Monday, May 16, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Getting in on the Cheap

Max Verstappen made history. Simon Pagenaud is making history. Formula One is better without Mercedes. The Kentucky Kid still has it and in the wet nonetheless. A man named Ayrton was victorious. There were a few first time winners at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It rained at Imola. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Getting in on the Cheap
Indianapolis 500 practice begins today and we are on 33 entries. A 34th needs a Hail Mary. IndyCar president of competition Jay Frye doesn't think it is a problem. He is wrong.

The 33 cars on the entry might be of high quality but when has motorsports been about quality? When has the Indianapolis 500 been about quality? This is a race where the teams would put together programs on a whim and end up in the field. This is a race where drivers with Formula One and Le Mans experience fail to qualify and guys who aren't even known in their own hometown add their story to the more than a century of lore.

Competition isn't about quality. Some of the best Bump Days are when things go wrong. When teams are throwing it at the wall and hoping it sticks. When teams stop thinking scientifically and roll the dice. If it was all about quality then Buddy Lazier's team wouldn't be allowed into Gasoline Alley and Dale Coyne Racing and another ten cars would be asked to leave and people could live with only 20 cars starting the Indianapolis 500.

When there have been at least a half a dozen drivers who have reportedly been working on Indianapolis 500 deals not showing up to the race track to attempt to qualify, that's when regulations have to change. No one will be upset if a car attempts to qualify with something other than the 2.2 L twin-turbo V6s of Chevrolet and Honda or in a chassis that wasn't the DW12. Chevrolet and Honda would probably welcome the relief of not having to support sixteen-plus cars.

Remember those engine summits IndyCar held prior to the ICONIC committee that featured Honda and Chevrolet but also FIAT and Volkswagen and a few other manufactures? IndyCar should do that again but instead of trying to come up with a formula the manufactures want the series should inquire about allowing existing engines produced by the manufactures and getting them into the series. With LMP2 regulations changing, the 4.5 L V8 Nissan engine that has proliferated FIA World Endurance Championship and the European Le Mans Series will be deemed obsolete next year. IndyCar could benefit from allowing the Nissan engine into the championship. Chevrolet and Honda would get some relief, it would be another option for one-off teams and it would add another manufacture to the series.

IndyCar should welcome teams getting in on the cheap. The Indianapolis 500 shouldn't be about completing a checklist of getting one of two engine manufactures and the sole chassis. The regulations should allow teams wiggle room. Put a limit on engine displacement and a limit on cylinders and let the teams play within those boundaries.

Fans want to see competition and they want to see bumping. We want to see the Katherine Legges, James Davisons and Brian Vickers of the world attempting to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. If it takes allowing teams to select the Nissan LMP2 engine and other engines currently outside IndyCar to make that happen then allow it, especially if it makes more financial sense for the teams. Unpredictability is one reason why people watch sports. A hand full more of entries would leave people on the edge of their seats.

More Thoughts on the Grand Prix
I had a few more thoughts after the Grand Prix of Indianapolis that I didn't get in after Saturday's race. I was against the race at the start because it seemed like an easy way to get another race on the schedule while the likes of Road America, Phoenix, Circuit of the Americas and Michigan were not pursued. However, I think it is a great way for IndyCar to get attention on the series prior to the Indianapolis 500 and if IndyCar was racing at Kentucky or Chicagoland or anywhere else a fortnight prior to the Indianapolis 500, it would not create the same buzz.

It's not the race but the venue. Indianapolis Motor Speedway raises hairs and withdraws breaths. If IndyCar were racing anywhere else, it would just be another race. Even though 250,000 people don't show up for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, there is something about the venue that makes me want to watch. It's like a baseball game at Wrigley Field or a soccer match at Wembley Stadium; I am going to watch regardless if there is a trophy on the line or a game where half the seats are empty.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis draws a respectable crowd in terms of an IndyCar event. Don't compare it to the Indianapolis 500. Saturday was a chilly day but if 20,000-25,000 people were there then it was a success. Compare that to past opening days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, its probably four to five times larger. Should the Grand Prix of Indianapolis be another time of the year? I don't think it would do any better. The race does compete with the Indianapolis 500 for fans. Many people have dropped $300 to $600 on Indianapolis 500 tickets. Do you really think they want to spend or can spend another $50 to $60 to go to the Grand Prix of Indianapolis? Moving the race to September could make it possible for more to go but will they? There is something about heading to the Speedway in the month of May. People are not conditioned to head to 16th and Georgetown in September.

The Speedway hasn't stated displeasure in Grand Prix of Indianapolis attendance but what can be done to entice people to the track for another day in May? What if a Bronze Badge raffle was created for those who purchase Grand Prix of Indianapolis race day tickets prior to the start of April? If you buy a ticket you earn a chance to earn two Bronze Badges and the Speedway could give out five pairs of Bronze Badges. What if grid passes for the Indianapolis 500 were raffled?

It's an event that has grown on me but, just like every other event on the IndyCar calendar, I don't want to see it struggle and I want to see it be a healthy event with a long future.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Simon Pagenaud and Max Verstappen but did you know...

Ed Jones and Dean Stoneman split the Indy Lights races on the IMS road course. Pato O'Ward swept the weekend in Pro Mazda. Anthony Martin and Parker Thompson won the U.S. F2000 races.

Norman Nato and Alex Lynn shared the opening weekend of the GP2 weekend from Barcelona. Charles Leclerc and Alexander Albon were victorious in GP3.

Tom Sykes and Nicky Hayden split the World Superbike races from Sepang. Ayrton Badovini scored his first World Supersport victory.

The #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca-Nissan of Mathias Beche, Ryō Hirakawa and Pierre Thiriet won the European Le Mans Seres 4 Hours of Imola. The #77 Proton Competition Porsche of Mike Hedlund, Wolf Henzler and Robert Renauer won in GTE. The #2 United Autosport Ligier-Nissan of Alex Brundle, Mike Guasch and Christian England won in LMP3 for the second consecutive race.

The #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Maximilian Buhk, Dominik Baumann and Jazeman Jaafar won the Blancpain Endurance Series 3 Hours of Silverstone.

Matt Kenseth won the NASCAR Cup race from Dover. Erik Jones won the Grand National Series race. Matt Crafton won the Truck race.

Coming Up This Weekend
Indianapolis 500 qualifying.
MotoGP will be at Mugello.
Formula E's penultimate round of the season takes place in Berlin.
Pirelli World Challenge heads north to Mosport.
DTM heads east to Austria.
V8 Supercars will race at Winton Motor Raceway.
World Rally returns to Europe and more specifically Portugal.
NASCAR runs its meaningless All-Star Race.