30 August 2009

Chicagoland Comes Through Again

Looking to attend just one IndyCar race a year?  If you're looking for side-by-side racing and a high probability of a photo finish, the evidence is quite clear - you need to head to Chicagoland Speedway.  Once again, the track delivered, as Ryan Briscoe somehow passed Scott Dixon on the penultimate lap to win the race by .0077 second and build on his points lead.

Indianapolis has the spectacle, history and tradition (I will never miss this race); Kentucky has a similar setup to Chicagoland and camping; Iowa is a bull ring; Texas has a history of close finishes.  But Chicago has the most close finishes in series history (now three of the four closest in IndyCar Series history) and is close to Indianapolis (3 hours or so, allowing you to drive to it the day-of, like Kentucky) and is near Chicago if you want to make a weekend out of it.  Why I haven't been there yet is a failing on my part.  Next year I will correct this.

Courtesy of teammate Helio Castroneves, who suffered suspension failure for the second straight race, Briscoe was aided in catching the Target-Chip Ganassi cars of Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti.  The duo had built an impressive lead after green-flag pit stops, and Briscoe used most of his push-to-passes getting back to third place.  His work was inversely proportional to blog favorite Tony Kanaan, who entered the pits in fifth and when everyone had cycled through was in 12th.  That's probably why he tweeted:
Morning, very frustrated night. Not happy at all. Let's turn the page and move on.
(UPDATE, as of 12:30 p.m., Aug. 31:  Tony Kanaan says he wasn't upset at Marco Andretti when he went to talk to Michael Andretti after the race, he was upset about the race strategy, which included him losing several spots during green-flag pit stops after he stayed out while most of the field pitted.)  From @TonyKanaan: 
To clear things out here guys, I went to talk to Michael after the race about the strategy, nothing happen btw me and Marco.
With Dixon well out front, Castroneves' crash was just what Briscoe needed to bunch the field and get around the Target cars.  And with a lap to go, he did just that.  The yellow flag also created the closest 1-13 finish in series history - just 0.8269 second separated Briscoe from Kanaan.

Now Kentucky was a fantastic race because of the racing throughout the field, with drivers trading places most of the night.  Chicagoland was exactly the same, if not more exciting, as multiple cars were going three-wide throughout the night.  Honestly, who didn't think that the combination of Mario Moraes, Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti going three-wide in the closing laps would not result in a wreck?  Amazingly, it didn't.

Even with Versus seemingly cutting to commercials every 10-15 laps (seriously, you don't have enough ads for this.), it is apparent that the IndyCar Series is back on track with their oval racing setup (though admittedly the late yellow really helped after the field separated themselves in green-flag stops).  

As usual, Chicagoland proved to be the grounds for exciting races.  Let's hope Motegi (get excited - it's 3 weeks from now!) and Homestead-Miami deliver the goods as well.

28 August 2009

The 2010 Car Count Goes Up

Tagliani, the 2009 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, recently purchased the assets of Roth Racing and has created with FAZZT Race Team, a partnership between Azzi Race Division, ATG and Rubicon Sports Agency.  Tagliani will drive the No. 77 car. Andre Azzi will be the CEO and former Kelley Racing general manager Jim Freudenberg as the COO will oversee the team.
Good news for the IndyCar Series as they pick up a full-time driver for 2010.  The team announced that they will reveal their sponsorship package at Montreal later this year or early next year.

Sweet Home Chicago

Ok, Chicago isn't my home, but it's close.  I do spend an inordinate amount of time there, whether it's visiting family or attending Cubs games.  Which is why not attending this weekend's race at Chicagoland Speedway hurts.

Granted, I've never been to a race at Chicagoland, but then again, I've never had an outlet from which to convey my impressions of the IndyCar Series.  And now that I do, I figure I should try and make some races, whether they be at Indianapolis (my backyard), Kentucky (just a 2.5-hour drive) or Chicago.  This year, however, it's about saving a little bit of money.  And judging from the amount of good, cheap tickets available online, I should be able to go next year (especially if I can't go to Kentucky because of work).

Anyways, Chicagoland has been one of the IndyCar Series' go-to tracks, along with Texas, for exciting side-by-side racing.  Four of the 10 closest finishes in series history have come at the track, including three of the top five.

With that in mind, along with the push-to-pass system (drivers will get 20 at Chicagoland) and the aerodynamic options introduced at Kentucky, I would expect more of the same exciting racing we saw in early August.  As for who will come out on top, who knows.  Could anyone really have predicted that Ed Carpenter would fall just short of topping Ryan Briscoe at Kentucky?  Or that the Target cars - the ones who helped spearhead the car changes - would struggle with their setup most of the night?

Mix in a three-man battle for the points lead (does anyone really want the points lead at this point, though?  It's been traded around after all but one race this year.), and you have the ingredients to make Chicagoland an intriguing race to watch Saturday night.  Now, it won't help that the race won't start until roughly 9:45 ET (TV coverage on Versus starts at 9 p.m. ET), but hopefully the racing will be such that the highlights will be splashed on TV the following morning for those who can't stay up late.

As for me, I'll be up late, beer in hand, wishing I was at Chicagoland.

27 August 2009

IndyCar Says Goodbye to Milwaukee in 2010

So the IndyCar Series clarified three points on their 2010 schedule.  Motegi will now be on Sunday, Sept. 19 (still aired live on Saturday night in Indianapolis), while the Kentucky race will be Saturday, Sept. 4 at night.  If I can, I will return to Kentucky and campt this time.  Lastly, Texas was moved up to Saturday, June 5, the weekend after the 500.

