IndyCar: Australia race, new body kits, TV ratings

Tim Cindric makes it sound like Roger Penske isn't keen on IndyCar going back to Australia. If that is the case, the series won't be going back
Tim Cindric makes it sound like Roger Penske isn't keen on IndyCar going back to Australia. If that is the case, the series won't be going back

Team Penske president Tim Cindric said that although his organization would benefit commercially from a rumored resumption of IndyCar street racing in Gold Coast, Australia, that alone would not necessarily be enough to garner its support.

Multiple media outlets in Australia reported local organizers' were negotiating with Queensland government officials about bringing IndyCar back to the long-time open wheel destination popular with drivers and fans as part of a potential bill with the Virgin Australia Supercars. Team Penske fields a two-car Supercars team with Dick Johnson Racing. That peg, plus Penske's business-to-business interests in Australia with Western Star truck sales would seemingly make owner Roger Penske a key figure in the prospects of the race, especially considering that he and many of his counterparts have been tepid on racing outside of North America.

"I think it would benefit our businesses over there, more so obviously than in the past, but I'm not sure that's why as a series you make that decision," Cindric told USA TODAY Sports. "It would certainly be an added benefit. I don't think it's really going to move the needle on our business there, honestly, because we already have an outlet for that in our V8 super car team. I don't think it's something we would push too hard for, one way or the other."

Verizon IndyCar Series chairman Mark Miles is seeking two races for a fallow February slate and believes international venues provide the best options.

"We're not looking to do something that is radical where we aren't racing at a great place in the States in order to go abroad, but I think February is a period where we don't really have great choices here where there may be good choices — great choices — in warmer climates and where we would have reason to believe there is a receptive market," he told USA TODAY Sports. "So, in this kind of measured what I will continue to believe it makes strategic sense. Whether or not we can actually find two for February remains to be seen."

Miles would not confirm negotiations with Australian promoters but said as a policy, the series will "lay all our cards on the table" with potential clients to facilitate time for due diligence. Miles said he hopes to release the 2017 and 2018 schedules in August and foresees "16-to-18" races on each.

"We're giving prospective promoters our draft agreement at the beginning of the process," Miles said, "so they know everything — except filling in a blank or two — at the very beginning, of what's required: ops manuals and all the rest of it, because we don't want them to be surprised and they don't surprise us." A scheduled Labor Day in Boston was canceled in late April and the series avoided potential litigation from the Massachusetts Attorney general by refunding $925,000 to ticket holders the bankrupt promoter left in its wake.

Australian promoters and IndyCar could have plenty of time to hash out details. Cindric doesn't believe the race could be scheduled for 2017 as speculated as it would require what he calls a "pretty big shakeup" to the typical Supercars schedule he expects would be unpopular. The Gold Coast Supercars event is currently held in October and the IndyCar season ends in August. The 2016 Supercars season began in early March.

Going back to Australia without being part of a Supercars date, Cindric said, "doesn't make much sense."

TV Ratings – Miniscule but Rising

–IndyCar's television ratings on NBC Sports and ABC/ESPN were up 6.5 percent in 2016 over 2015 after nine races even though the 100th Indianapolis 500 experienced a ratings decline. Ratings were up 13 percent last season and 22 percent from 2014-2015.

"Even 6.5-percent growth compared to other leagues is a really very positive thing," Miles said. "I want to get to 50 percent over three years ending with ‘16 and we'll be close to that."

–Miles said the month of May "exceeded our own expectations" as roughly 477,000 paid to attend races or practices, including an Indianapolis 500 that drew in excess of 350,000.

"When I started in ‘13 we looked at the 2012 total attendance for the year at IMS and hoped to be able to move it from 400,000," Miles said. "We said in 2018 we're going to get to 600,000. So we could get that this year and May was a big part of it. It was up in almost every category. It was flat for the Grand Prix, it was up for qualifying, hugely up for race day."

