Open Wheel Racing is in serious need of consolidation
Reckless expansions are hurting the sport

 by Mark Cipolloni and Cássio Côrtes
July 31, 2004

Go to our forums to discuss this article

Every time we look it seems like a new open wheel racing series is popping up somewhere.  In addition to there being a lot of open wheel series, racing confuses the customer even more with road racing, oval racing, rally, drag racing, sports cars, saloon cars, sprint races, endurance races. It's enough to make one's head spin.  If we in the industry are confused, imagine what the customers must think.

The study of mass communications will force you to, sooner or later, stumble across Al Ries and Jack Trout’s polemic 1994 book, “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing”, a piece of very ambitious writing that seeks to define the formula for success in today’s globalized economy. It’s a must read for anyone who is interested in business, and a probable dozer for all of those who are not.

Yet given the myriad of tribulations of open-wheel racing’s economics today, seeking help from a couple of marketing gurus seems like a reasonable thought.

On their #7 never-changing law, Ries and Trout warn about the dangers of brand extensions.

The authors make their point well by pointing out how Budweiser’s overall market share actually diminished after the company launched variations such as Bud Light; same thing for GM, that used to sell a lot more cars when it offered fewer models. The idea is that, when the market is swollen with options that relate to the same “parent” concept, the latter is weakened rather than strengthened.

Ries and Trout would likely be flipping out on their backs if they ever glanced at what the market for worldwide open-wheel racing series looks like today.

How about this quick race fan trivia? Name the last race winner of each the following series:

International F3000
European F3000
Nissan World Series
Toyota Atlantic Championship
Infiniti Pro Series
Formula Nippon
Australian F4000

Not a lot of success? Wait until next year, and you might want to add the GP2 championship, A1 Grand Prix and the rumored Renault-backed Nissan World Series spin-off. If you look further down the ladder in open wheel you find an even greater proliferation of open wheel racing series. Star Mazda, Formula Ford (many flavors), Renault 2000, Formula BMW, Formula Palmer Audi, F3 (many flavors), Zytek, etc. In go-karting there are even more categories and divisions.

Now have a look at these numbers:


Starters in most recent event

International F3000


European F3000


Nissan World Series


Toyota Atlantic Championship


Infiniti Pro Series


Formula Nippon


Australian F4000


Rewind your tape back to 1995, the year before the open-wheel split in North America, and a time when only two of the above series existed (International F3000 and Toyota Atlantic). The closing of the F3000 championship in Magny-Cours saw 26 cars on the grid, the exact same number that lined up at Laguna Seca for the last round of that year’s Atlantic series. That’s 52 cars overall - you’d have to count every starter in almost a whole season’s worth of Infiniti Pro racing to get to this number nowadays.

Of course, this discussion could be expanded to the 26 cars that raced in the 1995 F1 and Indy Car seasons, or the fact that Indy was so competitive that year that Marlboro Team Penske failed to qualify.

The main point is, the profusion of open-wheel racing series today has done more to alienate fans than to bring newer audiences to the sport. The fact that there are more races has only stretched a relatively stagnant audience, and, quite simply, hurt open-wheel racing as a whole.

Not only is there a dilution of talent and quantity of cars because of so many series, there is a dilution of the fan base and the sponsor base. And it’s not unique to the lower ranks. Look what happened to Indy Car racing when Tony George started the IRL. By dividing the sport in half he created two weaker series and this brand extension has literally killed the sport.

But does the quality of the product decrease with so many “brand extensions”? In the case of Budweiser, probably not. When open-wheel racing is concerned, though, the answer given by the number of fans in the stands and in front of their TV sets is a resounding yes. Slim fields aren’t but an expression of lack of sponsor interest, which for its turn is a reflection of low fan interest. There’s a poetic license to this article’s argument; that is, consider open-wheel racing as a single entity, instead of the multiple, sometimes conflicting interests that actually govern it.

