On the track, the 2013 season was one of the most competitive and had the best racing in IndyCar racing in recent memory. I gave a summary on the season back in October, so I’ll end it with these final thoughts.
Best race: Sao Paulo: Sao Paulo put on an amazing three way battle between Takuma Sato, Josef Newgarden and James Hinchcliffe in the the final laps of the race. Sato made his car 4 lanes wide and was still fast, and on the final corner of the race Hinchcliffe pushed the issue and passed Sato as the two darted to the checkered flag.
Worst race: Houston Race 2: The entire Houston weekend was plagued by track issues, schedule changes and Dario Franchitti’s crash was the icing on the cake.
Heading forward however, there are some off track concerns with the direction IndyCar is going.
Hulman and Co. CEO Mark Miles recently announced plans in Las Vegas for IndyCar’s future direction. He announced plans for an international series to start the 2015 season. He has reported to More Front Wing as well as at the 2013 Motorsports Marketing Forum that IndyCar is exploring markets such as the Middle East, South Africa, India and parts of South America. International races have been successful in the past, but then again IndyCar racing was much more fluent than it was now (think CART successes) but there doesn’t seem to be a content strategy this time around. The series needs to focus more on getting back American markets (i.e. Road America) before taking a plunge in international waters.
Aero kits are not going to be the magic bullet. Yes, manufacturer competition is a good thing and it can rekindle some interest from purist fans that consider spec car racing amateur racing. Being that we were promised aero kits by the ICONIC committee in 2010, getting what we were promised is great and now that Derrick Walker has laid out what everything is going to constitute, things do look promising in that department.
One thing about the current car that is good is that the racing has been superb virtually everywhere. Tracks like Belle Isle, Sonoma and Mid-Ohio had always produced uneventful races in the past. Since the induction of the DW-12, the racing has been great.
NASCAR coming on board NBC Sports in 2015, despite what everybody is saying is not going to help Indycar. NBC Sports does do a good job showing the race and has a great lineup in the booth with Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Wally Dallenbach, but their promotion of IndyCar is not very good compared to the other big league sports that they promote. Think of it this way folks–they wanted NASCAR, they wanted Formula 1, they inherited IndyCar from Versus when NBC purchased the channel.
Now on NASCAR, they never will want to help IndyCar in any way. NASCAR CEO Brian France made that very clear in July when he stated “Nationwide is significantly ahead of the Indy Racing League (yes, he went there) in terms of its television ratings and attendance and everything else with the exception, obviously, of the Indy 500.”
Now, I can bash the Nationwide Series all I want for the over saturation of Sprint Cup Series drivers dominating the series and making it look like Cup practice and most, not all standalone events drawing bad great crowds in the stands, but that is not the point. The point is that NASCAR will never want to help IndyCar in any way and having the two series on the channel would take direction away from IndyCar. Tape delays could very well be possible.
The new TV schedule for 2014 is also disappointing. Four out of the seven broadcasts on network television are races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Indy 500 and Indy 500 qualifying), which is a bit greedy by IMS being that the races on ABC tend to draw higher rating than the ones on NBC Sports Network. Two other races on ABC are the Detroit Doubleheader and the season opener at St. Pete. The lack of races on network television hurts the series because sponsors cannot get exposure with races on NBC Sports network drawing minimal tv ratings. The lead in coverage to the Indianapolis 500 should be good, but it as expense of other races on the schedule.
It also doesn’t do well for sponsors that would potentially want get in the series because if they see the low ratings, why would they invest? Heck, title sponsor IZOD and team sponsors HP and Go Daddy have already left, what sponsors are next? The more races on network television, the better everything would be.
It also hurts drivers because they cannot get exposure either. If an up and comer driver like a Josef Newgarden, Sage Karam or a Simona de Silvestro does well on a weekend when NBC Sports broadcasts and only 300,000 people watch, you had better 300,000 of them are potential sponsors that would like to get on board.
Auto Racing 1’s Mark Cipollini explains in detail why IndyCar races should be on network television.