IMS will host NASCAR's Brickyard 400 next weekend and an inaugural Red Bull Air Race in October. The Sprint Cup Series race routinely drew estimated crowds in excess of 125,000 in its earlier installments but has fallen well short of that recently, the exception being last season in Indiana native Jeff Gordon's last scheduled race there. Gordon announced this week he could return from retirement for another try, though, if former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. is unable to return after experiencing concussion-like symptoms. The last planned Brickyard run for another retiring Hoosier, Tony Stewart, could provide another ticket incentive.

Body kits

Will IndyCar ever get to this concept of minimal wings, wide tires, larger underbody downforce and a proper canopy for safety?
Will IndyCar ever get to this concept of minimal wings, wide tires, larger underbody downforce and a proper canopy for safety?

–The series should in August reveal its aero kit utilization plan for 2017. Since last season, Chevrolet and Honda have developed their own body kits within parameters of common rules. Honda was granted relief in short oval/street-road course kits in the offseason to address what IndyCar deemed competitive disadvantages.

"There's probably three possibilities:," Miles said, "continuing the competition — that's not completely off the table — one is freezing it so that each has their kit as is for another year. You would do that if you believe you want to go to a common kit and you needed the optimal amount of time to develop the kit, for, say '18 or get to a common kit in ‘17."

Driver Juan Pablo Montoya expects the kits to remain in some form for at least another year.

"It's too late," he said. "In my opinion, I think both Honda and Chevy probably have next year's kit already done, so for them to tell them 'Don't do it,' it's like, ‘You should have told me about eight months ago.'"

Team owner Bobby Rahal, whose team utilizes Hondas, said "everyone I talk to" within the paddock prefers a spec kit, but he believe it couldn't be implemented until 2018.

The competitive kits, he said, have created an unfair competitive balance and "not saved teams any money." He would prefer modifications be made for 2017 before switching to a uniform model.

"Clearly, if they're frozen, we're at a disadvantage," he said. Brant James/USA Today/Indy Star

Hondas inferior aerokit isn't even being considered for the test. Chevy Butt Bumpers are wide open and air flows right through
Honda Butt Bumpers are closed off and air flowing around the tires hits them and the Butt Bumpers act as a parachute

The Verizon IndyCar Series will use next week's test at the Mid-Ohio road course to capture some important data that will be used to shape its next aero kit reports Marshall Pruett of

The July 21 test, where most IndyCar teams will prepare for the July 31 Mid-Ohio IndyCar race, will include a secondary test where Chip Ganassi Racing's Tony Kanaan and Ed Carpenter Racing's Josef Newgarden work directly with the series to try a variety of predetermined aero kit configurations.

"We were asked to be part of the test and to bring an extra car for Tony, but that's about all I can say," CGR managing director Mike Hull told RACER.

The two entries have been added to the test strictly for IndyCar's use, and both drivers will be asked to lap the 2.3-mile circuit and provide feedback on a list of changes and configurations aimed at developing a new single-spec aero kit for 2018. It's believed the Chevy-powered DW12s will undergo numerous changes to the 2016 Chevy aero kit during the test, rather than try brand-new aero components.

The inspiration for IndyCar's aero test is said to be more of a philosophical exercise than a traditional data-driven outing. Among the larger questions facing IndyCar's competition department, one involves whether a wholesale rethink on its current state of extreme downforce is required. Associated with that question is whether the 2018 spec aero kits should then produce more, less, or the same amount of downforce in use today. The third question to answer is where the majority of that downforce should be generated on the car.

With those three items identified, the series will start by having its two teams run at various downforce levels during the test.

The series will have gigabytes of data at its disposal after the test, but the most valuable information will come from Kanaan and Newgarden. If they feel the cars can be driven with a significant drop in downforce, and passing can be improved by moving downforce production toward the bottom of the car, the series would have a lot to consider before commissioning a company to create the 2018 aero kit. It would likely result in a significant change in the look of the DW12, as well.

It's just a single-day test at this point, and more could follow, but July 21 could have a major impact on the visuals of tomorrow's Indy car. Marshall Pruett/

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