16 November 2010

Dallara Breaks Ground on Speedway Facility; IndyCar Continues Positive Momentum

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was originally constructed as a testing facility for the burgeoning American automobile industry, so when Dallara was selected to continue building the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series chassis, it was only natural for the Italian company to return to Speedway, Ind.
On Tuesday, Dallara broke ground on their first facility outside of Italy, just blocks from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  The factory, located on Main Street in Speedway, will allow the 2012 safety cell to be developed, tested and produced in Indianapolis.
Gian Paolo Dallara, founder of Dallara Autombili, said of the building:
"Our design for the 2012 IndyCar Series safety cell is innovative, green, cost effective and faster than ever before.  The safety cell will be designed in Italy meanwhile the development, the tests and the production will be done right here in the heart of Speedway, the home open wheel racing. Our continual engineering evaluation of the chassis will take place in Speedway. We are excited to become an integral part of this community that is so steeped in racing tradition and motorsports advancements."
The 100,000 square foot building, which will be built following the demolition of the factory on its current site, will allow fans passing by to gain glimpses of the production process through several windows and will house a restaurant and museum.
While Dallara plans on using about sixty percent of the building, the Indy Racing Experience (which provides thrills like this) will also move into the building.
Speedway Redevelopment Commission officials are confident that Dallara's commitment to Speedway and open-wheel racing will be the green flag on development in Speedway.  Already, IZOD IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard feels that Dallara's move to Speedway further positions the town and open-wheel racing series on solid footing:
"As this new Dallara facility positions Speedway for future growth, the cost-effective package that will be produced here will also position the series for growth, and will foster the tradition of innovation in open-wheel racing and the Town of Speedway"
Dallara and the IZOD IndyCar Series intend to have testing of the 2012 chassis begun by June 2011, including the aero kit that Dallara will also produce to fit the safety cell.

23 September 2010

The Hidden Points of Edmonton

First, it's been nine days since writing, which doesn't sit right with me.  I apologize - between transitioning jobs and the IZOD IndyCar Series closing the season on a bye week-race-bye week schedule, I just haven't had much to write about.

With that in mind, it's time we thoroughly examine something we have been harping upon for the better part of three weeks: the hypothetical scenario in which Helio Castroneves would be a championship contender if he had been given the win at Edmonton.

Looking at the numbers, if Castroneves had been awarded the win at Edmonton, he would still be out of the points title, trailing by 51 points entering the season's final race at Homestead-Miami.  In our mock results, Castroneves took first and 50 points, with Scott Dixon being awarded second and the 40 points (if blocking wasn't called on Castroneves why would it be on Dixon?).

With Will Power finishing third and receiving 38 points (for the pole and laps led bonuses), he held six more points than Dario Franchitti, who was fourth in our scenario, picking up 32 points.

Thus, in our mock standings entering Homestead, Power is the series points leader with 582 points; the Australian is actually the loser in the points rearrangement, as he leads Franchitti by just 10 points instead of the 12 he will carry into the series finale.  By moving from 43 points to 38 (while Franchitti went from 35 to 32), Power would be in a similar, but more precarious situation.

Castroneves would hold a 44-point advantage over Dixon for third, sitting on 531 points.

As the points stand now, Power can finish directly behind Franchitti and win the title, provided Franchitti does not capture the maximum 53 points.  In our mock championship, Franchitti could win and lead the most laps (or capture the pole and win) and win the title.

For Castroneves, it isn't Edmonton that served as the death knell for his season; instead, it was the wreck with Vitor Meira at Toronto that threw his championship aspirations out the window.  With a car capable of running up front, Castroneves jumped the gun on a pass of the slower Meira in an attempt to retake the lead - when the pass failed, Castroneves was out of the race with 12 points to show for it.

So instead of wondering where Castroneves would stand without Edmonton, perhaps its time to focus on how the points standings would be different for both Power and Franchitti if they had finished behind Castroneves in Alberta.

14 September 2010

Breaking Down the 2011 Schedule

Last week, the IZOD IndyCar Series announced their 2011 schedule, minus a season finale.  We were live in Milwaukee to cover it for SB Nation Indiana, taking the series' plane to the Milwaukee Mile.

My impressions of the venue will be included as we break down each and every one of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series races.

  1. March 27 - Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
    A natural choice to open the season.  It was always fun when the series opened with Homestead and St. Petersburg on back-to-back weekends, testing teams on both their oval and street prowess, but with the party-like atmosphere of both IZOD and Tampa-St. Pete, this should be fun.  Plus, the series might catch a spring breaker or two in the crowd.

  2. April 10 - Hondy Indy Grand Prix of Alabama
    After a week off, the "Southern Swing" continues; Birmingham will hopefully be warm enough on April 10 for the race, but the crowd at Barber was promising in 2010.  If the weather cooperates, there will be plenty of road course enthusiasts in the crowd once again.

    I'm traditionally not a fan of weeks off, and this one is no exception.  On baseball's opening day, I find it ridiculous that teams take the day after off, though I understand the reasoning.  When the IndyCar Series is running just 17 races, it seems like you immediately blunt an momentum gained on March 27 by saying, "Welcome back.  Now wait another two weeks until we're back again."

  3. April 17 - Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
    Given the hype and marketing IZOD put behind the race in 2010, it stands to reason that the marketing machine will be back in business the week following Barber.  The 37th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach may not feature much passing, but the activity off the track should make viewing and attending worth the trip.

  4. May 1 - Sao Paulo Indy 300
    The first road/street course swing of the season ends in Brazil.  Last year, the track required last-minute changes, but produced some of the most thrilling racing of the season.  Give Tony Cotman and NZR Consulting a full year to develop the circuit, and it should deliver exciting racing once again.

    Plus, given Will Power's proficiency at the road/street courses, he might have a 100-point lead heading to Indianapolis.

  5. May 29 - Indianapolis 500
    It is the 100th anniversary of the world's greatest race, at the world's most popular track.  One driver will be going for his fourth 500 win, and another his third.  I really don't have to say much more.

