The debate rages over Indy road race
We’ll begin with last week’s report from Robin Miller of Racer.com that Hulman and Co., CEO Mark Miles was seriously considering a road course race to kick off the festivities next may at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Detractors of such a concept, and while I’m not sure there are many, they are very vocal, claim that Indy should be about the famed oval during the month of May, and insist they have no desire to see Indy cars droning around what they deem a “Mickey Mouse,” track.
Suffice to say, we’ll get to the whole “Mickey Mouse,” road course layout in due time.
However, it must first be noted that such a proposal is clearly is incongruous with AutoRacing1.com’s, previous suggestion of a season ending 400-mile IndyCar race (possibly Saturday evening of Labor Day) on the IMS oval. Ideally, such an event would gravy train off the NHRA Nationals in town that weekend, take place under the lights at IMS, and be a grand finale with all the pomp and circumstance fitting of a championship weekend on the sport’s most hallowed ground.
Now, it should be noted that the 400-mile race season ender suggested was very much rooted in other suggestions also forwarded by AR1. For example, AR1 has advocated for the elimination of the dull Brickyard 400, and the removal of Moto GP. While these events, the Brickyard in particular do add cash to the Hulman coffers, they greatly dilute the IndyCar brand in the sport’s home base, allow competing motorsports properties into Mecca of Indy car racing.
In other words, such events may be good for IMS. They are however, detrimental to IndyCar. While I suppose the extent to which one is dependent and subservient to the other can be debated, just keep in mind other motorsports properties, NASCAR in particular, have no interest in seeing IndyCar thrive. And if you have any questions about this, let me refer you to my recent article discussing CEO and Chairman of NASCAR Brian France’s views regarding IndyCar.
That said, recent developments have indicated the Brickyard is likely going to continue and ditto for Moto GP, who recently renewed their contract with IMS for 2014. Likewise it appears any momentum for installing lights at IMS has waned.
Moreover, Miles and his staff are not looking at a standalone IndyCar event, rather a “bookend,” type IndyCar event to go with the Indy 500. All indications are the IMS road course race is going to be the chosen option.
And while AR1 is on record advocating another course of action, let me be very clear on this: We are not opposed to the concept of an IMS road course race during May. We prefer the season ending grand-finale option already laid out. However, whether our preferred option is the one embraced or not, is outweighed by the fact we acknowledge the status quo must be altered. In other words, people can debate what the best option is, something we have articulated already. However, we are in clear agreement with IMS and Miles in this regard: moving ahead with the same tired rubric is not an option.
Also, if IndyCar is going to raise the profile of the sport, we believe the best asset to leverage is the Speedway (something Miles seems to get). Simply put, when it comes to IndyCar, IMS is a vastly under-utilized resource. And the fact Miles is looking to utilize IMS for more IndyCar content is something that we at AR1 agree with on no uncertain terms. Heck, we will even go a step further in that we cannot see how anyone who loves this sport would not agree.
So, while I’m not sure IMS is overly concerned with what AR1 believes, if the decision Miles and his staff reaches, results in an IMS road course race during May, then so be it. If and when that decision is announced, AR1 has already and continue to at ways to maximize the potential of that event for the good of the sport.
That said, we so happen to believe there’s a better option available than the road course one currently being floated; an option we believe would not only satisfy numerous constituents, but attract eyeballs and coverage to the Speedway ahead of the Memorial Day Indy 500.
Have an IndyCar All-Star race -- on the oval -- two weeks before the Indy 500. Yes, a uniquely formatted, hefty purse paying, title sponsor backed All-Star race on IndyCar’s famed oval is the perfect kickoff to May.
As things currently stand the month of May in Indy kicks off with well, a total whimper. Sure, us diehards tune in and keep track of practice times whether from the Speedway or from afar. But the Speedway is largely empty, and there is no real excitement.
An All-Star race changes this.
Yes, the ticket-buyer suddenly has a reason to go in that he or she is witnessing a unique event that happens once a year. Corporations, who buy luxury suites, are given more impetus to do so. Plus, a race, albeit not a points-paying one, provides better ROI for television partners that means better ROI for the sport’s valued sponsors.
Maybe, the day begins with Indy Lights, Star Mazda and/or US F2000 on the road course, before converting to oval midday. The IndyCars run a practice session around 2 p.m. then the All-Star race kicks off around 4.
Now, I don’t think the Speedway would fill up. But let’s be clear: the Speedway could attract a Carb-Day crowd. And while there will be empty seats, this day and age Carb Day draws a pretty impressive crowd.
Suddenly, there is a reason to tune-in or attend the Speedway during May. Suddenly, for that media outlet, who in this age of cutbacks, only sends a journo for qualifying, Carb Day and race day, has a reason to send the journo for an extended stay. This means more stories in newspapers, radio shows, and if you can’t ABC/ESPN to cover the All-Star race, then you really have something.
Speaking of ABC/ESPN, it’s probably worthwhile to pause the discussion here, and add an item about the ABC/ESPN situation.
Of course, I have railed quite extensively against their unprofessional, indifferent coverage of the sport we love. To be clear, I have no plans to alter this position until there is a drastic change in the quality of the broadcast. I’m of the belief that their on-air treatment of IndyCar may satisfy the minimum terms of their contract, but is a tremendous disservice to those who love the sport and shows an appalling lack of regard for this who make a living from it. In short, I’d argue the network’s coverage is not just bad -- that’s one thing -- but arguably immoral.
