29 September 2009

How to Spice Up the Championship, Part III

Last week, Indycar.com's Dave Lewandowski got Indy Racing League President of Competition and Operations Brian Barnhardt on the record about the future development of chassis and engine packages for the IndyCar Series.

While Barnhardt still believes that the package(s) will be ready for the 2012 season, there is no reason this can't be rolled into the 2009 IndyCar finale at Homestead-Miami.

How, you ask?  Beneath the fold, I'll tell you.

25 September 2009

How to Spice Up the Championship, Part II

Great.  Danica Patrick has re-signed with Andretti-Green Racing (name change tba later) for three years, according to Curt Cavin at The Indianapolis Star.

So now we can all put this behind us and move on.  Well, at least until Tony Stewart pops off again and then everyone can whip themselves into a frenzy speculating on the details of Patrick's contract and where she will be in 2013.

However, I say let's use Danica's signing as another way to pump up the championship at Homestead-Miami.

After the jump, you will find out how I plan to blow this out.

24 September 2009

How to Spice Up the Championship, Part I

Ok, so there remains 17 days until the IndyCar Series Championship at Homestead-Miami.  Three drivers still have a chance to win the title, meaning once again, the championship will likely come down to the last corner of the last lap (without any contrived re-shuffling of points).

However, what will catch eyeballs and force extended highlights that night?  IndyCar will be competing with football for eyeballs, so what would cause ESPN and the network affiliates (outside of Indianapolis and Miami - will Miami TV stations air highlights?) to give the race additional coverage?

Follow me below the fold for an idea on how to raise the profile of The Haast Eagle.

23 September 2009

What to do While Waiting for the Finale, Part XVIII

I came back from a baseball practice today (I coach, no playing for me anymore) and opened the mail.  Much to my surprise was a letter with an Indianapolis Motor Speedway address.

What could this be, I asked myself?  I hastily opened it to see what was enclosed, to find a confirmation of my renewal for 8 tickets for the 2010 Indianapolis 500 - fantastic news.

Oddly enough, I also received a reimbursement check for $20 - the money I had sent in along with my renewal that was supposed to guarantee rides around the track in a pace car for both my dad and I.  Unfortunately, I came home too late to call the IMS Ticket Office, but that will happen tomorrow.

Also coming up tomorrow - another idea to improve the IndyCar Series finale at Homestead-Miami.

An Update (24 Sept - 9:30 a.m.):  Called IMS - sounds like a clerical error occurred, and my $20 check for the laps was not properly processed.  Now I get to send back the check I received and get the 2 laps I bought.  So all is well.

21 September 2009

"I guess we don't need a 'Chase'"

Fantastic quote from Dario Franchitti to Indycar.com's Dave Lewandowski (full story here).

(Though if Chase Bank would like to sponsor the IndyCar Series in some way, shape or form, I'd be open to it.)

Just look at the photo - it says: 
"What I say goes.  I know a contrived gimmick when I see one and the IndyCar Series sure as hell doesn't have one of those when it comes to a points chase."
Lewandowski is kind enough to break down the points scenarios entering Homestead-Miami - basically whomever is ahead between The Haast Eagle and The Scot would win the title if ahead of Ryan Briscoe.  For the Australian to win, here are some criteria:
  • If Briscoe wins the pole and the race, he wins the championship.
  • If Briscoe wins the race and leads the most laps, he wins the championship.
  • If Briscoe wins the race, earns the pole and leads the most laps, he wins the championship.
  • If Briscoe wins the race but doesn't score any bonus points, Dixon can win the title if he finishes second and leads the most laps.
  • Dixon will win any tiebreaker over Briscoe.
So just keep all of that in the back of your mind over the next 3 weeks - I'm sure it will occupy your attention for the next 19 days, too.

19 September 2009

Thoughts from Motegi (or, I'm a sponsor's dream)

Ok, I wasn't there, but I did watch the entire race last night.  How did I manage?

