Friday, February 27, 2015

Three Years Away, Many Different Views

We are 1039 days away from the year of 2018 but IndyCar fans are keeping an eye on it like it's tomorrow. The next generation of IndyCar is tentatively set to appear in 2018 and this winter Racer.com has run "IndyCar 2018," a series from those within motorsports on what they think the series should look like.

Seventeen articles have been posted and more are sure to follow. Key figures such as Mario Andretti, Will Power, Rick Mears, Bobby Unser, Gordon Kimball, Randy Bernard and T.E. McHale have all weighed in. As a motorsports fan I want to see IndyCar succeed and have been reading each article posted in the series. Sometimes I agree with what others think, other times I don't. We all have our different opinions and none of them are necessarily wrong.

I've been wanting to post my responses to these articles for sometime and recently asked on Twitter if people were interested in reading what I thought. I don't have a large following but a few people said they were interested and since I didn't have anyone say I shouldn't waste my time, here we are. I am not going to cover all my thoughts from all 17 articles rather start with the most recent five and maybe down the line I will go back to some of the earlier articles.

I start with Jeremy Dale, former RuSport team manager.

I agree that the cars need anti-stall. There should never be a full-course caution for a driver who had a lazy spin, all by themselves. Dale says fewer full-course cautions would mean fewer distributions in racing. It doesn't look good when a race needs to be brought to a halt because a driver in 12th spun going into a corner and couldn't keep it going. Have you ever played a pick up basketball game and had that one guy constantly stop play to tie his shoes or get a drink of water or check his phone? That's what it feels like at times.

I also agree that IndyCar needs to take better advantage of race coverage online and use it as a "companion" to the traditional broadcast. Television is changing. There is no reason races should be geo-blocked from fans around the world. Make the product available to fans around the globe. The Bathurst 12 Hour did a stellar job earlier this month. IndyCar and their TV partners needs to stop trying to keep people from wanting to view IndyCar from doing so.

A few things I disagree with Dale on: First is abandoning all ovals except the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indianapolis 500. He is right that no oval is a model for success other than Indianapolis but I don't think that means give up on them. IndyCar and the tracks need to work together to get more people to show up. Iowa has experienced a rough patch the last few years but it wasn't too long ago they had full grandstands. The other four ovals: Texas, Milwaukee, Fontana and Pocono are on life support. Andretti Sports Marketing has done well with Milwaukee but it keeps moving dates and the start time will be 4:00 p.m. local time on a Sunday in 2015. Fontana also keeps bouncing around and has been run two of the past three years in temperatures that roasted spectators. Pocono had a good comeback year but Fourth of July traffic hurt the second year and now the race has moved to late August. I will cover more on what I think should be done with these ovals in a post for a later date.

I understand that most fans associate ovals with NASCAR but why let those lines define what IndyCar is? Why put the series in a corner even more and completely rule out an entire track discipline? It isn't set in stone that NASCAR is for ovals and IndyCar is for road and street courses. IndyCar needs to be themselves. IndyCar is ovals and road courses and street courses. One part of their identity might not be as known but instead of acting like it doesn't exist, get behind it more.

Dale is spot on that IndyCar needs to be at Road America, Laguna Seca and Austin. I would even throw in Watkins Glen. He is also right that most street courses don't last. Long Beach and Toronto are the only ones to last a step of time and St. Petersburg is developing into Long Beach and Toronto status. Cleveland, Surfers Paradise and Vancouver are also in the same air as Long Beach and Toronto but sadly they are no longer on the schedule. Other than those six street courses, most street courses last a handful of years: Baltimore, San Jose, Las Vegas twice, Denver twice, Miami three times, Houston three times, need I go on? IndyCar can't rely on street courses and bounce around from market to market until they have been everywhere. Road America, Laguna Seca and Watkins Glen have been around for over a half a century and aren't going anywhere anytime soon. They might not be in metropolitan areas but they are destinations that have stood the test of time. If fans make it a tradition of going to these tracks each year, it will become a habit.

On-track, IndyCar has six really good ovals and IndyCar really only needs 2-3 ovals to round out the schedule, preferably some mix of Phoenix, Michigan, Richmond, Loudon or Darlington. Why not go to a place such as Darlington? As Dale points out, Barber Motorsports Park is a half hour from Talladega and has drawn great crowds each year. Who is to say Darlington wouldn't work?

The schedule doesn't have to be exactly 50-50 in track disciplines. The current breakdown is 60-40 in favor of road/street courses but if you broke it down three ways, there are six ovals, five road courses and four street circuits. If IndyCar can keep their current slate of races and add Road America, Laguna Seca, Austin, Watkins Glen, Phoenix, Michigan and Richmond, I think that's a IndyCar schedule we can all be happy with.