Being the race directly after the 500 has been what Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage has always wanted.  However, it's doubtful he wanted it to be the week after the 500 - he's always wanted that week in between to promote his race.  In either case, it has come to fruition, while simultaneously guaranteeing that Milwaukee will not be on the 2010 schedule.

However, since Milwaukee was more than likely not going to be on the ICS schedule in 2010 anyways, I think this is one way for the IndyCar Series to bring Milwaukee back into the fold in 2011, just in a different slot on the schedule.  

Eliminating Milwaukee in 2010 gives the series a fresh slate for negotiations in 2011, including the date/time.  Back in one of my speculative schedules (here), I had surmised Milwaukee could move to Sunday, June 19, 2011.  New Hampshire and Texas would fill in the gaps between Indianapolis and Milwaukee under my proposed schedule.  And while I don't see Texas giving up its spot directly behind the 500 (unless the Truck Series date moves), I could see them accomodating NHMS, as both tracks are owned by the same Speedway Motorsports Inc. company.

26 August 2009

This Is No Way to End a Season

And you thought the NBA and NHL Playoffs dragged out. While the IndyCar Series does not have a formal end-of-year playoff, the fact that the final three races of the IndyCar season will be contested over 42 days makes next to no sense.

With three drivers separated by a scant 20 points, the IndyCar Series once again is in the enviable position of having the championship come down to the last lap of the series finale. However, by breaking up the final three races over such a long span of time, the series shoots itself in the foot, failing the capitalize on any excitement the chase for a title would build.

After this week's race at Chicago, it will be three weeks before we see IndyCar Series racing again, and it will be live from Japan at 10:30 p.m. ET (which isn't terrible considering Chicago starts at 9 p.m. ET). Two weeks after that, the series championship will be decided at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

But in between those races, how much momentum is lost? Yes, I'm sure the ICS will have Ryan Briscoe, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon doing various interviews, but the best way to build up the series and put the drivers on display is to actually show racing and let the points battle unfold on a week-by-week basis (especially down the stretch).

In 2010, the issue is addressed slightly, as the series will close with 5 races in the final 7 weeks of season. Still, the race at Motegi is spanned by weeklong breaks before and after. Once again, any momentum built heading into and out of the penultimate race of the year is blunted by these breaks.

Look at again at the year-end schedule I've proposed for 2011 (here is my original schedule post):
  • Labor Day Weekend - Kentucky Speedway
  • Saturday, September 17 - Twin Ring Motegi
  • Saturday, September 24 - Las Vegas (an easy stop on the way back from Japan; paired with Truck Series event; can go at night if too hot during the day)
  • Saturday, October 1 - Phoenix International Raceway (season finale should Miami fail; 5 weeks ahead of NASCAR race at Phoenix)
  • Saturday, October 8 - Homestead-Miami (finale if the 2009 and 2010 editions go well)
Now doesn't that actually build some momentum towards the end of the year? You have ovals which breed side-by-side racing and you're racing virtually every weekend, putting your product and a championship chase on display for sponsors and viewers.

Now, obviously, tracks would need to be added for this to work. Or the schedule needs to be tightened. But it's an issue the IndyCar Series needs to address in order to capitalize on their ability to create a championship that comes down to the last lap of the last race of the season.

25 August 2009

News & Notes

So, cleaning up from yesterday (where I suspect they are still picking up wing bits and other debris in the hills of Sonoma) and looking into today's headlines:
  • Sarah Fisher Racing announced that she will be "going pink" at Homestead-Miami, working to raise money and awareness for Susan G. Komen For the Cure. Great move on SFR's part - their sponsor activation for the event appears to be tremendous and aligning Komen with SFR is a great public relations/marketing move on both sides.
  • In an interview with Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star, Nelson Philippe says that Will Power thought he killed Philippe in their scary wreck at Sonoma (you can watch it here). Philippe, whose brake pedal went through his left foot, will be sidelined for about 2 months with the broken foot and broken right leg. As for Power, he suffered two compression fractures of two vertebrae in his lower back, had a concussion and knocked out two teeth when his helmet slammed into the steering wheel.
  • Cavin also filed a story reaffirming that Danica Patrick and Scott Dixon will both be signing new contracts in the coming weeks. Dixon confirmed that he had spoken with Gil de Ferran about de Ferran's new IndyCar team, but nothing could be worked out between the two. Patrick went into more detail about her reasons for re-signing with Andretti-Green (who whatever it will be called in 2010 and beyond), and as Cavin relates:
Patrick said Andretti has put extra effort into her program this season. He became her race strategist, and she has noticed he focuses on her car's performance during practices, qualifying and races before checking on the status of the team's other cars, including the one driven by his son, Marco.
  • I wonder how Marco feels about that. Patrick also mentions that Michael Andretti has involved her in some of his discussions about streamlining the four-car team's operation in the upcoming offseason. I also wonder if he's involved Marco and Tony Kanaan in those talks, too.
  • Believe it or not, Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves disagree on what caused their contact at Infineon. (Curt Cavin is the busiest man in motor sports, even if he's stuck in Indianapolis). I chalked their contact up to a racing incident on Sunday - Kanaan tried to make a pass in a tough spot, while Castroneves probably could have given some more room. Since neither one really gave at all, they would up hitting each other, which probably caused Castroneves to suffer suspension failure later in the race. That still makes sense to me.
  • Lastly, I need to touch on something I heard yesterday on 1260-AM WNDE. During JMV's interview with Robin Miller, he casually mentioned that The Indianapolis Star has told Curt Cavin that he can no longer attend races that require an overnight stay. (You may have noticed that The Star's recap from Sonoma was the Associated Press story) Frankly, if this is true, it disgusts me. I know times are tough for newspapers, but given the stature of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the auto racing beat at The Indianapolis Star may be the nation's premier auto racing beat. For The Star not to have a presence at races outside of the Midwest is appaling to me. Cavin is one of the paper's best reporters (in my opinion), offering insight into the world of auto racing that you won't find in many papers. For him to be taken off the road in many cases is sad.

