Attended the Denver Grand Prix last weekend, along with 145,000 close personal friends. A great event, with lots of racing, and lots of racecars. But not a lot of different racecars. The entire Champ Car field - Lola/Cosworths. Atlantics? Swift/Toyotas. Formula BMW? Er, um, BMW/BMWs.
Ah yes, you say, but there were big announcements about new Champ Cars and Atlantics, weren't there? Yep, looks like the 2007 Champ Car field will be all new - and all the same. Swift/Cosworths or Lola/Cosworths (does it matter?). And the Atlantics? Looks like a full field of Swift/Cosworths there, too.
The IRL has double the diversity - two (count 'em!) chassis manufacturers, and for next year one or two engine manufacturers - no one knows, yet.
Moving overseas, the big news is the new A1GP series. The good news - looks like this new series could be a success, with 24 national teams predicted for the opening race. (Bernie E. must be green with envy.) The boring news - 24 identical Lola/Zyteks.
We're told that clone-cars are good for racing. It showcases the drivers' talents, and all that. Levels the playing field. Improves "the show" for the fans (and let's not forget TV!). The problem is, I think it makes the cars irrelevant, and any time you make the most visible part of "the show" irrelevant to the audience, you're missing a huge opportunity to ramp up fan interest, and to grow a stable base of fans.
NASCAR has managed to maintain its legions of Chevy, Ford and Dodge fans, even though the cars are now all the same, partly by constantly reminding fans of the days when cars really were different, and partly through massive manufacturer advertising campaigns that remind us which set of grille and headlight stickers makes a car a Chevy/Ford/Dodge/Toyota. How long can they maintain the illusion? (Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!)
I'm a car guy. I admire racecar designers - guys who push the envelope. (Jim Hall! Colin Chapman!) And yes, I admire racecar drivers, too. But I think that shifting the fans' attention entirely to the drivers, by enforced standardization of the cars, runs the risk of making racing one-dimensional, and less interesting to a lot of fans.
My evidence? The tifosi, of course. They are, first and foremost, Ferrari fans. They would still show up in their scarlet multitudes if you and I were driving the cars, instead of Schumi and Rubens. Want more? How about Le Mans? There's a lot more excitement around the unveiling of a new-design prototype challenger than there is around the announcement of its driver team. (Think about the Bentley GTP)
Oh, yeah. The best race of the Denver GP weekend? The SPEED World Challenge Touring Cars. Mazda, BMW, Acura, Honda, Dodge, Ford, Subaru, and Mercedes. Front wheel drive and rear wheel drive. All cleverly managed by SCCA Pro Racing to more or less equal potential performance, but all still retaining their identity.