And of course, I agree with Dale on the schedule being way too short. Eight months of racing from the weekend after the Super Bowl to the middle of October would be a great.

Next is Ryan Kowalewski, a 29-year old engineer, business student and fan.

He pushes being active on social media and I can't disagree. I do think IndyCar has done a good job in the past on their social media activities but where could they improve? IndyCar's Twitter account is professional and it should be professional but maybe it would be better as business causal. The Los Angeles Kings have one of the best Twitter accounts in team sports. It's edgy and it's had it's slip ups but to stand out on social media you can't just be Tweeting every time a new article is posted on the IndyCar website or when drivers are at Mardi Gras. Provide commentary on things whether it's during a race and someone makes a bone head move. Don't say, "Caution for contact between Sato and Jakes." Try "Sato went for a gap that never existed and has ended his day as well as Jakes." Show that there is a real person with emotions and whit behind the IndyCar Twitter account and it might get noticed by other media platforms.

Kowalewski is spot on again on not showing races tape-delayed. If people find out the result before seeing the race, most likely they aren't going to watch the race. You can use the example of the Indianapolis 500 in the Indianapolis market but that is one city for one race and that has become an Indianapolis tradition and is not a predictor for how other major American markets want to watch IndyCar.

I disagree that the current generation won't be captivated by innovation. Yes, more and more people are less dependent on cars but I think a race with a variety of cars, from hybrid to hydrogen, diesel to ethanol might turn some heads. I am also not sure a canopy is a must for the next car. If an aero kit manufacture wants to include a canopy in their design, fine with me. I do agree with electronic screens on the car but not for sponsors or pictures but for race position. Take IMSA's Leader Lights System for example. And even better, what if the car numbers were outlined with lights so they stood out on the cars. I bet they would look good at the night races but I am not sure if they would be noticeable at day races but that would be something to work on.

Next is everyone former driver and current agent Stefan Johansson.

Let's just start off the bat with Johansson's idea for having a huge prize for winning the Triple Crown. It's sounds nice but you can't just pull $15-20 million out of your backside. I am sure a large purse would grab the attention of top drivers but that money has to come from somewhere and IndyCar isn't landing those big NFL or NASCAR-sized TV contracts.

He brings up an interesting point about there not being enough Americans competing regularly for victories. He's not wrong. Americans do like to watch Americans. The problem with IndyCar is they are being too particular in where the Americans are coming from. If you take all the Americans that participated in Road to Indy's Winterfest at NOLA and added in all the Americans with IndyCar seats for 2015, that's only 22 drivers and that's not including Indianapolis 500 one-offs Bryan Clauson, Buddy Lazier and maybe Ryan Phinny; drivers currently unattached such as Zach Veach, Matthew Brabham, Austin Cindric, Ryan Booth, Peter Portante, Adrian Starrantino and Clark Toppe or those who have rides but just didn't compete in Winterfest such as Neil Alberico and Kyle Connery. That's 34 drivers, more than an Indianapolis 500 grid but spread across four divisions. It's not the 1960s but that doesn't mean a USAC driver doesn't have what it takes. Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart have turned out to be mighty fine road course drivers and so was some guy named A.J. Foyt and they all started on dirt. IndyCar officials and team owners just need to give any potential prospect from USAC time. Patience is a virtue IndyCar must have if they want the amount of Americans participating to grow.

The Swede mentions adding 200-300 horsepower and I think we all want to see a more oomph on track. I don't agree with him that if the entire field is covered by 1.3 seconds, the product is dumbed down. What if you raise the horsepower and everyone is still covered by 1.3 seconds? And what is the correct interval that the field should be covered to show the field isn't dumbed down? Two seconds? Two and a half? You can't say there should be a certain margin that covers first to last on the timesheet and if it's lower than that then it is too easy. IndyCar has some talented drivers and maybe they deserve a little more appreciation.

Johansson and I are also in the same boat when it comes to drifting. I don't get it either.

Finally, he hits the nail on the head when he questions the leadership of IndyCar. He cites the leaders in NASCAR and Formula One as being racing enthusiast and questions how much IndyCar's brass cares when they look to Gene Simmons and Boston Consulting Group for help. Sure, every now and then it's good to get a fresh pair of eyes on things (see Randy Bernard) but more times than not it's not going to work out and IndyCar keeps bringing new people in but they don't know the series or motorsports in general. How is that going to help you?

I am going to quickly breeze over Derek Daly's piece because it's so all over the place that it makes Milka Duno at Chicagoland look good.

