The consequences of tight engineering rules

-May 26, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS--Some race aficionados here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway bemoan the incredibly tight engineering constraints place on teams.

For example, as Chuck Murray writes for Design News:

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".

[Learn more about the Indy 500 at the Littelfuse Speed2Design site.]

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.

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