  6. June 11 - Firestone Twin 275s
    Two weeks after the Indianapolis 500, Texas Motor Speedway was guaranteed the first date following the historic race, presumably to promote the hell out of the 500 winner and also to begin promotions for its return to an historic format.

    Open-wheel racing has not staged a dual set of races in nearly 30 years; while the format of the Twin 275s has not been set, the uniqueness of the setup alone should make the race intriguing.

  7. June 19 - Milwaukee Mile
    Having been on site for the announcement that the IZOD IndyCar Series would be returning to the Wisconsin State Fair, I can vouch that the fans in attendance were certainly excited to bring IndyCar back to the Mile.

    Talking with some of the promotional team, they were excited not only about the future and buzz surrounding the IZOD IndyCar Series, but some of the promotional possibilities at the Mile.  With a multitude of bars around the facility, watering holes could be sold as corporate tents, for instance.  Camping lies just a short walk from Turn 3, allowing patrons to tailgate at least a day before the race.

    With aggressive promotions, an open market (given the absence of a race at Chicagoland), a starved fan base, and a drivers' track, Milwaukee should be a success.

  8. June 25 - Iowa Corn Indy 250
    The series moves from a 1-mile oval to a .875-mile oval in Newton, Iowa.  Fortunately, this isn't a situation where the IZOD IndyCar Series runs consecutive road/street courses.  According to Ryan Briscoe, Iowa drives more like a superspeedway, leaving it on the opposite end of the scale from Milwaukee.

    After a series of exciting races, Iowa takes the next step forward - adding a night race to the docket.  Should make for an excellent time in the Hawkeye State.

  9. July 10 - Honda Indy Toronto
    In the IZOD IndyCar Series' two editions in Toronto, the racing has been riveting; with as much, if not more contact than on an oval, Toronto has featured plenty of passing and frayed emotions.  Kicking off a string of three straight road/street circuits, Toronto should keep growing in popularity.

  10. July 24 - Honda Indy Edmonton
    In the last two years, Edmonton has run concurrent to the Brickyard 400.  From a television standpoint, who knows how much going up against one of NASCAR's signature events hurts the ratings for the IndyCar Series.

    The airport circuit is unique solely to the IZOD IndyCar Series and Edmonton airport.  Given how the 2010 race ended, you can be sure that attention will be paid to this race.

    From a scheduling standpoint, the series enters into a portion of its schedule in which it alternates racing and taking a week off; from a momentum-building standpoint, running four races in a seven-week stretch blunts the excitement built from the Indianapolis 500 through Iowa.

  11. Aug. 7 - Honda Indy 200
    The IZOD IndyCar Series takes another week off, this time to trek from Alberta to the middle of Ohio.  With Honda's strong support of the event, given their plants in the area, and the strong history of the circuit, the stop in Lexington, Ohio, is one of the series' top stops.

    Yes, the racing is often lacking at Mid-Ohio.  Whether or not that changes in 2012 with the new IZOD IndyCar Series chassis remains to be seen.  But from a spectator standpoint, Mid-Ohio brings plenty to the table.

  12. Aug. 14 - New Hampshire Motor Speedway
    The series takes a brief respite from the road/street swing to make its way back the northeast for the first time since 1998.  Drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series politicked to have more drivers' tracks added to the 2011 schedule, and with New Hampshire Motor Speedway begging for an IndyCar race, the match between the two was easy to put together (albeit a year late).

    Last year prior to the Indianapolis 500, IZOD took the drivers to New York and Boston for a promotional tour prior to the race; with the series heading back to New England, another large marketing swing through Boston is in order.

  13. Aug. 28 - Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma
    Let the criss-crossing of the country begin.  Getting haulers from Loudon, N.H., to Infineon Raceway will take close to five days as is, making a week break in between necessary.  Of all the events at Sonoma in 2010, the IZOD IndyCar Series was the only one to show growth.

    IZOD put on a huge marketing push in the San Francisco area, while major sponsors like Target bring out large numbers of employees to the track.  With that kind of support, plus the scenery around Infineon, the stop should continue to grow in popularity.

  14. Sept. 4 - Streets of Baltimore
    Back across the country for the IZOD IndyCar Series.  And for the first time since the series visited Dover (yikes), IndyCar returns to the Mid-Atlantic.  With the course running through Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the visuals should be amazing.  
    While the layout has changed, it still looks to have plenty of the long straights and sharp turns to promote passing.

    Will Power and Mario Andretti should be meeting following the race, as odds are Power will pick up his second consecutive Road/Street Course Trophy.

  15. Sept. 18 - Indy Japan 300
    Once again, Japan will play a role in the countdown to the IndyCar championship.  Being in Honda's backyard, the stop is a huge hit for the series.  The egg-shaped track also provides a unique challenge for the Indycars.

    Unfortunately, the placement of the race also serves as a major impediment to establishing interest and momentum in the championship.  With the race telecast beginning near midnight on the east coast, and with the IndyCar Series' ability to create a close race for the series title, having races air at a time in which the most eyeballs can find them is imperative.  Motegi does not come close to accomplishing this, unfortunately.

  16. Oct. 2 - Kentucky Indy 300
    Another impediment of staging the Motegi race late in the year is that it sucks three weeks from the calendar - one week for teams to pack for Japan and another for them to return from Japan.  Once again, when staging a championship (or playoff), taking weeks off does not help in the build up.

    Kentucky should once again be able to put on an excellent show, but the question is whether or not it will be enough to help create enough momentum for the IZOD IndyCar Series heading into its series finale.

  17. Oct. 16 - series championship
    This race will be either at Fontana or Las Vegas, with Las Vegas being the betting favorite.  In either case, the marketing powers of IZOD should drive interest in the race.

    Personally, I'd rather see the series go to Fontana on Oct. 9 and close in Las Vegas on Oct. 16.  Fontana allows the series a second stop in the Los Angeles area, bookending its stop in Long Beach.  It would also give the series three races in three weeks, allowing for story lines to be continued in a relatively normal time frame.
With 8 ovals and 9 road/street courses, the schedule once again features the strong balance that was the hallmark of the halcyon days of open-wheel racing.

