Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Shaving Days to Save Money

Let's get this out of the way: IndyCar teams are struggling for funding. Something needs to be done. This must be somewhere between the 3,746th and 6,215th idea how to stop the bleeding and increase the viability of teams.

There should be fewer days at racetracks. It sounds crazy but it's a simple way to save teams money. Teams would need fewer nights for hotel rooms, fewer tires and other resources would be used and it would decrease the chances of damaged equipment. 

While it would be simple to take a day off each weekend, it might be more difficult for some venues than others. Street circuits are one where three-day weekends would have to stay. At St. Petersburg, six series took to the track. Long Beach featured four series and a pro/celebrity race. You can't squeeze that all into two days. 

Road courses and ovals are a different animal. While just as many series go to road course events, a Friday could be used for support series to get practice and qualifying sessions completed while IndyCar would take to the track on Saturdays and Sundays. Ovals (besides the Indianapolis 500) should be one-day shows. IndyCar goes to Texas and Pocono by themselves. Indy Lights only runs Phoenix and Iowa and Pro Mazda's only other oval is Iowa. 

For this year's Grand Prix of Indianapolis, 22 of 25 drivers completed over 150 laps over the weekend and 17 drivers completed over 170 laps. The three drivers that didn't break the 150 laps threshold were Tony Kanaan and S├ębastien Bourdais, who both retired in the race and Alex Tagliani, who was penalized in pretty much every session imaginable and lost track time on at least three occasions. Twenty-one drivers had completed more than 82 laps before the 82-lap Grand Prix of Indianapolis itself. 

Common sense says reduce the amount of practice session and costs should go down. IndyCar could run a 90-minute practice session and qualifying on Saturday with a race on Sunday for road courses with a two-hour practice on ovals followed by qualifying followed by the race. The one way IndyCar could make up for less on track action is by having a preliminary race that was slightly longer than a fuel window on Saturdays at road courses and could fit nicely into a one-hour or 90-minute television window.  

Indianapolis 500 prep would have to change as well. Give the teams the Monday and Tuesday after the Grand Prix of Indianapolis off and open the track on Wednesday with Rookie Orientation and practice splitting the day. Thursday and Friday would be normal practice days, Pole Day and the Fast Nine session returns to Saturday with Bump Day on Sunday. Indianapolis 500 qualifying should change because there is no reason to make teams qualify for the race and then run again to set their starting position. Qualifying once for the Indianapolis 500 is stressful enough. There is no reason to force the teams to risk damaging a car more than once. Keep it simple and have everyone qualify once and not have to qualify again unless they want to try to make the top nine or need to bump their way back into the field. 

I am sure some of you are wondering how less track time could benefit the series and how could the series draw more people to the track with less track time. IndyCar could hold events in the markets they are heading to. The drivers could still head out on Friday and every driver could do media appearances. IndyCar could hold meet-and-greets around that week's destination for different demographics. Conor Daly, Josef Newgarden and James Hinchcliffe could be at an event for Millennials that features electric dance music and high alcohol consumption. The Penske drivers could do something boring for old white men. A few drivers could go to a local dirt track to promote the race. If there is a local karting facility, drivers could race younger kids. The goal should be to connect with many facets of the communities IndyCar races in. 

In 2012, European Le Mans Series had 13 cars show up to Donington Park for a race and had to cancel three races. The following season ELMS cut race weekends to two days and the series has returned to three-day weekends this year. ELMS has also more inclusive than IndyCar and has tweaked the regulations to draw more teams to the series but in the first season with two-day weekends, the average grid size in ELMS was 25.6 cars. 

The IndyCar grid won't go from 21 full-time cars to over 40 entries at every race by reducing two-thirds of the race weekends by a day but IndyCar needs to help the teams save money or help the teams make more money. Saving money is the easier option and something the series can control.