First, I prepared by working my full-time job - sports information directing a collegiate volleyball match.  During said match I began to drink a Venom Energy.  The Death Adder (fruit punch) was surprisingly good, didn't taste a drop like an energy drink.  Could be trouble if ever mixed with an alcoholic beverage.

Said energy drink was consumer by the time I arrived home at 10:00 p.m., leaving enough time to grab a pen and paper and a Miller Lite (the official beer of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway), enclosed as ever in my Team 7-Eleven Tony Kanaan koozie.

(Special thanks to the lady in Kansas who sent me a box of 12 TK koozies a few years ago, instead of the one I was expecting).

Point being, if you sponsor IndyCar racing in some way, shape or form, I will try your product.  Anyways, on to the race...

18 September 2009

The Haast Eagle Striketh

While you were comfortably asleep (I assume, since at 2:30 in the morning, I was), we saw the return of The Haast Eagle, who crushed the dreams of Mario Moraes (more than likely with its talons), picking up the Peak Pole Award and a vital point in his quest to catch Ryan Briscoe for the points championship.

(Yes, that's a Haast Eagle over there.  And those flightless birds it's about to devour are pretty large.  The lesson - Mario Moraes is lucky he lost just the provisional pole.)

Apparently Moraes was sitting on the provisional pole and Dixon was the final driver to go out for qualifications at Motegi.  Call him the Ice Man if you want, but his lightning-quick strike on Moraes' time and ability to snatch the pole was positively Haast Eagle-esque.  (No word on whether Moraes' pelvis was crushed when Dixon won the pole).
If you think this post is solely an excuse to use the phrase Haast Eagle as much as possible and push Dixon's new nickname, well, that's part of the reason (I have pledged to make Haast Eagle happen, as part of a pact with The Silent Pagoda).

Reason number two for the post resides in the fact that most people weren't awake at 2:30 this morning to watch qualifications on Indycar.com.  And, I won't be able to watch the Versus Qualifications show at 6 p.m. ET, as I'll be working (when you're a Sports Information Director and the college athletics season starts, so goes your free time).

However, I will be home in time for the race (10:30 ET), with beer in hand, to watch live and see if the legend of the Haast Eagle comes to fruition.

17 September 2009

Dr. Livingstone, I presume?

Ok, so maybe we haven't spent the last few weeks searching through Africa for the source of the Nile (or did we?).  But after a three-week hiatus that caused far too much inner soul-searching and mental anguish for our comfort, we have found something that attempted to elude the public over the last 21 days - IndyCar racing.

Sweet Jesus, it's back (and as you can tell, the Japanese media is excited - thanks for the picture, @TonyKanaan).  And live from Japan.  At 10:30 ET, as long as you don't have DirecTV.  Then you can watch at a bar or on your computer.

And while the IndyCar Series most certainly hasn't been out of contact that whole time, it's been without the elixir that keeps so many people coming back - actual racing.

Ah, Motegi, site of dreams realized (see: Patrick, Danica) and dreams dashed (see: Carpenter, Ed, running short on gas in the same race).  

The home track for Honda has seen four different winners in its history, and surprisingly none from Target-Chip Ganassi Racing.  More than likely, they will need to snap that streak in order to keep up with Team Penske (though Ryan Briscoe's best finish there in ninth, though he's made just two starts there) in the points chase.  In case you've forgotten, because a points chase can't really sustain a series over a three-week break, the Australian leads the Scot by 25 points.  Lurking in third is the Haast Eagle, Dixon, 33 points back.  

(Why call Dixon the Haast Eagle?  Click here, and make it happen.)

Motegi typically is more of a setup/handling track than a straight speed shot, which is a little different than some of the 1.5 mile tracks we've seen of late (well, like a month ago, but I digress).  Dan Wheldon has run the track well, completing 1198 of a possible 1200 laps at Motegi, including a win; The aforementioned Kanaan is right behind, having finished 1176 laps and a win.