My only quibble with the schedule is the number of weeks off throughout the year, but until the IZOD IndyCar Series finds more tracks that want to host and market the series (which it appears to be building momentum towards), it makes sense to limit it to 18 races on 17 circuits.

09 September 2010

Throwback Liveries

On Tuesday, More Front Wing's Paul Dalbey and I were trading ideas via twitter on throwback liveries.  That got me thinking: which cars from IndyCar's glory days would we most want to see recreated for a race?

In no particular order, here are a few:

  • Danny Sullivan, 1988.  The goldMiller machine was not Sullivan's most famous car (the 1985 spin n' win livery probably is), but it is highly recognizable.

    As Paul suggested, with the series returning to Milwaukee, it would be a nice bone to throw in the home of the Miller Brewery.

    The only question is whether Andretti Autosport (currently sponsored by Miller Lite) or Penske would run the car.

  • Bobby Rahal, 1986.  2011 marks the 25th anniversary of Rahal's lone Indianapolis 500 victory.

    What better way to commemorate the achievement than by
    having Graham Rahal run the familiar Budweiser/Red Roof Inn car at Indianapolis?

    If the younger Rahal winds up running for his father's team next season, how does this not happen?

     All that's left is for Graham to grow out the mustache and get some glasses.  Honestly, this idea cannot fail. 

  • Rick Mears, 1988.  Mears' third Indianapolis 500-winning car is another logical choice for Penske to run.  In 2011, Penske will receive primary sponsorship from Shell/Pennzoil for its NASCAR program.  The team will also use some of the sponsorship for its IndyCar side, though not as a primary sponsor.

    Mears was always a fan favorite; running the familiar yellow Pennzoil car would surely be a hit with fans once again.  

    Plus, for those who don't want to cheer for Penske, it's a reminder of Sam Hornish, Jr.'s strong runs in the early days of the Indy Racing League.  Alas, he went to Penske, so it all comes back to them, I suppose.

  • Bobby Unser, 1981.  Again, another anniversary car.  This one for one of the most controversial finishes in Indianapolis 500 history.  Bobby Unser's Norton machine from his third and final Indianapolis victory would be a historic choice.

    Additionally, it would give fans a quick little history lesson.

    Penske probably can't commemorate Rick Mears' fourth Indianapolis win with the Marlboro car, so this would be a substitute.

08 September 2010

The Land of Brats and Beer

After a one-year hiatus, the IZOD IndyCar Series is headed back to Milwaukee.

A driver's track, the short oval gives the series three such tracks now - New Hampshire, Iowa and Milwaukee.  Drivers have been clamoring for more "driver's tracks" that require more than holding the gas down for two hours.

The full schedule release will be done from the Milwaukee Mile on Friday, but it appears that the series will have a 8/9 oval/road & street mix.

03 September 2010

My Old Kentucky Home

Actually, I've never lived in Kentucky.  And I've told my share of Kentucky jokes.  When you grow up in Indianapolis, you do those sort of things.

But I'll give Kentucky credit for building one helluva racetrack.  Kentucky was my first non-Indianapolis race, as I soaked in the excitement of 2- and 3-wide racing and the duel between
Good and Evil Ed Carpenter and Ryan Briscoe.

And while I can't make it to Kentucky this weekend (a major disappointment), I can still preview the race with words (note, this also runs on
SB Nation Indiana):

After their 86th IZOD IndyCar Series race decided by less than a second (in 199 events), the series heads to Kentucky Speedway, site of one of the most exciting races of the 2009 season.  0.0162 of a second separated Team Penske Ryan Briscoe and underdog Ed Carpenter.  For Carpenter, the win would have been the signature (and only) victory of his career.
The 1.5-mile oval is similar to Chicagoland Speedway, where pack racing dominated most of last weekend's night race; more is expected at the track just south of Cincinnati.
2009 Winner: Ryan Briscoe.  The Australian dueled with Carpenter over the final laps, each utilizing their push-to-pass button throughout and keeping fans on their feet.  
Briscoe's season has not gone as smoothly as last year's when he came within a few laps of the series championship.  He qualified on the pole at Chicagoland and ran up front throughout until his last stop put him back in the pack.
What to Watch:  Don't take your eyes off the lead pack.  Having been in attendance at Chicagoland, I can vouch for the addictive nature of watching 10-12 open-wheel cars moving at 200-plus mph within inches of each other.  Kentucky should feature more of the same - it did last year until late pit stops separated the field.
Who to Watch: Carpenter.  The 29-year old was inches from a career-defining win at Kentucky in 2009.  One wonders if he had won the race if he would have a full-time ride in the IZOD IndyCar Series this season.  
When Carpenter has run, he has been competitive.  At the Indianapolis 500, he qualified in the third row and was running near the front before a (dubious) blocking penalty brought him through the pits.  At Chicagoland, his car was once again at or near the front, only to be felled by mechanical troubles.
When to Watch: Versus has the coverage of the race, beginning at 8 p.m. ET (find Versus in your area here) on Saturday night.  Indycar.com will have streaming of practices, qualifications and the Firestone IndyLights race.  

29 August 2010

My Kinda Town

Despite Chicagoland Speedway being a short drive up I-65, I had never made the trip to Joliet, Ill..  To be honest, my knowledge of Joliet consisted of The Blues Brothers.  But with tickets readily available and hotels relatively cheap in Chicago, making it to Chicagoland was easy this year.

Just like at Kentucky last year, fans were treated to a typical Chicagoland finish - frantic and close.  In all honesty, when a .042 of a second finish is considered 'not that close,' the IZOD IndyCar Series clearly possesses the right formula for success at Chicagoland.

Honestly, upon arriving at the track, I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of a crowd.  Tailgating in the parking lot, there seemed to be a steady stream of cars heading into the lots.  And what turned out to be a late-arriving crowd saw a thrilling race, one that was eerily reminiscent of the Indianapolis 500, minus a death-defying late crash.

The crowd wasn't big enough that my wife and I couldn't move around to different seats during the race; the strategy at Chicagoland Speedway appeared to be to work down from the tops of each section, as Row 63 was well-filled, while rows lower were not.  By the end of the race, we had moved down to Row 53, or something like that.