24 August 2009

Ah, Youth

While Dario Franchitti was cruising to the second wire-to-wire victory in IndyCar Series history, something else happened - the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma turned into an exciting race (at times).

This occurs when you jumble the field via a first-lap accident and then let eight drivers - seven of whom have 3 years or less IndyCar Series experience - battle it out for spots 3-10 over the last five laps.

Look at the experience level (in the IndyCar Series) among the drivers who finished in the top 10:
  1. Dario Franchitti - 7th year (8th if you count Surfers' Paradise in 2008, but I'm not)
  2. Ryan Briscoe - 4th year
  3. Mike Conway - rookie
  4. Mario Moraes - 2nd year
  5. Hideki Mutoh - 3rd year
  6. Oriol Servia - 2nd year (9th year in top-level, American open-wheel racing)
  7. Justin Wilson - 2nd year (6th year in American open-wheel racing)
  8. Tony Kanaan - 8th year
  9. Raphael Matos - rookie
  10. Robert Doornbos - rookie
Just look at 3-7 in the final results. With all the young drivers looking to make a name for themselves and not caring about championship points, the "damn the torpedos" mentality took over and made for exciting racing. Sure, you look at Oriol Seriva and Justin Wilson not as "young" drivers, but they are both in their second season of IndyCar Series racing. Their previous experience in CART/Champ Car (and its road-only circuits) definitely served to spice things up at Sonoma.

Shortly after Helio Castrone3ves and Ryan Hunter-Reay went off the course in separate incidents, the IndyCar Racing gods decided to spice up Sonoma, creating controlled (and sometimes not controlled) chaos in the last five laps. Justin Wilson was attempting to carve through the field on fresh Firestone Firehawk red tires, and while Jack Arute may have been overstating it a bit to say he could climb from seventh to the podium, Wilson's attempt at running through the field and subsequent spin was exciting to watch.

Wilson wasn't the only driver in the top 10 to spin. Raphael Matos went wide in the final turn, giving away two spots to Wilson and Tony Kanaan. Then Marco Andretti spun Scott Dixon, dropping Dixon to 14th temporarily; the racing stewards eventually put him in 13th and dropped Andretti to 14th.

And maybe most exciting over those final few laps was the drive of Mike Conway. Always a candidate for the "Good Qualifying Effort, Only to be Undone by Driver Error," Award, Conway showed what he is capable of if he keeps his nose clean. The best may have come in the post-race interview, when Conway broke down his pass of Hideki Mutoh by describing it as a "dummy" move of Mutoh. Versus captured the aerial shot of the pass, and when Conway gave the play-by-play, you could see exactly how he dummied Mutoh (showing left then ducking inside the turn) to record his first career podium.

Besides the final five laps, Sonoma presented plenty of drama, just not in the front of the field. You had Kanaan getting into Castroneves, possibly setting in motion Castroneves' suspension failure later in the race. Richard Antinucci and Franck Montagny got together, ending Montagny's day in his only IndyCar start for Andretti-Green.

And you had the cluster at the beginning of the race that allowed several of the young drivers to move up through the field, simply by avoiding the wreck. Kudos to Mario Moraes for admitting as much in post-race interview, in which he was praised for advancing seven spots on the first lap. Moraes, whose fourth-place finish was his career best, some something to the effect of: I didn't have to do too much, just avoid the wreck, to advance.

To top it off, the game of Championship Hot Potato continued, as Dixon fell from 1st to 3rd in the championship hunt. Though being moved to 13th helps, Dixon is now 20 points shy of Ryan Briscoe, who sits in first. Franchitti, who refused to share throughout the weekend (taking the pole position, leading every lap and claiming every bonus point possible) is four points behind Briscoe entering the final three races of 2009.

In any case, the recipe for creating an exciting road course race has apparently been found:
  • Create chaos early in the field
  • Create alternate tire strategies for teams
  • Off-sequence pit stops for some teams
  • Late yellow flag, bringing the field back together
  • Let the youngsters try and drive all over each other in the final laps
It's not a bad way to go, all things considered. With Sonoma serving as the last road/street circuit of 2009, the IndyCar Series will have three ovals over the next 5 weeks to wrap up the season. But if the ICS can bottle the excitement of the final five laps of Sonoma (or barrel them) and use them as a catalyst towards the road/street course set ups of 2010, then things are looking up for the series.

22 August 2009

Making Sonoma Exciting

Not that Infineon Speedway isn't exciting (actually, I've never been there, so it could be for all I know. It looks nice, though), but America's pre-eminent motorsports beat writer, Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star, certainly spiced things up with a few tweets recently.

Here is what Cavin tweeted over the last 20 minutes:
@curtcavin Danica: Staying in IRL with AGR, but paperwork not done. #indycar
You can see more detailed tweets of his by clicking here. For my tweets, click here.

So, basically, as expected, Danica Patrick is staying in the IndyCar Series. What is surprising, though not as surprising as it would have been a few months ago, it that she will be staying with Andretti Green Racing, or whatever it will be known as in the future. Per Cavin:
Danica said Michael A. convinced her team headed in right direction ... Danica said she's spent the last two days with Boost Mobile execs, including the president. She likes activation that's to come.
So, that's a positive for IndyCar moving forward. Plus, it will give people in motorsports garages and telecasts around the country something to talk about this weekend. Kudos (and thanks) to Curt Cavin for providing some fodder for tomorrow's broadcast.

