Monday, September 9, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Diving into the IndyCar/NASCAR Doubleheader Hurdles

Charles Leclerc took the torch as lead Ferrari driver with his victory in the Italian Grand Prix over Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton while Sebastian Vettel playing in the sand with Lance Stroll. Meanwhile Formula Three driver Alexander Peroni took flight. Peroni walked away but with a broken vertebra. NASCAR had a sloppy race in Indianapolis and Jimmie Johnson did not make the Chase/playoffs for the first time since NASCAR adopted this championship format. World Superbike returned after two weeks off. There were some champions crowned in Hungary. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Diving into the IndyCar-NASCAR Doubleheader Hurdles
It has gone quiet on the IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader idea. Both series have announced their respective 2020 schedules and neither are getting together. This will have to wait until 2021 but with NASCAR in IndyCar's backyard this weekend it is a chance to discuss the topic.

We touched upon some of the hurdles last year but that did not cover all the hurdles. A few were missed and this is a chance to not only double-check the previous things brought up and go over the new items on the plate.

Let's go back and hit the topics brought up last year in one swoop: Track schedule, tires and weather.

Track schedule comes down to who races when. Who runs on Saturday? Who runs on Sunday? Could both run on Sunday? Which race would get the best television window? The allure to a doubleheader weekend is seeing NASCAR Cup cars and IndyCar on track back-to-back. You want to see a Cup practice and then an IndyCar practice. It can't be two one-day shows happening on one weekend with all the IndyCar stuff on Saturday and NASCAR on Sunday or IndyCar on Friday and NASCAR on Saturday.

I believe there is not necessarily one golden time and instead of having one race be seen as the undercard to the main event I think you could have two main events. I think there are certain places where an IndyCar race on a Saturday night and a Cup race on Sunday or even a case where both races are on Sunday can be two main events and not one losing out to the other.

Tires provide a problem, especially on ovals. Goodyear and Firestone tires are incompatible and with the greater number of cars on Goodyear tires the track will not set up for Firestone to race well. Once the Goodyear rubber gets down when IndyCar takes to the track it will not get to a place where Firestone rubber is laid down. The Firestone tires would lift the Goodyear rubber from the surface. A racetrack would be one groove for IndyCar and teams would struggle for grip. This would likely lead to a less than ideal IndyCar race and people would be disappointed. A road course would be better for a doubleheader because you are not worried about two grooves forming and racing appearing more processional.

Then there is weather. Rain could drown out any IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader, especially on an oval. If the doubleheader was to occur on one of those weekends where it rains for three consecutive days and it was at an oval that Monday would be a nightmare, especially if the NASCAR Grand National Series and/or Indy Lights were also on the bill. One, there would not be enough time on a Monday to fit in four races or if you did try to run all four on a Monday, someone would be racing at 9:00 a.m. and racing would have to go until at least 7:00 p.m., if not 8:00 p.m. at night. Any oval that would use this event would have to have lights just to extend the racing window.

Weather is another reason a doubleheader should be on a road course. IndyCar can race in the rain. NASCAR can race in the rain. Unless the weather was disastrous the weekend could be completed without delay if it rained at a road course.

Those were the previous points. The next one is space.

A racetrack has to be able to host all the cars and that is not asking a lot. There are 40 Cup cars on a good weekend and 22-24 IndyCars. Sixty-four cars is not a lot of cars when you consider there are NASCAR weekends that bring over 110 cars. There are plenty of tracks that can accommodate the space but it is also the quality of the venue. Some tracks have the Truck Series and Grand National Series work from the back of the hauler. They are not in garages but under tents.

If IndyCar is going to a venue where it is used to having garages and NASCAR is going to a venue where it is used to having garages both have to get what they want. Either enough garages have to be available or concessions have to be made. There is also the quality of garages. We know there are tracks with high-end garages, which are meant for Cup cars, and then your more basic garages. If both series are used to the high-end garages it is going to be difficult to get either side to accept the downgrade.

Garage space aside, there is also pit lane. How IndyCar and NASCAR used pit lane during a weekend is quite different. IndyCar teams are used to setting up the pit stand and leaving it. All the work IndyCar teams do is from the pit lane. NASCAR teams are used to working out of the garage during practice and the pit boxes are not set up until Sunday when the order on pit lane is drawn. IndyCar teams know the lineup on pit lane prior to the weekend starting.

This could cause a problem especially if there is a NASCAR Grand National Series race before the IndyCar race. However, IndyCar is able to take down the pit stands at Texas when there is a Truck race on Friday night before IndyCar races on Saturday. This might not be as big of a deal but I am sure it could cause a commotion on pit lane as some teams will be tearing down equipment while others will be trying to set up in the same space.

This clash of using the same area brings us to time because it is going to take time for one of these weekends.

It takes a certain amount of time to set up pit lane. If IndyCar and NASCAR were to race on the same day, there would need to be a decent amount of time for one series to clear out and for the other to set up. It will not be a simple as IndyCar having a race at 12:00 p.m. and having a race that ends at 2:00 p.m. and then NASCAR being ready to go at 3:00 p.m. I have to imagine it will take more than an hour for the IndyCar teams to take down their equipment and to get all the cars move from the pit area. I also have to imagine it will take more than an hour for NASCAR teams to set up a pit stall, lay out all the tires and get the cars lined up on the grid.