Helio Castroneves and Patrick are the other two drivers in the field with wins at Motegi, but in all honesty, it's tough to see how AGR will win a race this season, given how they've looked for most of the year.  Just because the teams are 13 hours ahead of us right now (they're living in the future!) doesn't mean that the two most dominant teams of 2009 won't continue to do so.

Now, with 20 overtake assist pushes, the race should once again be an exciting one; and with the Versus Qualifications Show at 6 p.m. ET Friday (actual qualifications come at roughly 2 a.m. ET Friday morning - check Indycar.com for streaming I bet), you can sit down, have a meal and drink and be ready to go for the race at 10:30 p.m. ET.

Don't complain about the start time this time - just be grateful we've stumbled back upon IndyCar racing.

11 September 2009

Good God, Will They Ever Race Again?

I keep hearing rumors that the 2009 IndyCar season is still going on, despite the lack of racing.  Right now, the rumors subsist of tweets like this from @kvracing:
Last day in the shop before we head 2 Japan on Tues. Gonna be a nasty trip, 3hr bus ride 2chicago, 13hr flight & then 2hr bus ride 2 hotel!
I guess that means there will be a race in Japan sometime.  Should be interesting.  Word on the street is that the race might even be over in America around the same time as the Chicago race was.  Fantastic.

So if there still are races remaining, that means Ryan Briscoe hasn't won the points championship, either.  Well, that should be fun to watch sometime, you know, if the season hasn't really ended.

Seriously, ending this year with 3 races in 42 days is a serious buzzkill.  Similar to waiting 40 or 50 days between the end of the college football season and the bowl games.  Neither makes much sense.
Basically what I'm trying to say is that I now relate to this:
We need you. Hell, I need you. I'm a mess without you. I miss you so damn much. I miss being with you, I miss being near you. I miss your laugh. I miss your scent; I miss your musk.
The IndyCar Series shouldn't make its fans go through this kind of withdrawl.  Come back soon, old friend. 

09 September 2009

Much Ado About Nothing

So I was casually enjoying my Labor Day holiday (as much as you can enjoy it when working both Saturday and Sunday), when I stumbled across the obligatory "Danica Patrick Is Heading to NASCAR" headlines.  And while yes, it does appear that Danica will straddle the fence and drive both IndyCar and NASCAR the next few years, let's settle down about this will be the death knell for the IndyCar Series.

For some reason, I am reminded of Act V of Macbeth:
...it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
Now, I'm not calling Bob Kravitz (the writer of the linked article) an idiot.  I do agree with some of what he says in his column. Yes, does losing one of - if not the - most marketable driver in the series hurts.  And the lack of leadership on the IndyCar side is troubling (though I'll be the first to admit that we don't know what is going on behind the scenes).  

Does the series have some issues that need addressing?  Yes.  Are their problems fixable?  Yes.

However, who knows how strong IndyCar racing will be by 2012, when Danica likely moves on.  If Graham Rahal continues to improve, along with Marco Andretti (who has looked stronger in the second half of this year), the IndyCar Series is set up to have two, young American stars in open-wheel racing.  Quick test: which last name has more cache when it comes to racing: Andretti or Vickers?  Exactly.

If those two (and let's throw J.R. Hildebrand out there as Young American #3) continue to improve and build a solid rivalry over the next few years, IndyCar racing will be in fine shape.  To declare Danica's departure as the death of IndyCar racing is a hasty rush to judgment.  So let's take a step back, breathe, and let the next few years develop - I think we'll all be happy with where the ICS is by 2012, regardless of where DanicaMania has gone to.

04 September 2009

The Hunt for IndyCar Racing

We're in Day 6 of the hunt for IndyCar racing - so far, no sign of a race, though rumors abound that crates of racing supplies are being packed and prepared for a distant race.  We'll try and survive, while wondering why an American open-wheel series wouldn't have a race over Labor Day weekend (though thanks to Kentucky Speedway for stepping in and taking care of that next year).