Regardless, the action on track was exciting throughout the night; the leaders ran in a pack for most of the night, spreading out briefly as Sarah Fisher moved back through the field after an alternate pit strategy moved her to the front.  While Ryan Briscoe held the lead, he was quickly reeled in by Will Power and Marco Andretti, and the lead pack was back together for the remainder of the race.

At the three-quarter mark of the race, it looked like all Dan Wheldon would need was a solid pit stop in order to pick up Panther's first win in a few years.  Instead it was Dario Franchitti's daring pit strategy that won him the day.  And combined with Power's late pit stop because of a lack of fuel, the series points championship became much more interesting.

Power's mistake is the kind he must avoid the rest of the way if he wants to win; though the Team Penske driver showed well most of the night and was a contender to win, he left a chance at a win on the table and let Franchitti close within 23 points with three races to go.  Once again, it looks as if the IZOD IndyCar Series championship will come down to Homestead-Miami.

To lose Chicagoland Speedway would be a major mistake for the IZOD IndyCar Series and the International Speedway, Corporation.  The series has given no indication that they are looking to leave the track, while the reception has been cool from ISC.  Still, with a decent crowd and always exciting racing, it would behoove both sides to come together and find a date that works.  And if they do, I'll be back. 

26 August 2010

Your Chicagoland Preview

(Note: I am also writing over at SB Nation Indiana, covering auto racing.  That means I write about NASCAR and any other series that visits Indiana.  You can follow SB Nation by clicking here.  This also means that the following article runs on SB Nation Indiana, too.)

With the Sprint Cup Series taking the weekend off, the IZOD IndyCar Series takes center stage on Saturday night, putting one of its most exciting races on display at Chicagoland Speedway.  The Peak Antifreeze and Motor Oil Indy 300 has routinely produced side-by-side racing and photo finishes, with five of the 10 closest finishes in series history occurring at the Joliet, Ill., track.

Last year, Ryan Briscoe used his push-to-pass button down the stretch to hold off Scott Dixon at the line, winning by .0077 of a second.  While another photo finish isn't guaranteed, it isn't advised to miss the end of this race.

Chicagoland marks the beginning of the final stretch of the IZOD IndyCar season.  While the series does not have a "Chase," it doesn't need one either, as each of the last four seasons (and six of the last eight) have seen the series title come down to the final race.  Though Will Power holding a 59-point lead with four races to go, questions still remain about his ability to hold onto the lead on the 1.5-mile ovals.

Power has never finished better than fifth on an oval, while his closest pursuer, Dario Franchitti, is one of the most well-rounded drivers in the IndyCar Series.  Franchitti knows a thing or two about close finishes, having won both of his series titles (2007, 2009) in the last race of the year.

2009 Winner:
Ryan Briscoe. Briscoe's win by a scant .0077 of a second helped push him into the series lead at the time, and the Team Penske driver narrowly lost the series title after Franchitti's win at Homestead-Miami in the series finale. This year, Briscoe could use the pick-me-up, as he has won just once in a relatively 2010 season. Briscoe's lone win was on another 1.5-mile oval, coming at Texas.

What to Watch:
The side-by-side racing. The 1.5-miles tend to bunch the IndyCar field, and if faster drivers get stuck behind slower traffic, be sure to keep an eye on that. With 29 drivers scheduled to take the green flag, conflicts between front-runners and backmarkers are sure to crop up over the 300 miles.

Who to Watch:
Power. If he is going to win his first IZOD IndyCar Series championship, his performance on the last four races of the year will decide his fate.  The Australian has shown steady progress on ovals, finishing fifth at Iowa after claiming the pole. Power also qualified second at Indianapolis.

Keep an eye on Franchitti and Dixon as well, as both need to race for wins the rest of the way if they want to make up ground on Power. For Dixon, the eighth time at Chicagoland might be the charm. In his first seven trips to the track, the Kiwi has finished second five times, including 2009.

When to Watch:
Versus has the coverage from Joliet, Ill., beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET, on Saturday night. Indycar.com will have streaming of practices, qualifications and the Firestone IndyLights race.

SB Nation Indiana
and Drive Hard, Turn Left will be providing on-the-scene coverage during the weekend as well, so be sure to check back often for updates from Joliet.

23 August 2010

Is Dominance Boring?

Will Power won on Sunday.  Again.  For the fifth time in 2010.  He's hitting 5-for-9 on road/street courses this year.  Basically, Will Power is 1941 Ted Williams when required to turn left and right.

But Power's success raises a philosophical question: is dominance good for the IZOD IndyCar Series?

I, without question, say yes.  Having Will Power control the road/street races this year has been excellent for the series.

touched on the subject of Will Power before - after Long Beach, when he was 2-for-3 on the young season.    And while he hasn't quite kept up that pace, the 29-year old has been impressive almost everywhere he has been in 2010, from his .556 winning percentage on the road/street courses to qualifying second at Indianapolis to a fifth-place showing at Iowa.

It wasn't boring watching the Bulls dominate the 1990's in basketball; through talent and a gigantic marketing effort, everyone knew Michael Jordon (or thought they did).  Fans watched expressly to see what would happen next.  Same with the New York Yankees of the late 90's.  Love them or hate them (just like Team Penske), they brought people to the stands and to the TV.

Now, to be honest, this has not happened just yet in regards to Will Power.  But I will admit that when a road/street course is on the schedule, I notice it and make sure to pay attention to Power.  Yes, Mid-Ohio saw exactly 0 passes for the lead on track, but given Power's prowess (say that three times fast), watching him try and hunt down Dario Franchitti was still fun to watch.

In the midst of Shark Week, Power chasing Franchitti was the IndyCar equivalent of the great whites chasing seals off the South African coast.

Sure, Power led 73 laps on Sunday.  Was it exciting?  If you enjoy watching the best in the sport put on a near-flawless performance, yes.  If you enjoy the story of a man who broke his back at the same track a year ago and returned to dominate the track and his competitors, then yes.

We are a cynical bunch, the IndyCar fans.  Unfortunately, we too often look the gift horse in the mouth.  Instead, recognize that a star is emerging - a relatively young, increasingly charismatic young man who is only going to get better over the next few years.  Sit back and enjoy what you're witnessing.  Because these types of seasons don't come along too often.    

