Monday, June 19, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Growth or Spreading the Weight Around?

The final weekend of spring saw Porsche win at Le Mans in a come from behind fashion. Aston Martin capitalized on a Corvette flat tire. Elsewhere in the world of motorsports, there was a hectic finish in World Superbike at Misano and an Italian ended British dominance in his homeland. Team Penske's quest to take over the world continues. DTM saw a first time winner who also became a first time championship leader. There was a photo finish in Michigan. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Growth or Spreading the Weight Around?
There were a few new names at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this May. Juncos Racing made its IndyCar debut with two cars driven by Spencer Pigot and Sebastián Saavedra. Harding Racing, a team that came from nothing, made its debut and for its first race in any series the team finished ninth in the Indianapolis 500 with Gabby Chaves. Michael Shank Racing finally made it to the Speedway five years after being left out in the cold during the start of the DW12-era in a partnership with Andretti Autosport to run Jack Harvey.

The new life in this series has rejuvenated the IndyCar faithful and some believe things are starting to improve for the series after watching over a half-dozen teams shut their doors since the DW12-era started in 2012.  The series started 2017 down to eight team owners as KV Racing closed its doors after just over a decade of operation. Harding Racing has even come back for its second outing and it finished fifth at Texas. Juncos Racing has made its intention to be in IndyCar in the very near future. Shank has done the Indianapolis 500 and while his desire to run IndyCar to full-time may have waned since 2012, the man hasn't said no to full-time expansion.

However, in light of the number of IndyCar teams increasing, the question has to be asked if IndyCar will be growing with these additions or will the series be spreading the weight around?

On paper, it would be growth should everything else remain consistent. If all eight current teams stay on the grid and Juncos, Harding and Shank enter than eight would become 11 but motorsports is a little trickier than that. It isn't a sports league. It isn't the National Hockey League, which is seeing the Vegas Golden Knights become the 31st franchise after 16 seasons at 30 teams. Motorsports has to be more complicated than that.

It has been very difficult for the current IndyCar teams, as they have had to take on an increased burden just to keep the grid at a respectable size the last two or three seasons. Since the start of the DW12-era, Penske has added a car, Foyt has become a two-car team, Ed Carpenter Racing has become a two-car team and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has become a two-car team. While four teams have increased their operations, the grid size has shrunk since the first race of the DW12-era at St. Petersburg in 2012 from 26 entries to 21 at most races this season as the likes of Dragon Racing, Panther Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, HVM Racing and KV Racing have all left the series. Most of those teams died. Dragon Racing moved to Formula E. Dreyer & Reinbold are an Indianapolis 500-only operation. And let's not forget to mention that Bryan Herta Autosport merged with Andretti Autosport.

New teams coming into IndyCar doesn't necessarily mean bolstering the grid and giving a bunch of young faces chomping at the bit to be full-time an opportunity to show what they got. If anything, it will just ease the strain on the existing teams. This is also forgetting to mention that any grid expansion is limited to the amount of full-time engine leases Chevrolet and Honda want to give out. Chevrolet could give out a few more, as there are only eight full-time Chevrolets but Honda is pretty much tapped out at 13 full-time cars.

If Juncos comes in with two cars and Harding and Shank are both single-car operations it could mean the three four-car armadas at Penske, Ganassi and Andretti each decreasing to three-car teams, Chevrolet increasing to 10 full-time entries and Honda decreasing to a dozen and the grid growing by one full-time entry despite three new teams joining IndyCar full-time.

Some are probably disheartened by the thought of three teams coming in meaning only one more car on the grid but the current economic state of the IndyCar doesn't allow for much than that. It is expensive to sponsor race cars and currently IndyCar isn't a playground companies want to play at. Plus, with the limited engine leases the grid isn't going to explode to 28 full-time cars overnight.

You are probably upset at the thought of IndyCar only having 22 full-time cars even if the number of teams goes from eight to 11 but I would argue small growth is what the series should be aiming for. You don't want rapid expansion and in two years have teams out of money and closing their doors and end up right back where the series is currently or perhaps in a worse shape. There were 26 cars from 15 teams on the grid for the first race of the DW12-era. You can't expect to get back to that number with 11 teams. IndyCar needs to add one or two teams at a time and get to 22 full-time entries first and stabilize the series to make it a more enticing place for teams to come race.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened at Le Mans but did you know...

Kyle Larson won the NASCAR Cup race at Michigan. Denny Hamlin won the Grand National series race by 0.012 seconds over William Byron. John Hunter Nemechek won the Truck race from Gateway.

René Rast won the DTM race from Hungaroring, his first career DTM victory and that victory gave him the championship lead. Paul di Resta won the qualifying race on Saturday.

Tom Sykes and Marco Melandri split the World Superbike races from Misano. Sykes started the final lap in fourth place before Melandri fell and Chaz Davies fell with three corners to go and fell right into the path of Jonathan Rea. Kenan Sofuoglu won the World Supersport race, his fourth consecutive victory and he now trails Lucas Mahias by five points in the championship despite Sofuoglu missing the first two races and retiring in his first start of the season.

Team Penske swept the Supercars races from Hidden Valley Raceway with Fabian Coulthard taking race one and Scott McLaughlin victorious in race two.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar returns to Road America for the second consecutive year.
All three Road to Indy series and Pirelli World Challenge join IndyCar at Road America.
MotoGP heads to its Mecca in the Dutch TT from Assen.
Formula One runs the Azerbaijan Grand Prix for the first time in Baku.
NASCAR runs its first road course race of the season at Sonoma.
The Blancpain Endurance Series runs a 1000km race at Circuit Paul Ricard.
The World Touring Car Championship run around some streets in Portugal.