivers need.

"All the designs I've seen, they all look revolutionized from what it is today," said Ryan Briscoe, who won in St. Petersburg last year. "It's going to be the new look of open-wheel cars. … There are some pretty wild designs out there and I wouldn't count any of them out at the moment."

Do the drivers want to go exotic and move toward something radically different? Or is old-school the way to go?

"We've got to keep what has worked best for the entire series," said Helio Castroneves, who has won twice in St. Petersburg and three times at the Indianapolis 500. "… I saw the futuristic car and it certainly looks different. But again, we can't just already assume that it's going to be a good thing. I think there should be more tests, more research, before that time. We should try, have an open mind and see if it works, but certainly not create something that we're all going to regret."

On Monday, IRL officials announced plans to develop an advisory committee, which will include a league representative, a team owner and an engine expert to review and recommend a future chassis and engine platform. The committee is led by William Looney, a retired Air Force general; he told the Indianapolis Star on Tuesday that he expects a decision on the 2012 car shortly after this year's Indianapolis 500 in May.

Five manufacturers have submitted chassis proposals, but the car generating the most buzz is the one from Delta Wing Racing Cars. Some drivers aren't sold just yet.

"It looks like it could be a good idea," Briscoe said. "I like the ideas of enclosing the tires a little bit, especially for the type of racing we have on the 1½ mile ovals. I had a couple of really exciting finishes last year at Kentucky and Chicago and they're awesome. They're so exciting, but you're inches away from disaster. One wrong move or some little slip, something breaks, and you've got a car in the fence. It could be dangerous for us or someone in the grandstands."

Most of all, the league must decide this issue: How do you appeal to the next generation, yet hold on to the traditionalist?

"I've got to believe you can make changes to the current car and it would look so neat and appeal to people and still be an Indy car," said former driver Scott Goodyear, now an ABC/ESPN IndyCar series analyst. … What are we selling the future to? Are we selling it to the current group of IndyCar fans or do we need to change something for the next generation of IndyCar fans? …

"Could the Delta Wing be something great for the next generation? From a driver, I can only say, with a narrow front track and a wider rear track, the first thing that came to my mind was going 200 mph at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, trying to thread the needle between two cars on the frontstretch. Your front wheels fit in there but your rear wheels may not. From my standpoint, I have a hard time seeing with those cars that there wouldn't be some type of altercation or multiple altercations every race."

Times staff writer Brian Landman contributed to this report. Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.

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For IRL, future could bring a bold new look 03/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 10:50pm]
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