Monday, April 9, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Let Them Go

IndyCar had a record night at Phoenix and that still wasn't good enough to make up for mildly disappointing race. Red Bull Racing's night was over before either driver broke a sweat. Kimi Räikkönen broke a man's leg. MotoGP had difficult getting a race started and the chaotic start was only topped by the race itself. NASCAR raced in the cold. Everyone's favorite Formula Two driver won on debut. Supercross raced in sloppy Seattle. Jenson Button finished second in his second career Super GT race. World Touring Car Cup had its first race weekend. Sebastién Loeb's return to Tour de Corse did not go as planned. A drought for a legend ended in Supercars. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Let Them Go
Two races into the IndyCar season and the face America has seen the most isn't Sébastien Bourdais, winner of the season opener for the second consecutive year with his return from a broken pelvis still fresh in our minds nor is it rookie sensation Robert Wickens who dominated the season opener and finished second in his second car starts and it isn't defending champion and Phoenix race winner Josef Newgarden from Hendersonville, Tennessee.

The IndyCar face America has seen the most this season has been Canada'a James Hinchcliffe. Even better is most probably don't realize the bearded man in the national Honda advertisement is a IndyCar who was shish-kebabed less than three years ago.

However, the commercial gives America a face, someone to look out for and perhaps someone America is already familiar with considering he was runner-up on Dancing with the Stars within the last two years. Hinchcliffe makes sense for the spot even if he isn't an American driver. To be honest, there is not much difference between us Americans and Canadians and American culture is littered with Canadians. People have been watching Alex Trebek on Jeopardy! for over 30 years and I don't think his Canadian roots have stopped people from watching the show. Hinchcliffe might not be a champion or an Indianapolis 500 winner but Hinchcliffe is the Honda driver with the best personality for television. The lines flow effortlessly and he comes off as an actor, not a race car driver doing a commercial.

This commercial does not mean Hinchcliffe will draw a million people to each IndyCar race broadcast nor does it mean 100,000 people will be at each race with most adorning apparel branded with the #5 but it is something we have not seen a lot of in recent motorsports: an active driver being a spokesman.

Retired drivers get the nod for commercials on to frequent a basis. Mario Andretti might be the greatest race car driver to ever walk the earth but the man has not competed in an IndyCar in almost 25 years. It might makes sense to put him in the commercial for the Honda two-seater or Firestone to use his likeness but it overlooks a dozen of drivers worthy of spot. Andretti is still a great ambassador for all of motorsports but series will continue to struggle if it current crop of competitors remain unknown.

It isn't just an IndyCar problem. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is fresh in his retirement but he cannot be the face associated with NASCAR for long into his retirement. Earnhardt, Jr. is in commercials notably for Goodyear and Mountain Dew and these could have been used to introduce viewers to the next driver. However, the Goodyear commercial is a sentimental tail using a cover of Jim Croce to remind people that while he is gone Earnhardt, Jr. isn't gone because he will now be in the booth. The Mountain Dew commercial is an admonition and tries to convince us Danny McBride is a race car driver. Hey, its Mountain Dew's call. If they think McBride is going to sell more of its garbage drink than say Chase Elliott, go ahead and use him but Mountain Dew can't get irritated when its NASCAR marketing arm tanks out. Hell, even Jeff Gordon was in a Super Bowl commercial this year. The two most prominently promoted NASCAR drivers will make a combined zero Cup starts this season. To be fair, Martin Truex, Jr. is in a 5-Hour Energy commercial and Kevin Harvick does have a regular Mobil 1 ad but there is definitely a different level between a Super Bowl commercial and the spots Truex, Jr. and Harvick currently have.

Even Formula One has this problem of being too tied to the past. Heineken came out with a nice advertisement with Jackie Stewart and I love Jackie Stewart but wouldn't Formula One be better off putting an active driver in the spot? I know Formula One deals are stingy and perhaps teams have too many sponsorship conflicts for say the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel or Daniel Ricciardo to be the face international face for Heineken but either of those three would make sense in that role.

We hear about how drivers have to be polished from a young age and seem older than most people their age because they have to attract sponsors when they are teenagers to try and make a career possible but in exchange for maturity it appears most drivers sacrifice personality and become less likely to become a featured spokesperson for a company and it deprives drivers a chance to be on billboards across the world and become an international superstar.

There isn't a Zlatan Ibrahimovic in motorsports, a confident specimen who took out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times saying, "Dear Los Angeles, You're Welcome" before he ever appeared in a game for the LA Galaxy. My mom called asking me who this man was because of the move. Zlatan Ibrahimović isn't one of the most recognizable faces in world of soccer because he was buttoned up, polished and knew what to say since the age of 12. He openly refers to himself in the third person. No driver in the world has the stones to consider doing such a thing and if a driver did fans would crucify that driver. Think about how much scorn Sage Karam got for being himself and he is tame compared to Zlatan Ibrahimović.

Hinchcliffe is one of the few who hasn't had his personality sucked out of him but IndyCar will need more than him if it wants the series to take that next step. The next generation for IndyCar is here. Josef Newgarden is a champion, Alexander Rossi is contending for victories on a regular basis, is already an Indianapolis 500 and seems primed to be a champion and Robert Wickens has come out of nowhere and become a fan-favorite overnight. Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti are still going to be around for another ten years. There is still room for the likes of Scott Dixon, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud and if they are the drivers winning races and championships than the spotlight should be shined on them.

IndyCar has got its new television deal and next up is a new title sponsor. The series should not be pitching someone who was a driver but rather show the potential spokesmen and spokeswomen who will be behind a wheel for the next 15 to 20 years.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Josef Newgarden but did you know...

Sebastian Vettel won the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Lando Norris and Artem Markelov split the Formula Two races from Bahrain.

Cal Crutchlow won the Argentine Grand Prix. Mattia Pasini won the Moto2 race. Marco Bezzecchi won the Moto3 race, the first career victory for the 19-year-old.

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Cup race from Texas. Ryan Blaney won the Grand National Series race.

The #63 GRT Gasser Racing Team Lamborghini of Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart won the first Blancpain Sprint Series race from Zolder. The #66 Attempto Racing Audi of Kelvin van der Linde and Steijn Schothorst won race two.

The #17 Real Racing Honda NSX-GT of Koudai Tsukakoshi and Takashi Kogure won the Super GT season opener from Okayama. The #18 Team UpGarage Toyota 86 MC of Yuhki Nakayama and Takashi Kobayashi won in GT300.

Eli Tomac won the Supercross race from Seattle, his sixth victory of the season but Jason Anderson finished second and extended his championship lead over Marvin Musquin, who finished third.

Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes split the Supercars races from Symmons Plains in a sweep for Red Bull Racing Australia.

Sébastien Ogier won Tour de Corse, his third victory in four races this WRC season.

Gabriele Tarquini won the first World Touring Car Cup race from Marrakesh. Jean-Karl Vernay won the second race and Tarquini took the third race.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar will be at Long Beach.
IMSA and Pirelli World Challenge will also be at Long Beach.
Formula One is on its way to China.
The European Le Mans Series opens its 2018 from Circuit Paul Ricard.
NASCAR will be at Bristol.
World Superbike has its first European round of the season from Aragón.
Formula E will be in Rome this week.
Supercross will be in Minneapolis.