So for now, we have plenty of notes to go through, starting with a proposed return to the 11 a.m. start to the Indianapolis 500.

My take - as a resident of Indianapolis, I don't really care what time the race starts.  I have the Super-Secret Route from my house to the track that isn't crowded at 8 a.m., and it certainly wasn't packed when my father passed down the S.S.R. to me back in high school.

Now, would moving the race to 11 (or even 12), help with ratings?  Maybe.  Team Penske President Tim Cindric went as far to tell Curt Cavin:

"It's worth one (ratings) point, at least."
 Is that the case?  Probably not in terms of ratings points - even with the addition of a few NASCAR drivers (the Robby Gordons of the world), the casual fan isn't going to tune to the Indy 500 just for that.  As it stands right now, fans can watch the Grand Prix of Monaco in the morning, the 500 during the day and the Coca-Cola 600 at night (unless you're in Indianapolis, then you watch the 500).
What would help the ratings increase for the 500?  Continued close, side-by-side racing will help increase ratings.  As will the continued renewed interest in IndyCar racing.  If the crowd for the 500 is coming back up (and believe me, it was back up last year), then the chances are that more eyeballs will hit the TV screens, in time.

On to point number two - the Grand-Am test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday.  I didn't get to go, courtesy of a staff retreat (always fun) and a sports information directors meetings (a good time).  To me, a Grand-Am or ALMS race at IMS would be an excellent addition to the 2011 track schedule.

Now, would IndyCar or NASCAR serve as a support race?  That's not a bad idea, though I'm not to keen on bringing NASCAR back to IMS more than once a year.  However, if the IndyCar Series decided to stage their finale at IMS' road course (highly unlikely) with Grand-Am racing running on Saturday, it would be interesting to see how it played out.

If Grand-Am or ALMS came to IMS by themselves, I think a 6-hour or 12-hour race would be outstanding.  Finding the time for a 12-hour race, unless it was the middle of the summer would be tricky, but I think a 6-hour race would bring a different dynamic to the track.  

Think about this for a minute: Ray Harroun's 1911 Indianapolis 500 victory took 6:42:08 to complete.  A 6-hour race at IMS would give every spectator a feel for what attending that first 500 felt like.  Now that, coming in 2011 - 100 years after Harroun - would be pretty cool.

Onward to issue number three - Terry Angstadt's ability to talk out of both sides of his mouth.  At Chicagoland, Angstadt (whom I generally believe has helped the IndyCar Series) held court with a variety of reporters and touched on a number of issues.  Among those - New Hampshire, car counts, Phoenix, TV and other subjects.  What I found interesting was how Angstadt talked about NHMS and Phoenix.

Angstadt on revisiting New Hampshire (all quotes come from Bruce Martin's notes column):
“No.  Would you like me to expand on that? I really do feel that a good part of the conversation is when there are two Cup dates at a venue without a long racing season we struggle. SMI doesn’t agree with that and we completely respect their opinion on that but we are not going to agree on every business issue between the two companies. That is a tough market to go into with that challenge. “I don’t let the comments they made impact our relationship, though.”
Fair enough; but here's what Angstadt said about Phoenix:
“That has been one of the bigger challenges for us,” Angstadt said. “We might have even used Phoenix as an example that if we can secure other markets that pay us a good value for our series then we can afford to go to another market or two that is good for the business, although not financially. We offered Phoenix a compelling package to go there but it was not embraced by the promoter. We cannot go there for free, although free is an exaggeration.”
So let me get this straight.  With good solid markets (Brazil), the IndyCar Series can establish other races at venues in which the finances might not be as strong.  So why is New Hampshire out of consideration?  Because of a small window for their racing season?  That makes no sense to me - if Angstadt says that the strength of some venues allows the ICS to go to less-financially feasible venues, then why wouldn't New Hampshire be on that list?