17 August 2010

The Importance of SMI to the IndyCar Series Moving Forward

In the battle for control of racetracks, Speedway Motorsports Inc. (no relation to the town of Speedway, Ind.) and the International Speedway Corporation run most of the major racetracks around the country.  Some major tracks outside their control: Dover, Pocono, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

When it comes to the IZOD IndyCar Series, the two corporations presently control 7 of the 17 circuits on which the series operates: Kansas, Texas, Watkins Glen, Infineon (Sonoma), Chicagoland, Kentucky and Homestead-Miami.  Of those tracks, SMI controls three (Texas, Sonoma and Kentucky), while ISC holds control of four tracks.

The IZOD IndyCar Series has already committed to heading to a fourth SMI track in 2011, adding New Hampshire Motor Speedway to its proposed schedule.  With NHMS on board, the IndyCar Series is holding events on four of SMI's eight major tracks, leaving Atlanta, Bristol, Charlotte and Las Vegas on the outside looking in.  (The IZOD IndyCar Series hits four of 12 ISC circuits.)

Of those four, three - Atlanta, Charlotte and Las Vegas - have all hosted IndyCar races in the past.

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard is already on the record as saying he'd like to try and go back to Las Vegas, possibly using the facility as a season-ending race.  Looking ahead, the Craftsman Truck Series runs their event at Las Vegas in late September, possibly creating a pairing with the IICS.

What is the difference between the two companies when it comes to hosting the IZOD IndyCar Series?  Perhaps the largest word is "indifference."  While ISC often treats IndyCar Series races as the red-headed stepchild of their racing schedule, SMI has reached out and actively promoted the series.

At New Hampshire, Dario Franchitti was allowed to showcase the IZOD IndyCar Series with a lap prior to the track's NASCAR race.  Texas Motor Speedway hosted a major press conference later tonight with Bernard and Helio Castroneves in attendance at the House of Blues in Dallas.  Over 1,000 people are expected to attend.

The marketing effort behind the announcement of twin 275s at Texas Motor Speedway helped put the story at the top of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's online section this morning.  During football season.  That doesn't happen every day in Texas.  That's market saturation that the IZOD IndyCar Series won't receive for a schedule announcement anywhere outside of Indianapolis.

While Eddie Gossage may be the best motorsports marketer in the business these days, he goes out of his way to promote the IZOD IndyCar Series, whether it be in this form or serving on the ICONIC committee.  It's just another reflection of SMI's commitment to hosting, and more importantly, putting on a show when the IZOD IndyCar Series comes to their tracks.

While the IndyCar Series won't be at Kentucky in Sept. 2011 (they will likely be in the Bluegrass State earlier in the year), I expect their Labor Day Weekend IndyCar race to be well attended, with camping spots utilized throughout the weekend.

The future between the IZOD IndyCar Series and SMI appears to be bright.  While I don't anticipate seeing IndyCar races at Atlanta, Charlotte or Bristol any time soon, I wouldn't rule any of those tracks out, either.

Meanwhile, the attitude towards the IndyCar Series from ISC could not be more polar opposite.  With recent track schedule announcements at Chicagoland and Kansas, future IndyCar dates at both tracks received nothing more than standard "we're working and we'll see" responses.

I'll be at Chicagoland, and I'm interested to see how much promotion it receives in the Chicago area.  With IZOD's help, I would fully expect it to be well-promoted from the IndyCar side of things, much as they have done in San Francisco leading up to the Sonoma race.  If anything, the market size of Chicago would probably help the IndyCar Series accept a deal to return to the track, even at a reduced rate.

Even though the IndyCar Series has traditionally brought exciting racing (and the occasional solid crowd) to the tracks, it appears that ISC would rather have the circuits be empty, with no cars running, than to bring the IICS back to their venues.  Included in the losing relationship is Watkins Glen, which remains one of the most historic open-wheel venues in America.  However, it appears that ISC would rather not invest in promoting the history of open-wheel racing at the track if it can continue to host NASCAR events.

The only way the IZOD IndyCar Series can keep or add venues from ISC appears to be in a package deal.  For instance, fans have been clamoring for a return to Phoenix International Raceway; but based upon rumors, the only way it will be put on future IndyCar schedules is if Auto Club Raceway is also used for an IndyCar race.

To be honest, I'd make that trade in a heartbeat.  Located outside Los Angeles, Fontana allows the IZOD IndyCar Series to saturate the L.A. market at the beginning (Long Beach) and end of season (Fontana) if scheduled properly.  It appeared that IZOD's marketing initiatives leading up to the Long Beach race were well-received.  Now what if they came back 5 months later, with a series championship on the line?

While it looks like ISC-owned tracks at Kansas, Homestead-Miami and Watkins Glen will be coming off the schedule, at least one (and possibly two) SMI tracks are coming on board.  Without the involvement of SMI, the IZOD IndyCar Series is caught between a rock and a hard place moving forward.

If SMI were not interested in putting the IndyCar product on track, or promoting it, ISC would have the series in a vice when it comes to contract negotiations.  ISC, which works hand-in-hand with NASCAR, could in theory be the death-knell to oval IndyCar racing, were it not for a few independent operators (Iowa, IMS) and SMI.  

At the very least, the IndyCar Series has leverage because of SMI's demonstrated commitment to hosting and marketing IndyCar events.  Moving into 2011 and beyond, that commitment bodes well for the future of the IZOD IndyCar Series.

12 August 2010

Sorting Out Hints in the IndyCar Schedule

The last few days have left plenty of crumbs on the trail towards figuring out the 2011 IZOD IndyCar schedule.  We'll try to start at the beginning and sort through all the breaded goodness that has been sprinkled on the way.

First, we have the excellent interview at
Planet-IRL.com with IndyCar head honcho Randy Bernard.  In his interview with Stephanie, Bernard says:
“I think we’ll be able to release it before August 30th.  There will probably be one or two that we’ll hold because there’s some steps in there that we need to put in place beforehand, and a couple of them will require some board meetings, which would mean it would be into September.  Mid-September, maybe.
Always a crafty one, that Bernard.  Leaving himself plenty of room on the release date.  I've got think that the schedule will come out on Labor Day weekend, or in the leadup to Motegi, to try and generate any attention on that race.