21 August 2009

A Fine Wine at Sonoma

After a one-week break, the IndyCar Series crosses the country after a dominating/snoozer of a race at Mid-Ohio to Sonoma, where a similar race is almost assuredly to break out.

When the IndyCar Series arrived at Mid-Ohio, I wrote this in my preview:
...I really do. Especially coming off a race in Kentucky that had the following:
  • Side-by-side racing
  • Lack of domination by any one team
  • Green flag racing from start to finish (Justin Wilson's engine trouble aside)
  • Photo finish
Now, time to be the wet blanket: do you see any of those four things happening at Mid-Ohio?
So again, do we see any of these happening at Sonoma? Doubtful. The closest we came to an exciting finish in wine country was in 2007, when Marco Andretti clipped then-teammate Dario Franchitti exiting the pits, damaging Franchitti's car and causing the Scotsman to drop from a probable first or second-place finish to third.

Both Ganassi and Penske have won at Sonoma in each of the last two years (Castroneves, 2008; Dixon, 2007), so they will once again run up front, more than likely.

Andretti-Green (we have four races left to use that) has traditionally run well here, too, with Tony Kanaan taking the inaugural Grand Prix of Sonoma in 2005 and Andretti claiming his only ICS win in 2006. But, we also know how they've run most of the year, so who knows if their five-car stable will show up. Though just doing the math, with five of the 22 cars in the field, they stand a 22.7-percent chance to win the race (Franck Montagny will be driving the No. 25 AFS car).

Look, the fact of the matter is that Sonoma is not likely to deliver the excitement that many fans want in their TV coverage. Road racing is like a fine wine - you have to appreciate the subleties of the course, just as the subtle differences - age, season, variety, etc., in a wine must be appreciated.

While side-by-side racing is prevalent on ovals (at least when the cars are set up properly), the road course is usually more of a physical test, given the number of turns. Yes, g-forces can build up on an oval (see: Iowa), but the road course in the summer really tests the drivers and their machines. The IndyCar must be set up to handle differently, obviously, while tire wear and pit strategy also come into play. And while this might not make for great TV viewing, all these small factors do help build the in-race story lines and create and appreciate for the road course race.

So, with that in mind, here's what I recommend: go to your local bottling shop and buy a bottle or two of Andretti Wine (even if his father's venture, Michael Andretti needs the money - he's going to be running a four-car team on his own, in case you haven't heard). Buy some cheese and crackers (I recommend some pepper jack or colby jack). Drink and eat this during the Grand Prix of Sonoma.

You'll feel closer to Sonoma, which is in California's wine country. Plus, perhaps you'll appreciate the road circuit a little more.

20 August 2009

Changes a Comin' at AGR

Per Curt Cavin of The Indianapolis Star (story here), Michael Andretti will become the sole owner of Andretti Green Racing, while his partners at AGR, Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, will split off to run the marketing/promotion efforts at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and the Honda Indy Toronto races, which AGR already does.

Now, not only does this make my Tony Kanaan hat slightly obsolete (the AGR logo on the side is no longer relavant), but it also goes back into some of the changes we suggested about a month ago, albeit we missed the part in which Michael Andretti assumed control of the team.

This should be an interesting move - obviously, it puts Andretti in a much larger position to lose if he cannot keep Danica Patrick in-house and find the funding for a four-car team. Perhaps Andretti wanted to keep a four-car team while Green and Savoree did not, causing them to split from the IndyCar operations.

Andretti Green Racing has not had a season up to their standards, with Patrick's fifth-place ranking in the points standing representing their best effort. One has to wonder if Andretti, Green and Savoree looked at everything AGR was attempting to do - operate the largest IndyCar team, an Indy Lights effort, an A1GP World Cup of Motorsport
effort and managing/promoting two IndyCar races and decided that maybe they were spread too thin to be effective in all aspects of the business.

Andretti's statement to Robin Miller on SpeedTV.com (full article here) seems to indicate that all three parties felt that a change was needed. From Miller's article:
"We owed it to our business to do this because neither side was getting 110 percent and both sides were suffering. Those two races are very vital to the series and they need to make them work. And hopefully I can focus on getting our race team back to where we were."
In their announcement, the two will be entirely separate entities, with Andretti will own and operate the racing operations, and Green and Savoree controlling the marketing and promotions.

With Green and Savoree off to run the marketing and promotions, Andretti will have the leeway to bring in knowledgable (not that Green and Savoree weren't knowledgable) racing people to run the operations for his drivers next year (only Kanaan is under contract for 2010, currently).

Either way, it should be interesting.

19 August 2009

Ah, the Indiana State Fair

As I slowly emerge from the food coma induced by the Indiana State Fair ($2 funnel cakes will do that to you), I came across this video on Indycar.com - Tony Kanaan at the Indiana State Fair. It's fantastic, and it'll give you good insight into why Kanaan is one of IndyCar's best ambassadors (along with being able to survive car fires, and dropping large amounts of cash at carnival booths).

Just watch it by clicking here (tip of the cap to The Silent Pagoda for the footage).

17 August 2009

Does a 2003 Indycar qualify as a clunker?

When I first heard the news that Sarah Fisher Racing had received a second car, I did not think much of it. "A second car, great - a fine gesture from Hartman Oil," was my thought process.