New Hampshire Motor Speedway has a promoter who wants IndyCar Racing.  Let me repeat that - he wants to bring IndyCars to his track.  Yet the IndyCar Series, despite Angstadt's earlier quote about venues, won't go there.  Honestly, I don't understand why the series would look for a road venue next to Gillette Stadium instead of an oval in New England (unless a title sponsorship is involved). 

In my opinion, give New Hampshire their chance.  If they can't draw fans to the track, fine, but at least you've tried.  This is a new, better version of IndyCar racing (remember, there is side-by-side racing on ovals!) that I think people in New Hampshire would embrace.  I'd go, I know that much.  And tapping into the New England market would help the series.  To not go to New Hampshire reeks of unnecessary hubris.

With those three points covered, we can now resume the search for IndyCar racing.  Eventually we'll find it (unless you're on DirecTV), I'm sure.

02 September 2009

There's Always Someone

So on the heels of another fantastic finish at Chicagoland, Speed's Robin Miller writes in his post-race notebook that:
IndyCar has somehow avoided The Big One as long as its had this package. Still, it would be nice to see a little more separation in 2010. And it would be even nicer to see Phoenix, Loudon and Milwaukee replace Kansas, Chicago and Homestead by 2011.
Now, I've been an advocate of finding a way to get the IndyCar Series to Phoenix and New Hampshire (and back to Milwaukee).  But at the expense of three ovals makes no sense to me.  Yes, IndyCar will play second fiddle to Trucks at Kansas in 2010, and who knows who will show up at Homestead.  But if the oval package is producing consistent side-by-side racing, why would the IndyCar Series shoot itself in the foot by taking away three ovals, especially it's most successful side-by-side racing track?

Yes, the pack racing that closed the race at Chicagoland was dangerous.  It was also damned exciting.  That edge of controlled chaos and carnage is one of the primary reasons people watch IndyCar racing.  Any driver in NASCAR can run into another vehicle - with closed wheels, heavy cars and lower speeds you are more protected than in IndyCar.  As Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi can testify, when open wheels touch, the results are much more interesting.  

Besides, if Helio Castroneves hadn't turned right instead of left with a handful of laps remaining, we would have never seen the pack finish we did. Would Miller still be advocating to leave Chicagoland if the 1st-13th hadn't been within 0.8 second of each other?  Because prior to Castroneves' crash, it was roughly 10 seconds (or more, I haven't watched the race replay).  That crash brought together a perfect storm of elements for the finish - a bunched field and side-by-side racing.  Yet, every driver in the field seemed to drive fairly smart over those final 5 laps.

Look, wrecks are going to happen.  They happen on road/street circuits; they happen on ovals.  Just because cars happen to run close at one track in particular (and over green flags the top cars separated themselves pretty easily) is no reason to suggest that the IndyCar Series abandon Chicagoland.

I agree with plenty of what Miller says in his notebook (especially about start times, though I can appreciate night racing at the right tracks), but on abandoning Chicagoland, he is way off.

01 September 2009

Terry Angstadt is a Sly Fox

DirecTV and Versus could not reach an agreement on a new contract, so as of right now, IndyCar fans who use DirecTV cannot see the IndyCar Series (this would include many sports bars and grills as well) at home.  
However, thanks to Terry Angstadt and the scheduling genius of 2009, IndyCar fans have 18 days (18!) for Versus and DirecTV to come together on a contract.  It's almost like Angstadt saw this coming when he scheduled the final three races of 2009 over 42 days.

With his sage-like scheduling, Angstadt has created a window for DirecTV subscribers to hold out hope that IndyCar racing will return to the satellite within two weeks.  And with Versus holding the rights to some early college football games, too, the demand for the network may be there (maybe).  

Just in case you don't get Versus back, DirecTV subscribers, at least you have your memories from the last race you saw - just keep those visions of three-wide racing and 1st-13th coming within 0.8 second of each other.  Besides, that's all any of us have for the next 18 days, anyways.