Yes, there is no quick fix to IndyCar. Yes, IndyCar needs more American (Let me quickly clarify what I mean by more American. I've always felt that IndyCar needs about half of its full-time grid, about 11-12 drivers, and 2/3 of the Indianapolis 500 to be Americans. It's strength in numbers. The current crop of Americans is good but there is room to add a few more. Foreign drivers are great. I think foreign drivers can be popular with American fans and they should have a presence as well. But IndyCar can't go the Champ Car route and have only one or two Americans on the grid. IndyCar needs a healthy portion of their grid to be American with a healthy portion waiting in the wings in the Road to Indy).

Also, I think Daly has a point with incentivizing teams hiring Americans. The series needs to do all they can to encourage teams to hire American talent. However, you can't keep giving out the incentive if a team keeps an American on board. For example, I don't think Andretti Autosport should keep getting incentives for keeping Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay year in and year out. I do think Andretti Autosport should get some type of bonus if they promote Zach Veach or Matthew Brabham or KV should get some type of bonus if they hire someone such as Conor Daly or Townsend Bell. Limit how a team gets a bonus. It should be a bonus for teams to hire young Americans and for teams to hire American veterans.

Now to where it's fall off its rocker:
Let's not worry about rebranding the Road to Indy series.

I am not sure you can tell the crews they can't have sponsorship on their uniforms.

The idea to not use the term "grand prix" for IndyCar events because it's a "Formula One term" is absurd and Daly contradicts himself five paragraphs later saying "blatantly copy" Formula One's podium celebrations. How does that make any sense?

And you can't say only the Indianapolis 500 winner is allowed to kiss the yard of bricks and every other winner at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway can't. One, because it sounds childish and two it was started by Dale Jarrett and his crew after they won the Brickyard. Let it go and allow everybody to kiss the yard of bricks if they want to.

I don't think every road/street course race should feature a standing start. I think standings starts should be used where necessary (Long Beach, Toronto, IMS road course).

To end on a positive from Daly's article, IndyCar need cranes at all there road and street course races. IndyCar should have an "official crane of IndyCar" sponsor that gets signage around the track and is mentioned anytime a car needs to be moved to behind the barrier.

Finally, the most recent IndyCar 2018 article was from IUPUI students.

They are spot on that IndyCar should have worked to fix the standings start issues and not just given up on them.

I think a new track record at Indianapolis Motor Speedway would generate some attention. Speed is awesome and if we have two or three drivers going out and keep putting down jaw-dropping numbers, it will turn some heads. Imagine if ESPN had a week to promote the Indianapolis 500 fresh off a new track record and kept reshowing the clip of someone running four-lap average at say 237.3 MPH?

I don't necessarily agree that IndyCar has to have a women driver on the grid. IndyCar should have the best drivers possible and if that includes one woman or two or three women than great but there shouldn't be a women driver to be on the grid just to say, "hey, we have a women driver on the grid." Do I think Simona de Silvestro should be in IndyCar? Yes. Do I think IndyCar should have a development program for young female drivers? Yes. I think they dropped the ball with True Car because they were interested in developing female drivers and supported Katherine Legge, Ashley Freiberg and Shannon McIntosh in IndyCar, Star Mazda and U.S. F2000 respectively. Having a women driver open the door for IndyCar to an important demographic and IndyCar needs all the fans they can get, whether they are men or women.

The single-day doubleheader is a good idea. World Superbike has a good format with a race one and two being split by World Supersport. IndyCar could do the same with an Indy Lights in the middle and it could all be packaged into one television window. You could have an 80-minute IndyCar race than a 10-minute intermission followed by a 35-minute Indy Lights race than a 10-minute intermission and another 80-minute IndyCar race in a four-hour TV window. It would get Indy Lights on live television and make that series most enticing to sponsors. I don't think every IndyCar road/street course race should be a doubleheader but if you keep Belle Isle as it is and made Toronto a single-day doubleheader next year as well as Mid-Ohio, I think it would be worth it.

I love the idea of heat races but the heats have to mean something. You can't just have heat races to set the field, you need them to have consequences as in, if you don't finish high enough you don't make the main event and won't score championship points. IndyCar currently isn't large enough for heat races. NASCAR is the perfect size for heat races. I have been a proponent for NASCAR to use heat races, especially at short tracks. But it doesn't work if IndyCar only has two dozen cars showing up to each race. Iowa tried them and there isn't enough congestion with 8-10 cars on track to make the races interesting. If IndyCar had 30-40 cars attempting oval races than I think heats would be a great option.

As a college student, I can vouch that we are broke. Honest to God, being a college student is just above being homeless. You know about my scholarship idea for IndyCar but there should be discounted tickets for college students. You can't just let college kids in for free. We might be broke but dropping $20 on an IndyCar ticket isn't the end of the world.

I look forward to what is next from Racer's IndyCar 2018 series. Let me know what you think about the IndyCar 2018 articles and this post on Twitter.