Then I read this, courtesy of Curt Cavin's article on IndyStar.com:
Fisher’s team had only one car, a 2003 model that is thought to be the oldest in the series still be used as a primary car.
You have to be kidding me - for the operation of Sarah Fisher Racing to survive on the back of a 2003 model IndyCar is remarkable. Not only was it a huge risk, but the competitive disadvantage the team was at had to be staggering. Knowing that they were running a clunker and still landing sponsorships and putting forth decent results (which now seem even more impressive considering they were running a 2003 model car) is a testament to the personality of Sarah Fisher.

So, best of luck with the new car to SFR; it sounds like the car will be ready to run in the season finale at Homestead, so we'll see how the team fares with a balanced playing field. If they've come this far with a 2003, I would imagine they can grow by leaps and bounds (I didn't say they'd win a race) with a new one.

14 August 2009

Ovals vs. Street/Road Courses

The Indianapolis Star's Curt Cavin tackles one of the Indy Racing League-Champ Car World Series merger's final debates: ovals vs. street and road courses in his Pit Pass notebook (read it here).

Since the IRL was founded on the basis of helping American drivers on oval courses, the gradual addition of road/street courses at the expense of ovals has always raised a debate. The merger of the two series only added fuel to the fire, as CCWS ran exclusively on road/street circuits. So, in order to placate both the owners of those teams and try and bring the CCWS fans who used to follow CART into the fold, the IndyCar Series has continued to add road/street courses to its schedule.

With the announcement of the 2010 IndyCar schedule and its 9 street/road circuits and 8 ovals, the shift from a purely oval series was complete, and those fans of oval racing (I am among them) made sure there voice was heard.

Among the leaders of the charge has been Bruton Smith, whose Speedway Motorsports Inc., works with the ICS on several races has been the most vocal of the detractors, voicing his initial displeasure shortly after the schedule was announced at Kentucky. Now, while I agree with what some of Smith says, it should be noted that he has a vested interest in the ICS staying on ovals - he owns the tracks (New Hampshire and Las Vegas to name two) that would stand to benefit from hosting an IndyCar race.

Now, will continuing to add street and road courses put the IndyCar Series out of business, as Smith claims? Probably not. Low TV ratings, lack of sponsorship and low race attendance will put the series out of business first.

I maintain that should the IndyCar Series continue to demonstrate growth (a packed house at Mid-Ohio is a good start), then adding three ovals to the current schedule makes sense to me: New Hampshire, Las Vegas and Milwaukee (if the promoter up there can make it work).

I proposed several 2011 schedules in this post, but let me map out the basics: adding New Hampshire brings the IndyCar Series back to New England, where Jerry Gappens wants to run IndyCars. As he told Cavin:
"Remember what the NCAA did with its basketball tournaments? At places like the old Hoosier Dome, they curtained off the seats to get the best 40,000 seats they could get. That was much better than selling 17,000-seat facilities out. Over the years, they've grown into full capacity at those larger arenas."
So, basically Gappens is saying: we might not have a great show the first year, but give us a chance to grow. That makes sense to me (though if Gillette comes through as the series sponsor, as has been rumored, running a race at Gillette Stadium would be understandable).

As for Las Vegas, the president of the track simply did not see a fit with the IndyCar Series for 2010. Understandable. Though LVMS runs a late September Trucks race, so if they paired that with an IndyCar race, as Kansas does, then I think that would work. Pairing the two could also set up ICS to host their end-of-year celebration/banquet in Las Vegas should Homestead-Miami Speedway not pan out.

Milwaukee will be back if the new promoter can come up with the money to pay the IRL for the 2009 race. So the series could be at an even 10-10 split for 2010 just if Milwaukee comes back.

As for some other ovals, would it be nice to see Michigan added? Sure, but the decision not to race there anymore was acrimonious, so it's wishful thinking that the ICS will return there any time soon. It's more likely that Belle Isle will return to the schedule in 2011.

Phoenix would be another track that would be nice, but there's no real indication, other than Terry Angstadt's hoping, that Phoenix will come back to host IndyCar racing. With races in April and November for NASCAR, where can Phoenix put IndyCar in the schedule? Well, maybe in October, to conclude the season; check out this proposed 2011 schedule and let me know what you think:
  • Sunday, March 13 - Brazil (location TBA)
  • Sunday, March 27 - Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
  • Sunday, April 10 - Barber Motorsports Park
  • Sunday, April 17 - Streets of Long Beach, Calif.
  • Saturday, April 30 - Kansas Speedway
  • Sunday, May 29 - Indianapolis Motor Speedway
  • Sunday, June 5 - New Hampshire (would put 3 weeks between IndyCar, NASCAR dates - possibly feasible)
  • Saturday, June 11 - Texas Motor Speedway
  • Sunday, June 19 - Milwaukee (pushed back from traditional date/time but still in heart of oval schedule)
  • Sunday, June 26 - Iowa Speedway (new date, but just a week later)
  • Sunday, July 3 - Watkins Glen International
  • Sunday, July 17 - Streets of Toronto
  • Sunday, July 24 - Edmonton City Centre Airport
  • Sunday, July 31 - Belle Isle (return to Detroit market)/Baltimore (they've received approval to seek funding for a race, though possibly in October)
  • Sunday, August 7 - Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
  • Sunday, August 21 - Infineon Raceway
  • Saturday, August 27 - Chicagoland Speedway
  • Labor Day Weekend - Kentucky Speedway
  • Saturday, September 17 - Twin Ring Motegi
  • Saturday, September 24 - Las Vegas (an easy stop on the way back from Japan; paired with Truck Series event; can go at night if too hot during the day)
  • Saturday, October 1 - Phoenix International Raceway (season finale should Miami fail; 5 weeks ahead of NASCAR race at Phoenix)
  • Saturday, October 8 - Homestead-Miami (finale if the 2009 and 2010 editions go well)
Looking at this schedule, you have 10 road/street circuits. Some aren't the most exciting, I will concede that (personally, I'd like to see Road America come into play). And six straight road/street courses in the middle of the summer might not make for the most thrilling races. Though the crowds at Watkins Glen, Edmonton and Mid-Ohio have all proven to be solid events (attendance-wise) and I think it could work - the series could even promote it as the "Road Trip," or something hokey like that.