Shortly after Mid-Ohio, Bruce Martin mentioned that with the loss of the Kentucky Labor Day date,
Baltimore would probably slide into that date.  Of course, this is all dependent on the Major League Baseball schedule.  Because, apparently people still go to Orioles games.  I was surprised by this development, too.

To add to the confusion, Chicagoland Speedway received a new NASCAR date.  In all likelihood, Chicagoland, along with Kentucky, are headed to the middle of the IndyCar schedule, sometime in June.

The loss of the late August Chicago race has Paul at Planet-IRL.com speculating that
2011 will be the end of IndyCar at the oval, which would be a major loss for the IZOD IndyCar Series.  Hopefully the folks at Chicagoland can look through the ISC-tinted lenses to release that good, exciting, open-wheel racing can sell in the Chicago area.

Just for fun, New Hampshire Motor Speedway fiddled around with its NASCAR race dates, too, forcing the IndyCar Series off their intended date of July 31.  According to
USA Today's Nate Ryan, NHMS will see the return of IndyCars on August 14 now.

But that's in the middle of the road/street block of courses.  Does this mean those are coming to an end?  Let us hope so.

Then just, for fun, Brant James broke the news about a major press conference that Texas Motor Speedway would be holding on Tuesday.  Per his
twitter account:

Dual same-day races will be the Izod #indycarSeries news from @TXMotorSpeedway presser Tuesday. CART ran 126-miles x2 at Michigan 7/15/79  
What does that mean?  Who knows.  It's tough for me to think that Texas would be run as a day-night doubleheader of sorts in early June.  What I could see is Texas becoming an All-Star race of sorts, running two races at night and inverting the field (or some kind of gimmick) for the second race.  Though with an inversion, if the field isn't, well, competent, that is positively frightening to think about on the banks of Texas Motor Speedway.

And we haven't even thrown in speculation of a finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway or the return of Milwaukee to the IZOD IndyCar Series yet.  With 20 days until Bernard's first deadline, he's already creating plenty of intrigue about the 2011 schedule

11 August 2010

The Beginning of the End of the Blocked Schedule?

Earlier this week (and just below this post), it was outlined why the blocked scheduling of tracks - both ovals and road/street circuits - needs to come to an end.

Now, it appears the first blocks in the wall are coming down.  Per USA Today auto racing writer
Nate Ryan's twitter account:
New Hampshire Motor Speedway moves its previously announced IndyCar date from July 31 to Aug. 14 to accommodate mid-July #nascar race.
As the schedule stands right now, that race falls directly after Mid-Ohio and before Sonoma.  With rumors persisting that the Baltimore race will be over Labor Day weekend, it would seem that the blocked schedule is being adjusted rather sharply, though we should know more around Aug. 30 (though my money is on Labor Day weekend at Kentucky for a formal announcement).

09 August 2010

Putting an End to the Blocked Schedule

(Note: this post has been updated to reflect recent events pertaining to the IZOD IndyCar Series.)

Watkins Glen.  Toronto.  Edmonton.  Mid-Ohio.  Sonoma.  All challenging courses in their own right, but put them together over a seven week stretch, and they begin to blur together.  By August 22, when the IZOD IndyCar Series returns after its second straight two week hiatus, all I know is, as a fan of the series, I'm worn out on road and street circuits.

This isn't a knock on any of the courses or venues - far from it as
I believe that the series needs a balanced schedule in order to properly identify the best driver of the course of a season.  But to stack the schedule with five consecutive road/street courses and to follow with four similar ovals, doesn't create the most exciting racing conditions.

I fully understand what the IZOD IndyCar Series was trying to do when they went to the "stacked" schedule in 2009.  By pairing tracks and courses around each other, teams can save time and money by not having to convert chassis to road or oval configurations on a weekly basis.  At its most basic, it does make sense.

But, from a fan's point of view, I'm not necessarily interested in what is easiest for a team.  I want to identify the best team, whether that be Team Penske or HVM Racing.  Let's see who can adjust from a tricky 7/8 of a mile ring at Iowa to a road course in a week (or two).  The
2008 schedule started at Homestead-Miami and went to the Streets of St. Petersburg just a week later.

Over the course of the summer in 2008, the IndyCar Series went from a 1 mile (Milwaukee) to a 1.5 mile white-knuckler (Texas), back to a smaller course (the 7/8 mile bullring at Iowa), graduated to a slightly larger track (Richmond), before going road-oval-road over the next three weeks (Watkins Glen-Nashville-Mid-Ohio, respectively).

That kind of variety and mixing up of the schedule brings excitement to the series.  In that span, the seven races were won by five different drivers, from four different teams.  To the casual viewer, at least that looks exciting.  In the last four races of 2010 - all road/street circuits, three drivers from two teams have won (though that is indicative of the state of the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2010, too).

With different types of courses, mixed in throughout the year, fans can see different drivers near the front.  Unfortunately, by lumping courses together, the same drivers wind up being seen at the front of the field nearly every race.  Since the 4th of July, fans have been treated to the Will Power Show.  While that's well and good (watching a supremely talented driver is a fine thing), it gets repetitive over the course of six weeks.  Unfortunately, when five street/road courses, or even four-five ovals, are strung together, that's what the IZOD IndyCar Series begins to feel like - reruns.

Furthermore, given the recent announcements from NASCAR pertaining to their 2011 schedule, it reflects the IZOD IndyCar Series' need to remain flexible in its scheduling.  Blocking tracks together can put the series in a bind when it comes to creating the schedule.  Right now, the apparent best date for a race at Chicagoland Speedway in 2011 comes when the series is entering its annual five-circuit swing on road/street courses.  New Hampshire Motor Speedway, whose IndyCar race was originally slated for July 30, might not be able to hold that date if the rumors of a mid-July NASCAR race occur.

Breaking up the blocked scheduling allows the IndyCar Series to adjust to the whims of NASCAR and their track partners much easier.  Until the IZOD IndyCar Series becomes a bigger draw at those tracks (and that day is a long way off, in all likelihood), they can't command dates the way NASCAR presently does.

