Monday, February 6, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: This is The Weekend

The New England Patriots are Super Bowl champions. Cameroon is African champions. Maro Engel lost his cool at Shane van Gisbergen as the defending Supercars champion lost his Mercedes-Benz while fighting for the lead in the final 15 minutes of the Bathurst 12 Hour. Van Gisbergen's accident allowed the #88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari of Toni Vilander, Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup to cruise to victory. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

This is The Weekend
This is the weekend to start the IndyCar season. Not to hold a test at Phoenix or post videos of drivers doing things completely unrelated to driving a racecar (not that those videos aren't enjoyable). Since Mark Miles became in charge of IndyCar he has harped the season has to end before the NFL season begins. If that is the case then the season should start immediately after the NFL season ends to maximize the available space in the calendar.

For three years we have been waiting on an international series of races to come and fill the winter months before the traditional March date of St. Petersburg and yet has the IndyCar caravan packed up its goodies into a cargo plane and flown to an exotic location to thaw our toes even if we are watching on a television set during a blizzard. Dubai didn't happen. Brasilia didn't happen. The rest won't happen. Forget Australia, India, Argentina, South Africa, Malaysia and Thailand and any other possible location that could host IndyCar during the dead of winter. Three seasons have been completed and the only border crossed has been Canada's since the stated intention of an international series and 2017 marks a fourth consecutive season without said international series. Those races aren't happening but IndyCar can still start the season in February.

It may take some deal making and some pleading and a lot of hard work but the IndyCar season can start in February without leaving the United States. The dream place is Fontana. Media days could be held Tuesday and Wednesday in Los Angeles. Test days could be at the track on Thursday and Friday. The race weekend could begin on Saturday and a 500-mile season opener could be held Sunday afternoon, 3:00 p.m. ET because the Sunday after the Super Bowl is a dead day for sports in the United States.

Of course there are obstacles to every great idea. Fontana isn't interested in hosting a race before its NASCAR Cup race in March. That is understandable but if IndyCar wants to race in February and wants to have a season opener that grabs the attention of those lacking a purpose after football season than it is going to have to lay out something enticing. Offer the race being on ABC and get a large title sponsor. Promote heavily within Southern California. The final race at Fontana didn't look good because it felt like the face of the sun. The 2013 race had a great crowd by IndyCar standards and the weather in February is much milder. People will show up. More importantly IndyCar would need to tell Fontana how important a track it is to IndyCar. Outside of Indianapolis, no other track on the circuit can replicate the excitement of Fontana and while St. Petersburg is a respectable venue it doesn't provide the high that people will want to experience again the way Fontana does.

Fontana provides a race that will wake the masses. The last time IndyCar went to the two-mile oval there were 80 lead changes over 250 laps. There was passing and blocking and a dramatic finish. It had people's attention even if some were spooked but maybe the breathtaking racing Fontana is known for is what IndyCar needs to start the season. IndyCar needs Fontana. It needs races that raise the heart rates of those watching in the stands and at home. IndyCar needs to get everybody's adrenaline pumping because that addiction will bring people back for more.

Starting at Fontana in February creates other issues for the series but issues it should want and issues it knows it can overcome. The season can't start and then take a month off before St. Petersburg in March and that is without mentioning there is already three weeks between St. Petersburg and Long Beach in April but shrugging shoulders and raising hands to the sky isn't going to help IndyCar. Finding another two races to fill the gaps won't be easy but it is what has to be done if IndyCar wants to grow. Head to Austin or Homestead or maybe Puebla, Mexico. Laguna Seca is a headache but that is another option for a race early in the year. Eventually a time has to come for IndyCar to stop coming up with reasons why not to do something and set out and accomplish it at all costs.

If IndyCar can bridge the gap from February to St. Petersburg in March then ending in the middle of September makes sense. It would be roughly a four and a half month offseason but much shorter than what the current fan base has grown accustomed to. After all, the full-time IndyCar grid has been set for a few weeks and it appears to have been cemented last week with Mikhail Aleshin sorting out his deal with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. If we are all ready to go then this is the weekend to start the season.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about the Super Bowl, Africa Cup of Nations and the Bathurst 12 Hour but did you know...

Other class winners in the Bathurst 12 Hour:
Class A - Pro/AM: #12 Competition Motorsports Porsche of Marc Lieb, Patrick Long, Matt Campbell and David Calvert-Jones.

Class A - AM: #912 Walkinshaw Racing Porsche of Liam Talbot, John Martin and Duvashen Padayachee.

Class B: #21 Steven Richards Motorsport Porsche of Dean Grant, Dylan O'Keefe, Xavier West and David Wall.

Class I: #91 MARC Cars Australia MARC Ford Focus of Will Brown, Keith Kassulke and Rod Salmon.

Class C: #19 PROsport Performance Porsche of Harrison Jones, Max Braams, Jörg Viebahn and Nicolaij Moller-Madsen.

Eli Tomas won the Supercross race from Oakland, his second victory of the season.

Brendon Leitch, Pedro Piquet and Marcus Armstrong split the Toyota Racing Series races from Taupo, New Zealand.

Coming Up This Weekend
The final round of the Toyota Racing Series season from Circuit Chris Amon in Feilding, New Zealand.
Rally Sweden marks the second round of the World Rally Championship season.
Supercross heads to Jerry World in Arlington, Texas.