Furthermore, this schedule has 11 ovals, all across the country. It adds markets in the West (Las Vegas, Phoenix) and New England (New Hampshire) and returns to Milwaukee. Plus, 21 events throughout the summer looks much better than 17.

So, let's hope TV ratings and sponsorship increases, as do the crowds. Because with the new engine/chasis specs coming for 2012, the IndyCar Series could be poised to make a splash with the 2011 schedule and really make a push to reintroduce the series to parts of America that want it back.

13 August 2009

Just Read This

If you care about the future of the IndyCar Series, read this. It basically covers every issue of the redesign and development of IndyCars for 2011/2012 from the standpoint of designers and engineers.

It's fantastic reading on the potential developments for the future. Let's hope they happen sooner rather than later.

Tip of the cap to Pressdog.com for bringing the story to my attention.

On the TV

So the Versus telecast of the IndyCar Series race at Mid-Ohio brought in a 0.2 rating last Sunday. It scored a 2.2 locally in Indianapolis.

You can read the full story here
, courtesy of the Indianapolis Business Journal.

What can we read into that? I have no idea, to be honest, other than to say that the ratings have been remarkably consistent when on Versus. Broadcasts on ABC will obviously have higher numbers because the casual TV viewer will come across ABC, whereas on Versus it takes more work to find the station.

Regardless of how high the rating is, the IndyCar Series will have a consistent number to take to sponsors in the offseason. How the sponsors look at the possibility of getting their product to just 225,000 viewers or so remains to be seen.

10 August 2009


Whether or not the IndyCar Series, CART, USAC, Champ Car World Series and AAA record books are ever fully merged (and let's hope that the CCWS records can be integrated soon), let us congratulate Scott Dixon on his 20th career IndyCar Series victory. With the dominating win, Dixon passed Sam Hornish Jr. for the most wins in Indy Racing League history.

Now, just as expectations for the racing at Mid-Ohio were tempered coming off of the fantastic finish the week prior, so too are the accolades for Dixon. Yes, 20 wins under the IRL sanctioning body is more than any other driver has accomplished and should be celebrated.

And while comparing eras is difficult, Dixon is still tied for 19th on the all-time IndyCar wins list with 21 (20 IRL, 1 CART), trailing Paul Tracy and Helio Castroneves (the New Zealander is tied with teammate Dario Franchitti). Continuing to climb this list will be paramount for Dixon to bring not only more recognition for his accomplishments, but add to the legitimacy of his mark.

None the less, congratulations to Dixon. While the racing yesterday may not have been exciting due to just about everything we outlined here, watching Dixon's team crush every other team by nearly 30 seconds was damn impressive.

Think about it this way: when Michael Jordan was dominating basketball, or the New York Yankees were cruising through a baseball season, did you not pay attention? What Dixon did yesterday was akin to that, as he was head-and-shoulders above anyone else in the field. Unfortunately, that domination probably does not capture the casual viewer.

Now, we'll have two weeks to sit on a race in which there was little passing, unless done in the pits or when someone went off track. Instead of having the Kentucky finish on the mind (please Versus continue to show highlights of this race in your commercials), Mid-Ohio is the last taste in the mouth for many.

And while for some that taste is not as bitter (count me among that), for others they will see the same old boring road course racing, unfortunately.

07 August 2009

Tempering Expectations

I hate being the wet blanket. I really do. Especially coming off a race in Kentucky that had the following:
  • Side-by-side racing
  • Lack of domination by any one team
  • Green flag racing from start to finish (Justin Wilson's engine trouble aside)
  • Photo finish
Now, time to be the wet blanket: do you see any of those four things happening at Mid-Ohio? Let's break down each of those four points:

Side-by-side Racing:
The road/street courses have never been known for their side-by-side racing throughout, it's just not a characteristic of too many road/street courses. Now, there will be some side-by-side action in certain passing zones, but overall, there won't be the exciting lap-by-lap, side-by-side racing that you can see on an oval (and that everyone watched last week). It may be unfair to criticize Mid-Ohio for this, but coming off of Kentucky, people will be disappointed by the lack of side-by-side action this week, more than likely.

What could help the side-by-side racing? The push-to-pass button. It added strategy and energy to last week's race, and drivers will have 15 pushes for 20 seconds each this week (per Trackside). Along with some of the aerodynamic changes that helped racing last week, there is hope for a more exciting race at Mid-Ohio.

Lack of Domination by One or Two Teams: Last week was notable because Ed Carpenter, the All-American boy (as my wife said after the race while watching Ed do an interview) and relative also-ran for most of his career, went toe-to-toe with the big boys, falling short of the win by 5 feet.

While Carpenter's car was dialed in at Kentucky (and in truth he's been fairly solid on the short ovals in his career), on the road and street courses, Team Penske and Target-Chip Ganassi Racing have dominated the series, winning four of the five events thus far (a big tip of the cap to Justin Wilson, once again).

Given that Ryan Briscoe won at Mid-Ohio in 2008, with Scott Dixon taking the checkered flag in 2007, Penkse and Ganassi know how to win at the track already. As long as they don't butcher their car setups, they should run near the front once again.