With the 2011 schedule due out in a few weeks, avoiding that feeling of sameness is exactly what the IZOD IndyCar Series needs to avoid.  Every race needs to feel fresh, exciting and new.  Solid venues like Chicagoland, which brings exciting racing on a year-in, year-out basis, need to be kept, provided that the track is willing to work with the series.  Mixing up the tracks, while more costly to teams, would go a long way to helping the series avoid some of the summer doldrums.

03 August 2010

The Cost of Entertainment

The IZOD IndyCar Series may be losing their VP of Marketing, John Lewis, but the announcement of Helio Castroneves' penalty for his actions following the Honda Indy Edmonton was a shrewd marketing strategy.

The news broke just before the 6 p.m. news, getting it into the evening news cycle across IndyCar markets.  This morning, it is among the headlines on AOL.com.  All this in a week in which the series is coming off of a bye week.  Now the IZOD IndyCar Series puts itself back into the headlines, most of which conclude with the tag, "Castroneves and the IndyCar Series resume their schedule at Mid-Ohio on Sunday."

Let's be honest: I'm sure most fans, given the option of seeing an entertaining, post-race reaction (when warranted), and knowing that a driver would be $60,000 lighter in the wallet, would immediately sign up to watch the spectacle unfold.  And they did, in droves.  From Pardon the Interruption to ESPN.com to SportsCenter, Castroneves' outburst covered the ESPN family of networks.  And when the IZOD IndyCar Series can garner attention on the Worldwide Leader, regardless of type (driver fatality excluded), it has to be considered good.

Now, I won't go as so far as to encourage driver arguments and physical altercations with on-track officials following a race, but Castroneves' display of emotion was far more welcome than watching tweets pop up from sparring drivers.  And it got more coverage, too.

30 July 2010

TV Ratings Improving

At the bottom of Curt Cavin's Friday article in The Indianapolis Star comes this nugget:

The Izod IndyCar Series received better news, according to Sports Media Watch. 
Viewership on Versus has increased 24 percent over the past five races, with the average for those races 428,000. The media watchdog said that number is higher than the NHL's average on Versus (297,000) or the WNBA's average on ESPN2 (290,000).
Yes, having under half a million viewers still isn't where the series needs to be.  But if viewership continues to increase, and the series can once again have a naturally suspenseful end to the season, it puts the league in a good position when TV contracts come up, especially when the key male 18-32 demographic is trending upwards.

Versus' coverage of the series has been universally praised, and if the Comcast-owned channel becomes a partner with NBC Sports after the NBC Universal-Comcast merger, the series is poised to return to network television.  Increased ratings only help this argument for returning to network.

For more details on the ratings surge, click

29 July 2010

And So It Begins

With no aero kit manufacturers other than Dallara announced on July 14, 2010, worried speculation was that the IZOD IndyCar Series would remain a spec series.  Thanfully, Lotus ended some of those worries today.

The auto manufacturer, who has sought a larger role in auto racing in the last year, financially backing the No. 5 car of Takuma Sato and giving KV Racing technical help, announced that
Lotus would be designing an aero kit for the 2012 IndyCar chassis.

That's it for now as far as details go, but it's excellent news for the series.

27 July 2010

Making the Rules Transparent

The past 36 hours have seen an outpouring of thoughts on the finish to the Honda Indy Edmonton. Some view the blocking rule as arcane and ridiculous, but probably applied correctly, under the letter of the law. Others see the finish as a black eye for the IZOD IndyCar Series, despite the constant air time it received.

Now that Helio Castroneves' outburst has been the subject of the day, I turn my thoughts towards improving the series, as it comes to communicating with the fans.  While the ruling itself was controversial, maybe the most upsetting part of it came in knowing that there were specific rules/lines for the race that no fan had an inkling of prior to and during the competition
.  With that in mind, here are five ideas to help reduce controversy the next time a blocking call (or any other rules violation) comes from Race Control: 
  1. Make the rules transparent.  Yes, Indy Downforce members can now purchase a rules book with enough membership points, but the issue is larger than knowledge of the rules.  But who memorizes that?  I do some part-time work in Indianapolis as an official scorer for the Triple-A team, and I'll admit that I don't have the baseball rulebook memorized.  I keep a copy next to me during the game for reference, but to expect the average fan to understand the rule book is asking far too much.

    Each road/street circuit has the own personality, passing zones, etc..  Prior to the race, viewers need to know what line(s) are allowed and which are considered "blocking" lines.  
  2. This means opening up the drivers' meeting in some way, shape or form.  At the very least, it needs to be captured on film, as it (thankfully) was in Edmonton.  The Indianapolis 500 features a public drivers' meeting on Saturday, allowing fans to watch and get close to the field of 33.  Would this not appeal to fans at other circuits?  I think it would.

    For those not at the race, stream it live on
    Indycar.com or make it part of the Versus pre-race coverage.  The latter would be simple enough - on the road/street circuits, show us the dividing line when going over the course layout.
  3. Put a rules official in or near the TV and radio booths.  For other sporting events, a rules official is often on-hand to answer questions that the viewer and/or TV crew has.  Having a supervisor from the NFL explain a ruling helps the viewer further understand the events on the field.  It does no one any good to have Bob Jenkins or Mike King scrambling to try and understand why blocking was called.  Mike King was so confused/dumbfounded about the call that he suggested Castroneves drove off course diving down towards the checkered flags.

    Additionally, a liaison from Race Control near or in both booths can answer any questions that might pop up.  This person can easily pass along a note telling the talent who has been previously warned for blocking prior to an actual penalty being levied.  They can also answer questions about penalties levied in the pits, the reasoning behind a long yellow flag, etc..

