January 29, 2003 | 12:44 A.M. EST
When the Indy Racing League announced Falcon Cars as the third chassis manufacturer for this year I was skeptical. Now, I’m a true believer.
There are two reasons for this. A tour of the shop, in Concord, N.C., and discussions with Michael Kranefuss and engineer, designer Ken Anderson.
To start at the beginning when the League chose Falcon it was a company that was virtually only on paper at the time.
On the plus side they had Ken Anderson a veteran of Formula One and CART. More importantly he was responsible for the design of the first iteration of IRL cars.
Since selling out his share of his Winston Cup team Kranefuss was off most racer’s radar scopes. But, don’t forget, before that, he was once in charge of Ford’s Special Vehicle Operation’s worldwide racing which
encompassed Formula One, NASCAR, CART and what not.
The German-born Kranefuss is a no-nonsense type of guy that can make things happen.
Reports that Dallara had sold 40 cars and G Force picking up powerful teams made me wonder just what is going on down in North Carolina.
The answer is you have to see the car in person and walk around the shop to notice this is no ordinary operation.
It seems to my, technically untrained eyes, that Kranefuss has purchased just about every hi-tech manufacturing tool that Anderson needed.
It’s a Formula One factory on an economic diet.
“Technology software, machines that wouldn’t have been affordable five, six, seven years ago, now, the stuff’s there and we have taken advantage of it,” Kranefuss said proudly.
Even though the biggest teams have had representatives walk through the facilities and look at the wind tunnel numbers no Falcon has turned a wheel.
Kranefuss continued “you know when you start out, and you are the new kid on the block, it’s going to be difficult. Even though I been around for a long time, you are still surprised by the amount, of either misconception or bad information, being fed. The serious people, or most of them, have been here and they know what they are looking at. Obviously, until we are on the race track we still have to make the point.
Is our product good? ”IRL officials have done more than just rubber stamp the operation, unfortunately that’s not good enough.
“The League is very supportive, they’ve turned a lot of people toward Falcon cars. Tony’s been here, and Brian Barnhart and they couldn’t believe what when the saw the facility. I don’t think anybody had an understanding. they thought “yeah, the got a little fabricating place, or whatever.” Since there are no “factory teams” Falcon is not equipped to go ahead and run a test.
“Fundamentally we’re not supposed to be running a race team, so unless we run a race team we don’t have all the equipment to run a car. For us to actually run a car as a team we would have to have an engine deal with somebody and trickle down support stuff. There is a certain product that we put out which is the car itself and then it’s up to the team,” Anderson explained.
There is another problem, all the equipment in the IndyCar Series is new for this year and essential parts are in short supply. Only established teams and manufacturers have gotten the all the required pieces to run.
New to the IRL companies, like Honda and Toyota, have told their teams not develop both an engine and a chassis.
Yet another problem, that sticks in the craw of Falcon, is the report of another journalist, who appears on television and has well-read columns. This report said that Falcon was absolutely tied in to the Penske organization because there was no way that Kranefuss and Anderson could done it alone.
Anderson flatly denied that report which may have turned off some potential customers.
While there have been three chassis sold don’t look for them on any entry sheet. Teams are going to run their new stuff and according to Kranefuss, then look for the engine manufacturer that is least competitive to come knocking on their doors.
Until then it’s a just a waiting game for Anderson and Kranefuss.
Their disappointment comes out in strong words. “It is frustrating nobody wants to see the car run worse than I do,” Anderson explained. “We spent months in the wind tunnel I know it’s going to be good aerodynamically…, I think it’s going to very good. But, it’s got to be right team, and it’s got to be done right. There’s no point jumping out there trying to do something half-assed because we’ll all just look silly.”
Kranefuss agrees, adding a bit of a sales pitch, ”I think we are a lot more technically oriented from a design point from Dallara and G Force. We went different ways aerodynamically. I think we’ll have a competitive car but all of this is effing talk, talk, talk until we have made our point.”