It might take two hours, which would create a very long lull. Fans will get restless. You will either have fans show up for the first race and leave before the second begins or fans that do not show up until after the first race ends and attend only the second race.

On an oval, it will take more time than to just set up pit lane but the SAFER Barrier needs to be adjusted as well. People might not realize this but the foam blocks inside the SAFER Barrier are moveable and the layout for a NASCAR race is different for an IndyCar race. Typically, for IndyCar, the foam blocks are more spread out to absorb blows from the car at a faster speed. This is done to reduce the amount of ricochet.

This is a process that not only would take time but also if NASCAR and IndyCar sessions were intermingled this would have to be done multiple times during a day. It might take an hour to adjust the barriers. There is also a risk when changing it. The more you alter a barrier the greater chance a mistake could occur. A foam block could be forgotten; one could be spaced too far out or too close to another. I am sure a track can take the time to make sure it is done right but if it is going to take a minimum of 90 minutes between each session that is a turn off to those in attendance.

I think the option for the least amount of headaches is a road course and I have said before that the best option is the simplest option: Just add IndyCar to the Watkins Glen weekend. IndyCar gets to go back to Watkins Glen. NASCAR would have to run the boot. It is a weekend that already draws a significant crowd. In August, the days are long enough that a race can start at 6:00 p.m. ET and end before sunset. IndyCar would take a Saturday evening race. Everybody would win.

The one thing against Watkins Glen could be the number of garages. I am not sure there are enough for everybody. What is a road course that has enough garages and is suitable for NASCAR and IndyCar?

I think it is Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Most of the Cup cars are in the Formula One garages. There are a ton of garages at the facility and likely enough to accommodate 40 Cup cars and 24 IndyCars. Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosting the IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader has already been floated out there and with the Independence Day weekend it could set up nicely for the two series together and spend a holiday together.

There is one other venue I will throw out as a possible place for a combined weekend and it is a track that neither series has raced at. It is Sebring International Raceway. It seems like a crazy idea but Sebring built a second pit lane for the FIA World Endurance Championship when it joined the 12 Hours of Sebring weekend this year. The garages were temporary but still up to standards for these top-notch teams. If Sebring can house about 40 IMSA teams and about 30 WEC teams, it can be suitable for 40 Cup cars and 24 IndyCars. Each series would get its own area and would not have to worry about stepping on each other's toes.

This might be the best place for this doubleheader weekend: A place neither can call home. A place where the track surface is unsuitable for any race car but we still find a way to make the place work. A place that is under used and could host another event.

I don't know when you could fit Sebring into the calendar. You are not going in the summer, which is when I think this combined weekend would have to occur but with 2021 being the year NASCAR has penciled in changes to its calendar, why not create a new event unlike anything that exists? Why not have this event be the season finale for each and why not have it in the middle of December as one final hooray before winter? It is crazy but the entire concept of IndyCar and NASCAR running together is crazy.

No combined weekend will be happening until 2021 at the earliest. There is plenty of time for all the kinks to be ironed out but there could be more than each series wants to handle. It could be seen as too much work or it could be something where the sides cannot come up with a compromise. Neither side will be able to get everything it desires. The biggest hurdle of all maybe the egos of the two organizations.

Champions From the Weekend
The #563 Orange1 FFF Racing Team Lamborghini of Andrea Caldarelli and Marco Mapelli won the Blancpain World Challenge Europe with finishes of fifth and fourth from the Hungaroring.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Charles Leclerc but did you know...

Kevin Harvick won the Brickyard 400, his third victory of the season and his second Brickyard 400 victory. Kyle Busch won the Grand National Series race, his fourth victory of the season, his 96th victory in NASCAR's second division and his sixth victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Nobuharu Matsushita won the Formula Two feature race from Monza and Jack Aitken won the sprint race. Robert Shwartzman and Yuki Tsunoda split the Formula Three races.

The #39 Lexus Team SARD Lexus of Heiki Kovalainen and Yuichi Nakayama won the Super GT race from Autopolis. The #60 LM Corsa/K-Tunes Racing Lexus of Hiroki Yoshimoto and Ritomo Miyata won in GT300.

Jonathan Rea won the first race and the Superpole race of World Superbike action from Algarve with Alvaro Bautista winning the second race. Federico Caricasulo won the Supersport race, his third victory of 2019.

The #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG of Vincent Abril and Raffaele Marciello swept the Blancpain World Challenge Europe races from Hungaroring.

Coming Up This Weekend
MotoGP is at Misano.
NASCAR is in Las Vegas for an evening race.
Laguna Seca hosts the penultimate round of the IMSA season.
Nüburgring hosts the penultimate round of the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters season.
Supercars heads east to New Zealand and Pukekohe Park Raceway.
World Touring Car Cup is back in action and is in Ningbo.
The World Rally Championship will be in Turkey.