Maybe their is room for Justin Wilson to run up front, as he has done on most of the road/street circuits this year, or maybe Newman/Haas/Lanigan gets the hometown favorite, Graham Rahal onto the podium. Hell, Mike Conway could run up front, if he could get out of his own way in the first 10 laps of the race.

Regardless, after a rare week in which only one of the four "red" cars on the track made the podium, it would not be surprising if all four of them return to the front of the field.

Green Flag Racing from Start to Finish: Ok, this might happen. It took place at Edmonton, and if not for Tomas Scheckter, the Rexall Edmonton Indy would have become the first IndyCar race run under the green flag from start to finish.

With the changes made at Kentucky, combined with a lack of practice time, could have made for chaos during the 200-lap race. But the drivers, to their credit, raced each other clean throughout the evening, putting on the second-quickest race in series history. Only Justin Wilson's engine letting go brought out the caution in the Bluegrass State.

So, if the clean racing continues and the field can get through the first lap and corner, this might happen. But that's not really a reason to watch a race, unfortunately.

Photo Finish: Of the 10 closest finishes in IndyCar history (note: Kentucky was the 11th-closest), there is one thing all those tracks have in common:
They all came on ovals.
So, looking for a photo finish at Mid-Ohio is akin to finding the needle in a haystack. Based on what I could find online (I don't have an IndyCar Media Guide, though that would be nice), the closest road/street course finish in IndyCar Series history is .6007 second, coming in the 2007 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg when Helio Castroneves "held off" Scott Dixon.

For comparisons sake, .6007 seconds is similar to Arie Luyendyk's 1997 Indianapolis 500 margin of victory - and we all remember that thrilling finish, right?

In other words, don't hold your breath looking for a similar finish as last week.

Look, I'm still going to watch the race. Other intangibles - racecar setup, tire selection, push-to-pass, new driver-team combinations (Servia at NHL; Doornbos at HVM; Tracy at KV subbing for Moraes) - will make this an interesting, if not exciting, race to watch. Just don't turn on Versus at 1 p.m. on Sunday expecting to see a repeat of Kentucky from a competition standpoint.

06 August 2009

The Hunt for The Title Sponsor

According to the Indianapolis Business Journal, the IndyCar Series may be close to adding a title sponsor. In and of itself, that news is great. However, I've heard that now for over a year, so forgive me for being a tad skeptical.

IndyCar Series commercial division president Terry Angstadt told the IBJ:
“You’ve caught me on a good week. We are talking to a company that is in the third stage of consideration. We’re darn close to being able to get that [title sponsor deal] done. The company we’re talking to is a big consumer brand, and it would be very good for the series.”
Two things from this - "the caught me on a good week" comment is interesting. Either Anthony Schoettle, who does an excellent job in the IBJ's sports section, really did just time things right in talking to Angstadt, or the hunt for a title sponsor has been very hit or miss. In Schoettle's article, it is even admitted that the search has run hot and cold, and I worry that this could just as easily run cold again.

On the positive side of the ledger is the fact that this sponsor is in the third stage of consideration, meaning that they have been in negotiations for some time with the IndyCar Series. It could be one of the companies mentioned last year during the title sponsor chase, such as Subway. No matter the company, it needs to be one that people across the country will recognize, whether it comes in the form of Best Buy (Best Buy Cup?), Subway (Subway IndyCar Series) or AT&T.

Honestly, I think that targeting AT&T or Verizon Wireless makes the most sense for IndyCar. Both companies have been squeezed out of NASCAR due to Sprint's title sponsorship of the series, leaving them with cash from car sponsorships to use, presumably. They could directly compete with Sprint by sponsoring the IndyCar Series and working to help the series grow.

While whomever Angstadt inks to become the title sponsor of the IndyCar Series, that company will need to actively promote the series at every turn. For example, if Subway signed on to sponsor the ICS, then there needs to be promotional materials for IndyCar in stores across the country.

Whether it would come in the form of Tony Kanaan stand-ups in stores, advertising a race, or Danica Patrick creating a sandwich for the company, the title sponsor will have to actively connect its consumers with the drivers and series. Let's hope it happens sooner rather than later.

04 August 2009

DoorKnobs Out at NHL - Let the Carousel Begin

UPDATE (5-Aug, 12:37 p.m.): Adding to his report from yesterday (below), Robin Miller is reporting that Oriol Servia will fill the Newman/Haas/Lanigan No. 06 car at Mid-Ohio. With that in mind, it does not change my idea in the article below:

Robin Miller is reporting that Robert Doornbos (or DoorKnobs, as my wife first referred to him) is leaving Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing and heading over to HVM Racing. This obviously leaves a competitive seat at NHL for the final five races of 2009, and already the usual cast of characters (Paul Tracy, Bruno Junquiera, Sebastien Bourdais, Oriol Servia) is being tossed around as potential replacements.

Now, it stands to reason that whomever drives the No. 06 machine for the final five races of 2009 will have the inside edge on a full-time ride with NHL in 2010. But for now, let me make the case for Newman/Haas/Lanigan stepping outside the box and making a tremendous splash in 2010, even if it is a tad far-fetched.

Here's my plan - re-sign Graham Rahal and sign Marco Andretti away from his father's team. Crazy? Yes. Unlikely to happen? Yes. But hear me out.

Rahal, at 20, is one of the IndyCar Series' best spokespeople, sounding nearly as polished as his veteran counterparts. Already he has won a race and is consistently getting better on oval tracks, as his fifth-place result at Kentucky demonstrates.

Sponsored by McDonald's, Rahal has one of the series' largest and most influential sponsors, given the reach of McDonald's not only in America, but around the world.