That said, IndyCar is stuck with the network for the foreseeable future. And one issue aside from just plain unprofessional coverage is ABC/ESPN essentially shows up the morning of the 500. Yes, in a tradition that has becomes as synonymous with Indy as sipping the milk, the high and mighty descend upon us mere mortals, begin mispronouncing names, ignoring important race stories, and probably start counting the seconds to the next Nationwide race.
But the bad coverage here isn’t the point. The point rather is when the coverage begins. There is no lead-in, no on-site pre-race hype, few, if any, driver interviews. Essentially, ABC/ESPN shows up race morning and off they are.
This is where the All-Star race has huge potential benefits. An event prior to the race potentially gets the network and their broadcast team on-site earlier. It also allows for the team to potentially stick around and give greater coverage to IndyCar in advance of the 500.
Sure, a bonanza of coverage is not guaranteed. This is where IndyCar would have to come in and actively seek ways to parlay the presence of the less than beloved network to maximize its potential.
But make no mistake, there is potential. Whether its daily updates from the Speedway, driver interviews, driver appearances on the talking head shows, IndyCar can potentially parlay the race before the 500, no matter the format, into vastly more national coverage. And for this reason IMS would be wise to cultivate and parlay whatever format a race before the 500 takes into more coverage from ABC/ESPN.
Also, the All-Star race has the added benefit of defying convention. While my intention is not to bring back unfortunate memories of the last time this was done, you could have promos of fans winning money If driver X wins the race. There could promotions such as renewing your Verizon contract for a lower price if Will Power wins.
And while this is far from my primary concern, the All-Star race on the oval silences silencing the road course pooh-poohers. In other words, those who loathe the concept, and they’re pretty vocal about it, may find something else to spew venom about, but it won’t be a road race. And for IndyCar fans who want to see more ovals on the schedule, well this seems to be a pretty good compromise in lieu of what they deem to be a “Mickey Mouse” road course.
Plus, the All-Star race has the benefit over a road course race in that it isn’t “just another IndyCar race.” Also, teams are going to be running the oval anyway during the month in preparation for the 500. Why not essentially allow the teams some laps, but do so in a way that gets more eyeballs on the television set and butts in the seats than just droning round and round and round? Plus, the month could be managed in a way, in which the teams net the same mileage. This is without further explanation needed, better bang for the buck.
Speaking of money, the Speedway would undoubtedly be able to sell a title sponsorship for the All-Star race. It could be the Fuzzy’s Vodka IndyCar All-Star Race, for example. Other associate sponsors could adorn the Speedway with corporate signage. And such sponsorship is necessary because let’s make clear: IMS does not want to sell title sponsorship for the Indy 500, and we want this money to funnel back to the teams.
And we haven’t even gotten to the format yet.
I suppose there are many things you could do, however, here is a really simple system to qualify for the All-Star race:
****In case of a tie, or if not applicable, next best finish is taken into account. Ranking of drivers for theoretical All-Star race using the 2013 season is below.
The top-10 drivers would automatically qualify for the main event, which would feature a 16-car race. These drivers currently are in order (Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe, Helio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti, Mike Conway, Charlie Kimball, Simon Pagenaud, Takuma Sato and Tony Kanaan).
Any remaining drivers would line up again per the qualify criteria attached starting with 11th place Marco Andretti on pole. Any drivers at Indy not already qualified could line up behind drivers other qualified based on some criteria (i.e. practice speed) and race for say 60 laps. The top-6, maybe 8 depending on how you wanted to structure it, from the prelim would advance to a 16, maybe 18-car main event, lining up behind the top-10 in the order they finished.
Again, details can be discussed. The one I laid out is relatively simple and has a clear way of delineating the drivers. However, I am beholden to the idea, not the specific format.
And the idea is at minimum, it’s a heck of a lot of better than practicing. It’s a heck of a better return for the sponsors. Plus, if the purse is significant it adds equity to the events IndyCar already has. In other words, Mid-Ohio, Iowa, Baltimore and every other IndyCar race has greater value because drivers are competing for spots in the All-Star race, which pays out.
Yes, think about this. Carlos Munoz’s second place in the Indy 500 this season, suddenly has greater value. Ditto for Ed Carpenter’s pole position at Indianapolis, James Jakes’ second-place at Detroit. In other words, an All-Star race adds value to the events the series already has.
Second, the All-Star would have hype of its own in advance. Remember, it’s difficult to hype the Indianapolis 500 three weeks in advance these days as consumers have so many entertainment options. It’s even more difficult to build hype for the Indy 500, when you have no network broadcast in advance of the race, and the only thing going on is practice.
However, the All-Star event changes all of that. Drivers like Dixon, Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe would go on radio shows to promote the event, give their loyal sponsors publicity, and in turn promote IndyCar and the Indy 500. At the very least, the opportunity is there, that is not there with practice to start May.
Overall, this is unquestionably a rising tide lifts all boats scenario. Heck, the teams are going to be there anyway. They’re going to be running the IMS oval. And why not provide greater value for the consumer, media, teams, sponsors drivers, and whoever else?
And with a mechanism in place to celebrate the accomplishments of the sport’s best drivers are at the sport’s most hallowed ground, that also promotes the sport’s showcase event, let me make very clear
I’m having trouble seeing the downside here.
Current Grid For Feature (as of 8/22/13)|
Prelim Grid (as of 8/22/13)
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