On the outside looking in? A cynical Brit on IndyCar
IndyCar has had quite an effect on me over the last year and a half. Aside from the brilliantly devious method of attracting Rubens Barrichello in order to allow myself to take it seriously, I will give it credit where credit is due in how it has been continually entertaining over my short time watching. As a Brit, Formula 1 has always felt like a 'European' formula, despite its obvious worldwide nature, whereas IndyCar has always been the one 'over there', very much an American sport. That's why I find it quite interesting that, as someone who has always looked at IndyCar as someone looking out onto an alien world, that IndyCar is actually a rather welcoming and endearing sport to watch.
Back when ol' Rubinho was wetting his feet in everything IndyCar last season, I would be lying if I said my main attraction for watching wasn't primarily to keep up with everyone's favorite number two. Yet if the last year and a half has taught me anything about IndyCar it's that once you actually sit down and give it the attention it, admittedly, deserves it provides a rather less serious and downright entertaining sport to watch. I say less serious as if that's some kind of downgrading review of the sport but in some ways this is a better thing than a sport that takes itself absurdly serious, of which F1 is horribly guilty. Personality changes
Continuing my train of thought of looking at IndyCar from the outside, one of my early wonders was whether it had the host of characters to make it interesting and to pick up characteristics between different people. Going into a new series and not knowing anyone, apart from charm-your-pants-off-at-Goodwood Dario Franchitti, is a fairly overwhelming sensation. Luckily this is again something that IndyCar has proved to be immensely entertaining in, as my previous point of everything being a little less serious means you tend to see a lot more 'banter', if such a term should be endeared, and you quickly learn what makes every driver tick and tantrum in their own special ways. (Basically, don't upset Will Power.)
Let me give you a really good example off the top of my head. If I was to say Takuma Sato to any F1 fan, I'm sure his name would be giggled at and laughed off because of his unlucky times at Honda and Super Aguri. Admittedly there was a lovable side to Takuma but he was a bit rubbish in F1 (except that incredible moment at Canada against Alonso, of course). Whereas over in the US, it'd be fair to say that this short time watching IndyCar has opened my eyes to how good Sato really is. He's matured immensely in his ability to drive and maintain a lead, to fight his way to the front and to do a good job. Don't worry though F1 fans, he still has those memorable moments of being absolutely mental but if IndyCar has done anything for Sato it's allowed him to settle down, add some consistency to his driving and be genuinely quite impressive from time to time.To the left, to the left
It's easy to be really cynical about IndyCar though, or so I thought. Us Brits utterly indulge ourselves on cynicism after all - we find the weather both repulsive and exciting as an every day discussion occurs regardless of what climate we're experiencing, we figuratively destroy every television program we broadcast yet go back every day for more soapy nonsense, and we argue over whether words actually exist all for the competitive nature of a board game. In my experience discussing them here, oval races get a reputation for being a bog standard borefest of 30 drivers just going left and refusing to go right like a terrible political job I wouldn't dare attempt. Most of the calendar consists of oval racing after all, I mean, you're not missing much right?
Let's put it this way - I'd be gutted if I missed an oval race now. In fact I'm still gutted I missed the Indy 500.
Oval races in IndyCar are part of what makes it such an appealing sport
What is this strange sensation, this strange enjoyment of cars simply going left and nothing happening for two hours? What is this odd belief that there's actually a huge amount of strategy involved, that the constant jump in position and tension between a tiny mistake closing the field, that the smaller ovals can provide some exhilarating surprises over a multitude of hours? How can three to four cars wide going into an oval actually be utterly ridiculous and gripping? I must be going mad, as it turns out oval races in IndyCar are part of what makes it such an appealing sport. The fact it has been such a part of its heritage and history helps, as it's something that would never work in F1 even if it were possible, but IndyCar makes it great and I love that.
Does less emphasis on seriousness and keeping the riff-raff out force IndyCar to lose on its credibility though? We all know Formula 1 holds back people where it can, has its glitz and glamour in places like Monaco and let's not even go into the ridiculous Paddock Club, but with IndyCar basically being a bunch of racing drivers in a field/city doing their thing for two hours or more, it's quite impressive how the lack of formality at times doesn't make it any less credible than what we see in F1. Yes, Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motor racing as far as I'm concerned and that will always be the case, but only the world's greatest wobbling jellies would be ignorant enough to refuse IndyCar the chance to prove why less formality means less credibility when this is simply not the case.Brought to you by...
As someone from this side of the Atlantic though, I do have a very considerable message to offer to broadcasters of America though - the level of advertising you offer throughout your broadcasting is quite frankly absurd. At times, whether it be on NBC or ESPN or whatever the channels are, it feels like you are watching Commercials Hour with the occasional IndyCar interlude. Perhaps this is the norm of how television is broadcast in America but it ruins the flow of the race being reminded of Marco Andretti's oil sponsorship or how I can tune into a human version of Cluedo every 10 minutes or so.
One of the great pleasures of uninterrupted racing is having the opportunity to get the story of the race told to you in a continuous flow. Here in the UK, a very famous event on a previous broadcaster ITV occurred a decade ago where Mika Hakkinen’s championship victory was ruined by a commercial break at the end of the race causing everyone to miss the finale. What good are commercials to the buildup of a race, to the story that is being told and to the events that actually transpire if a broadcaster is more interested in shilling a dodgy reality show to the uninformed and uninterested? It's a little insulting to racing fans that the level of commercial interludes is at the level that it is and I'm just thankful that it's not quite unwatchable. It's very, very close though. Storytelling is a part of racing, and if you're not willing to remember that for the sake of your financial sponsorships, then it's a bit of a joke really.
The fact that this is my biggest complaint about IndyCar, watching in from the outside, is of huge credit to how entertaining it truly is and I've been blessed in the essence that my favorite driver brought attention to your wonderful series of entertaining drivers, tracks of great variety and also Bourdais.
It still feels very 'American', I will admit - the opening of 'Gentlemen, Start Your Engines/Sponsor Based Something Or Another', the build up and presentation, the open feel to everything, the Firechicken - but none of this is a put off... except the Firechicken. Goodness gracious great cup of tea, I'm pleased Formula 1 doesn't have the Firechicken.
I think both series' have plenty to learn from each other. The standard of safety in F1 is utterly paramount and of an exceptional level - there will always be room for improvement but it's never been better than it is now and I think IndyCar is getting closer to that with the likes of what the Dan Wheldon-inspired DW chassis offers to the sport without taking too much away from the racing.
At the same time, IndyCar could teach a lot to the paddock about how it's not that good to be so far up your backside you're speaking as a representative to yourself and throwing rulebooks at each other like a terrible version of the Crystal Maze finale.
At the same time, I do like the differences between the two and it's refreshing to jump on a Sunday afternoon from a Grand Prix to an IndyCar race with plenty going on in both. No matter the reservations you may have about IndyCar, I say one weekend you join us in the live thread and enjoy what it has to offer because you might be pleasantly surprised. sidepodcast.com