Now, obviously signing Marco Andretti is a reach. Would his father really let him leave his team? I doubt it. But keep in mind that both Michael and Mario Andretti drove for (then) Newman-Haas Racing back in the 1990's, with great success (the Indianapolis 500 excluded). NHL may be the one team Michael might let his son leave for.

If Marco could find the sponsorship (I doubt K-Mart would sponsor him, but it'd be very "retro" of them to do so), then it's a no-brainer from NHL's end. In Rahal and Andretti, they would have the two young, male, up-and-coming American drivers in open-wheel racing. For an entire generation of developing IndyCar fans, Newman/Haas/Lanigan would be the team to watch.

They wouldn't just be the team to watch because of the potential of the two. Rahal and Andretti have traded verbal jabs in the past, attempting to tweak each other at opportune times. If the two formed a competitive rivalry on the same team, that would make for interesting watching, as well.

And the final selling point - every weekend, the "Marco vs. his dad's team" story line would draw veiwers. What if Marco wrecked Tony Kanaan? How would Michael deal with it? What if Mutoh spun Marco to gain position - would Michael be ok with it? Eyeballs would be following that story line, I guarantee it.

Now, it's probably just a pipe dream for Marco Andretti to find his way over to Newman/Haas/Lanigan and become teammates. But, just think about the possibilities if it were to happen. The interest it could generate would be outstanding for Newman/Haas/Lanigan and the IndyCar Series on the whole.

03 August 2009

Stay Inside and Watch the TV, Please

The Indiana Business Journal is reporting that the TV ratings from Edmonton went up slightly from those at Richmond – moving from a .22 to a .24 on the network. The Score, the IBJ’s sports blog, speculates that part of the reason for the low ratings is the dominance of both Penske Racing and Target-Chip Ganassi Racing (something I theorized a few weeks ago).

While the Penske/Ganassi domination correlating into low TV ratings is something we will explore in further depth in the offseason, some of the reason for the ratings being lower is that some of the racing audience in the most heavily-saturated racing market (Indianapolis) was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Brickyard 400 ended shortly before Versus went on the air from the Rexall Edmonton Indy, and I doubt that many of the people who wanted to watch the race actually saw it live since they were stuck in traffic leaving IMS.

Sure, not all 180,000 people at the track would have watched the Rexall Edmonton Indy, but even if 30,000 of those people did, the ratings would have improved.

I think the biggest test of Versus ratings will come this week, when the series heads to Mid-Ohio. Coming off of the closest major racing finish of the year, and one that received air time on every ESPN station, the IndyCar Series will have some considerable buzz leading into a track that honestly, may be a boring race.

But if Versus is able to take the highlights which were shown nationally and are able to market the IndyCar Series as a thrilling brand of racing (even on Mid-Ohio), then the debate over TV ratings may subside for a week.

02 August 2009

On Kentucky

I got back from Kentucky Speedway at about 4:45 this morning. So forgive me if my thoughts on the race are not terribly coherent.

Obviously, some of the changes implemented
by IndyCar worked, especially removing the half-inch wicker on the rear wing. It really seemed to allow the drivers to obtain an aero-draft and pass much easier.

The push-to-pass system, the subject of some controversy over whether or not it would allow for actual passing, added a different dynamic to the race. While sitting in the stands I could not tell who had used the button, it added an element of intrigue to the racing.

It's easy to feel bad for Ed Carpenter, since he didn't pick up his first career win (that's how it looked with the leaders nearing the finish line on lap 200), but overlooked in that is the fact that Ryan Briscoe came dangerously close to hitting the wall earlier in the race (on the only yellow flag restart, the second straight race with just one yellow). Briscoe charged from eighth to first in the last segment of the race, which is pretty darn impressive, and would have been impossible earlier this year without the new options being given to teams.

Tony Kanaan was solid in third place, jostling with Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves for most of the final segment. At one point, it looked like he might have a chance to pass both Briscoe and Carpenter, but he pulled back. Given what AGR and Kanaan have gone through most of the summer, a podium result for Kanaan is a positive.

Getting this gem of a race, the closest in Kentucky Speedway history, is great, especially with the IndyCar Series moving the event to Saturday, September 4 next year. Especially when Bruton Smith, whose Speedway Motorsports, Inc., owns the Kentucky Speedway, promises to sell out the race next year (now if he'd keep his opinions on the oval-road/street course numbers to himself, that'd be fine with me).

Personally, it was my first trip to a race not at Indianapolis, so allow me a moment to reflect upon that experience. Having gone to Indianapolis since I was 11, the fact that coolers (and by proxy, alcohol) were not allowed in Kentucky Speedway was a big change.

However, I didn't mind it terribly for a couple reasons: first, the tailgating in the parking lots reminded me of college football season. It seemed as if 1 of every 5 cars brought a grill and cooked dinner prior to the race. Secondly, as quick as the race was (200.893 mph - the second-quickest in series history), there wasn't much time to have a beer. With all the green flag racing (and resulting side-by-side racing), there was never a lull in the action.

My only complaint was with traffic leaving the race - it felt like I was trying to leave Deer Creek - which resulted in my wife and I pulling in the garage about 4:30 (after sleeping for an hour at an I-275 rest area).

The Speedway itself was fantastic - I'd wanted to go there because I had heard that there wasn't a bad seat in the facility, and it was true. From our seats in the Grandstand (Section 3A, Row 6), we could see the entire track, crowd and pit areas - everything a fan would want. You could see the cars setting up for passes on the backstretch entering turn three and follow the entire race. In all, it was fantastic.

With Kentucky Speedway emphasizing camping next year, and the Labor Day weekend date, I'm in for it again, even if the IndyCar Series can't produce a finish as exciting as the 2009 version.