Monday, June 6, 2011

Why Indycar Will Race In Japan

One good thing about blogging about the Izod Indycar series is that there never lacks for subject matter. I had started a “Final Indy Review” post, plus I still owe you some photos, but something else has been on my mind.

Apparently the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster/breach of hell’s gates that struck Japan earlier this year damaged the racing surface of the oval track at Twin Ring Motegi-site of a September 17 Indycar race. Indycar announced last week that the race will be held, but moved to the road course located on the same site as the oval. This sounded to me like the nearest thing to an ideal solution possible at this point. I was surprised to discover that many do not share my opinion, with much of the vitriol focused on the replacement of one of the series’ oval races with another road course. The benefits of holding the race on the road course outweigh those of canceling the event or moving it to a stateside oval.

A race, particularly one held on another continent, is not a trivial undertaking. It is a business in and of itself that must on some level take care of facility scheduling, maintenance, staffing, promotion, marketing, organization, cleanup, race control, sanctioning, traffic flow, safety, and probably a thousand other items. This business protects itself and its investment with a contract negotiated and enforced by an army of lawyers. It will not allow itself to be easily cancelled or removed without significant penalty.
On the other side, Indycar also has an investment in the event. It expects a significant sanction fee from the promoter, has engaged in its own marketing, has a TV deal, and has worked out the logistics of moving two dozen race teams from middle America to the Far East and back.
Simply canceling the event would incur whatever penalties are specified in the contract. Considering the investment and work put into the event by the Motegi personnel, this is certainly significant. Add in Indycar’s marketing cost, the portion of the TV deal, logistics (I’m pretty sure that scheduling a pair of 747 cargo planes isn’t like a Hertz rental car that can be cancelled with a week’s notice) and the sanctioning fee, and cancellation becomes an extremely expensive propositon.
Instead, a solution has been found where the biggest change is which suspension and aero parts the teams pack with their cars. Oval track racing fans aren’t happy that they’ve lost a date on the schedule at their favorite type of track, but I have trouble seeing how the alternative (no race at all) is preferable.
It’s been suggested that, if the race were cancelled, a North American track could step up and take the date over. I am skeptical of this. Right now, there are just over three months before September 17. In order for a track to put such an event together, it would have to: Have the date free, have the track configured and equipped for an Indycar race, have resources to pay the sanctioning fee, have personnel ready to work, and promote and sell tickets. The last item sounds particularly tough. Many events on the schedule have trouble selling many tickets, even with 8 or 9 or more months of promotion. Do they expect to sell similar or greater numbers of tickets with less notice? Every schedule printed to date has “Motegi” in place for September 17. How does a promoter change that in people’s minds?

Now I’m not a fan of this event. I can’t believe that many people stay up late to watch a race from a series they’re barely aware of in the first place. It does nothing to improve or sell the product to the intended (read: American) audience. I understand that it is on the schedule as a favor to engine supplier Honda, who I believe owns the track. Indycar management appears to realize this, and the 2011 event is scheduled to be the last at the facility.

The fact remains that this event is on the 2011 schedule, and Indycar is legally and morally obligated to make every attempt to run it, even under mitigating circumstances. When a set of those circumstances arose, Indycar came up with a simple solution to what could have been an expensive, messy problem.

1 comment:

  1. You mean that some actions may have consequences? Man, I need to take a long look in the mirror tonight...