And fans have lost interest partially because, when there are so many series around, each one of them seems less important in comparison. For, as Ries and Trout’s #5 law claims, “Marketing is a battle of perceptions, not products”, and most fans’ overall perception of the importance of open-wheel racing has dwindled, no matter how good the on-track product still is.

Then again, the gurus’ #2 commandment states that “If you can't be first in a category, change the nature of the category or set up a new category you can be first in” - pretty much what every honcho in open-wheel has seemingly being trying to do for the past few years.

Apparently, not even marketing experts can grasp the logics of open wheel racing these days. 

What's the solution? Eventually simple economics will put some of the series out of business, but then new ones will pop up. 

Maybe someone, someday, will put together a summit and call the leaders of all the open wheel series together to address this serious issue. One topic on the agenda should be - What series can, and should be combined?  Just getting them talking about it might lead to some much needed mergers.

And it can't happen soon enough.

The authors can be contacted at feedback@autoracing1.com

Go to our forums to discuss this article



Other Editorials

Champ Car's Minardi 2-seater is the ultimate ride

For Alex Figge and PCM it's baptism by fire

A tribute to Alfred J. Cipolloni

Champ Car owners move to silence critics

Establishing a firm foundation for Champ Car

One-on-one with Champ Car President Steve Johnson

J.R. Hildebrand is one American going places in a hurry

What's new for Champ Car for 2007 - Part 1

Champ Car positions itself for international expansion

Paul Stoddart confirms interest in Champ Car

An inside look at Champ Car TV production

Ho-Pin Tung wants to be Champ Car's first Chinese driver

Stephen King explains Justin Wilson's novel Investor's Club

One-on-one with American sensation AJ Allmendinger

Salem Speedway: When the High-Banks were on the road to Indy

Champ Car moving forward without the IRL

One-on-one with Paul Tracy

Bruce Delahorne explains CDW's sponsorship in Champ Car

One-on-one with Justin Wilson

Champ Car bosses won't be bullied

Part 2: NASCAR/ISC get dirty in Phoenix, out to destroy Open Wheel

Part 1: NASCAR/ISC get dirty in Phoenix, out to destroy Open Wheel

Does NASCAR have a chance in the global marketplace?

The Rahals: Like father, like son

Why and IRL/Champ Car merger will be a big boost for the sport

Headless Open Wheel Racing appears doomed

Richard Lyons looking at Champ Car for his next challenge

We salute the champions of 2005

Is Jay Howard the next Ayrton Senna?

Interview with Grand-Am President Roger Edmondson

Otaru, Japan Champ Car race moving closer to reality

Champ Car's global appeal may ride on mimicking the Team Australia concept

Champ Car's Surfers Paradise race promoter "gets it"

Champ Car cements another brick in its foundation

Custom built Champ Cars and Indy Cars

Conspiracy Theory: What Indy was really all about

Why the Champ Car/IRL war must end

How a Champ Car and IRL merger might work

Will the battle for Long Beach destroy its Grand Prix?

Katherine Legge has her eyes set on Champ Car

Traveling Light Media - Just what the doctor ordered

Champ Car lays out bold 3-year plan

Champ Car's 2005 driver lineup vastly improved

Hunter-Reay anxious to get started with new team

That sucking sound you hear is NASCAR

Feud - The story of the murder of Mickey Thompson

Yes, Blame Tony and the CART defectors too

Interview with ALMS President Scott Atherton

2005 a foundation laying year for Champ Car

Kalkhoven talks Champ Car with AutoRacing1

Kalkhoven and Forsythe buy Cosworth from Ford

Carl Russo is bullish on Champ Car

Can this be Champ Car's next-generation car

Champ Car appears poised for major comeback

Open Wheel Racing needs a win by OWRS - Part 2

CART/IRL Armageddon - Where the three horsemen of the Apocalypse meet the axis of evil

A Family "Thang"

Cancel the funeral

Love affair in Mexico

There's more than handwriting on the wall.....and here's the concrete facts

Labor Day weekend 1952...A weekend I'll never forget

An Unappealing Appeal, George reigns in GEORGE-town

Back-Breaking work

IRL at Fontana - a victim of friendly fire

Has anyone noticed?