    More explanation and details creates a more informed fan.  A more-informed fan is more likely to become a "hardcore" fan, as they feel a greater connection to the sport.  To finish the thought, the hardcore fan then becomes the consumer of IndyCar sponsors, creating the circular pattern that keeps sponsors coming back to the series and teams.  They are also more likely to talk about the sport at the water cooler (Monday Morning Quarterback syndrome), hopefully causing more people to watch IndyCar racing, or at least figure out what the guy is talking about, as a result.  The IZOD IndyCar Series is a winner with more informed fans.
  4. Consistently enforce the rules.  Blocking, especially in open-wheel racing, is always going to be a contentious issue.  But when questionable blocks are called in some races and obvious blocks are not called in others, it raises serious credibility issues for the competition administrators of the IZOD IndyCar Series.

    Again, if viewers knew the rules ahead of time, and knew who had been warned for blocking, they might not react with such vitriol when the black flag is waved. 
  5. Make a rules official available following the race as well.  Whether they explain every ruling immediately following the race, or in an Indycar.com article or in a video that runs during the week, make the rulings transparent.  Show the viewers replays and tell them why something was either called or not called.  Explain why Mario Moraes was served a drive-through penalty in Toronto instead of being parked.  If Brian Barnhart or someone else confirmed Rahal's "chrome horn" explanation from Toronto, does it not lend more credence to both Rahal and the series?   
These changes are not major. As a fan of the IZOD IndyCar Series, it would be nice for further transparency from Race Control.  The series has already begun the process of renovating its entire process, from its TV coverage to its sales and marketing to the actual look of its cars.  New chassis and engines are on tap for 2012.  Doing more to engage fans during the TV broadcast of a race with regard to the rules is just one easy step for the series to build its base.

26 July 2010

In a Year, Will You Remember Who Won Edmonton?

Quick question: what is in the water in Edmonton?

First, following up on Randy Bernard's comments about Milka Duno in Toronto, the drivers of the IZOD IndyCar Series weighed in, voicing their concerns and displeasure over Duno's driving.

That article, allowing with Bernard's statement, appeared to pave the way for Saturday's announcement that Duno would be placed on probation for the remainder of the 2010 season, marking the first step the series is taking to remove Duno from the series.

The Duno probation probably would have been enough of a story line coming out of what figured to be another Will Power-dominated day in Edmonton.  And true to form, Power did dominate, leading a race high 76 laps.  But in giving up the lead late, Power helped set the stage for maybe the most memorable/infamous moment of the 2010 IndyCar season.

Simple recap: Going back to green on lap 93, Will Power swung out wide of Castroneves in an attempt to pass.  Castroneves appeared to maintain his inside line, possibly swinging out a little wide, but closed the door on Power to hold first.  In the process, Scott Dixon took second from Power and abruptly cut Power off from trying to recapture the second spot.

Almost immediately, Race Control ruled Castroneves blocked and ordered him to pit road for a drive-through penalty.  Castroneves refused, and Dixon was declared the winner following 95 laps.  Neither the Versus crew nor the IMS Radio Network could figure out where the block is.  See for yourself:

And honestly, a week after the Internet was disappointed that the IndyCar Series went 0-for-2 in terms of physical confrontations following Toronto, but managed to hit 1.000 on Tweet-fights, Helio Castroneves changed all of that.  (Head to the 4-minute mark to watch.)

With cameras rolling, Castroneves went after anyone and everyone, seemingly looking for members of Race Control to find out why he had a win taken away.  By the end of the night, Castroneves would issue a statement apologizing for his actions, but frankly, his actions were welcome.  When this is the reason for stripping a win:

And when the logic (and consistent enforcement) behind the call is shaky at best, who among us would not be furious?  In any other sport, Castroneves' actions, in the face of a seemingly incorrect call, would be celebrated (aside from maybe grabbing Security Officer Charles Burns, but did anyone think Helio was going to do anything there?).  Hell, Lou Piniella is celebrated across the north side of Chicago for a tirade against a far better call by an official.

The drivers, for their part, were unanimous in their approval for the move, which Davey Hamilton felt would change upon viewing tape of the race.  And of the drivers interviewed (Dixon, Power, Dario Franchitii), who wouldn't be appreciative of someone else being sent from first to 10th?

For the IndyCar Series, however, the ruling will likely be viewed as a black eye for the sport.  For Brian Barnhart, it is another bullet in the chamber for those who disapprove of the job he does.  And while I haven't been in that camp, I will concede that this type of inconsistency can and will ruin the credibility of the series if it isn't dealt with appropriately.

The finish is the most controversial, non-Indianapolis result I can think of since June 7, 1997, when A.J. Foyt wound up punching Arie Luyendyk in Victory Lane at Texas.  And while the IndyCar Series has seen its share of incidents since then (Kanaan vs. Hornish Sr., the Danica-Milka towel toss, etc.), thankfully, Castroneves reintroduced some emotion and passion to the series.

Honestly, in a year or two, IndyCar fans won't remember that Dixon won the 2010 Honda Indy Edmonton.  What will be replayed over the following days and months is Castroneves' display of emotion following the race.  Now it's a matter of getting those who witnessed the replays to make their way to Versus for Mid-Ohio in two weeks.

22 July 2010

Where Ed Hinton Hits the Nail on the Head

I've been critical in this space of Ed Hinton in years past (May of 2009 and 2010 spring to mind), but it's only fair to post something when Mr. Hinton gets it right (in my humble opinion).

In his latest article in the run up to the Brickyard 400, Hinton discusses the possibility that Jeff Gordon could pick up his fifth win at IMS, eclipsing A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as four-time winners (and join Michael Schumacher with five victories on the fabled grounds).

But Gordon takes exception, as Hinton writes:

The apples, to which nothing else compares in Gordon's eyes, are the four wins apiece in the Indianapolis 500 by A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears.
"That is one statistic that I will fight everybody on," Gordon said recently. "I mean, they've been having the Indy 500 since 1911 or 1912 or something [it was 1911]. You can't compare the history of the Indy 500 to the Brickyard 400, which has been there since 1994.
"So I'm proud to have four wins there, but you look at how few guys have won four in an Indy car there, [and] I'm guessing it must be harder in an Indy car than it is in a stock car."
Anyone with a broad view of motor racing would agree with him. But for NASCAR partisans, the case might need spelling out.   
The full article is here.  But this four paragraph stretch pretty well illustrates how much the Indianapolis 500 still towers over auto racing, no matter the format.