Remembering Bob Estes

Will CART get Shanghaied?

CART - a stranger in a strange land

The inevitable globalization of CART

Champ Car Race Control - the 'Hot Seat Zone'

Open Wheel Racing is in serious need of consolidation

Champ Car South of the Border, An interview with Joe Heitzler

There is an easy way for Champ Car and the IRL to unify

From airport to race track, a race within a race

The 2-seater Car is one of Champ Car's biggest assets

Why Bernie Ecclestone could, and should, buy Champ Car now

Champ Car rocks the streets of Times Square in Manhattan

Why did Fernández leave Champ Car?  Follow the money....

Next Generation Champ Car: A call for F1 tires

Coming to America?  Interview with Ralph Firman Jr.

Open Wheel Racing defeats IRL - Champ Car Series to continue

Open Wheel Racing needs a win by OWRS - Part 2

The next generation Champ Cars - Part 2

Is CART next for Villeneuve?

New deal for CART may be better than first thought

The genius of one Bernard Ecclestone

CART Champ Cars, the next generation - Part 1

Details emerging on CART race in Seoul, South Korea

CART hits a Grand Slam in Mexico City.  Now What?

Top-10 Challenges facing new CART owners

CART can still race in Europe, but will they?

For CART, time is of the essence

Making sense of CART's situation

Push-to-Pass means no more parades for CART

An interview with CART's David Clare

What did Roger Penske really mean?

CART must differentiate itself - clearly

Why turbos make for superior street and race engines

For CART, it's now or never

Chicken or the Egg?

War of the worlds

What Bernie brings to CART

CART, Driven to where?

Is it really about CART vs. IRL?

If I were Bernie

The Champ Cars and St. Pete

An informal survey of the St. Pete race attendees

Artificial Dissemination

CART, F1 coming to grips with doing business in China

Cancel the Funeral

Why CART and F1 must, and will, share a common V-10 engine

Book Review: Autocourse 2002-2003 F1 yearbook

Does CART need Michael Andretti?

  2002 CART TV ratings by the numbers

Now is the time for CART to redefine its ladder system

CART, F1 could learn from the Good Ol' Days

CART gets a taste of tifosi passion in Mexico

Love affair in Mexico

Making sense out of Bernie/CART rumors

Changing of the guard?

Mom, apple pie, CART and....Formula1?

Why CART and Bernie make perfect dance partners

Miami should be a CART and ALMS kickoff party

David slays Goliath in Miami

What to make of Gurney's F1 team

Taking it to the streets, why Miami is a war zone

CART, like the Phoenix, about to rise up from the ashes

There's more than handwriting on the wall.....and here's the concrete facts

Labor Day weekend 1952...A weekend I'll never forget

Team owners show support for CART

CART still may be in cards for Villeneuve

Bryan Herta, USA's next best chance for F1

Is Paul Ricard in CART's future?

Attendance figures, what's in a number?

Is Brands Hatch suitable for Champ Cars?

An Unappealing Appeal, George reigns in GEORGE-town

A candid conversation with Chris Pook

More than meets the eye with CART's turbo move

It's time for CART to define its own future

Key upgrades at Road America

Back-Breaking work

The rebirth of CART

The hidden costs of Indy Car racing

CART's road and street circuits click with the fans

CART's road and street circuits are clicking with the fans

Is it sport, or a P.T. Barnum show?

IRL at Fontana - a victim of friendly fire

CART's 2003 race venues #1 in the world

Meet the Gonzalez brothers

ISC is making enemies in Miami

Copyright 1999-2014  AutoRacing1 is an independent internet online publication and is not affiliated with, sponsored by, or endorsed by the IRL., NASCAR, FIA,  Sprint, or any other series sponsor. This material may not be published, broadcast, or redistributed without permission.