Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What Controversy?

The Indycar world is abuzz about the closing stages of last weekend's race at Sonoma, where Scott Dixon's championship drive took a hit when he was penalized for causing an incident in rival Will Power's pit. I wasn't sure what to think at first, and might have even leaned to the pro-Dixon side. By the time I turned off the broadcast after hearing Beaux Barfield's explanation for the penalty, I was convinced it was the right move.
Dixon drove through part of Power's pit stall, where he made contact with a crewman and/or equipment. That's it, that gets a penalty. Period. Where he drove in prior or later stops is irrelevant. He was in Power's pit stall and hit one of Power's crewmen. Things were kind of vague until Barfield explained where exactly the pit stall boundaries were, but once that was clarified, it was an easy call to make. Power's guy was where he had every right to be, doing what he had every right to do. Dixon got too close and there was an incident. Therefore, the penalty was just and should stand.

For what it's worth, the real 'Dick Move' was Dixon accusing Power's crewman of cheating (i.e. being where he shouldn't have been). Not that I blame Dixon, his emotions were understandably high at the moment. (See! Scott Dixon does have emotions!)

The last few races might just be a bit more fun to watch now that Badass Scott Dixon has a few more points to make up. I'm looking forward to them!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Now There's an Idea...

(Yes, more of the Manifesto is coming. It's just that other news items are cropping up...)

Once again, is reporting interesting Indycar news. This week, it's that a series of high-paying international races are being considered for the off-season. My opinion is that Indycar should focus on the North American market for several reasons (see the upcoming Manifesto entries for elaboration). However, what is being proposed is apparently something slightly different from what I expected. If international races are run outside the championship (or under a second championship) and during the off-season, they could resolve a few problems. First, money. If the international races pay and the series needs money, then go for it. Second, a half-year off-season. Stay out of the domestic market when football and NASCAR rule it, but keep on the fan's radar. Use the time to build or maintain international fans, make some money, AND keep us die-hard domestic fans happy. I was dead-set against racing outside of North America, but this makes sense. I'm intrigued. It's an example of some new, fresh thinking that we feared was lost with the departure of Randy Bernard. Could it still fail to deliver? Sure, but I'm willing to see where this goes.

Until next time,

(Don't forget about the shirt above-you'll be the envy of all the new global Indycar fans! Thanks!)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Complaining About Speculation

(The Indycar Manifesto series will continue. I just wanted to get this off my chest.)

Last week, published an article discussing the state of Indycar's 2014 schedule. Several things stand out in that article, which I'd like to discuss with the fine folks at Indycar:

1. More doubleheaders. Ok, I'm game. Rolling starts, please.

2. Ending the season by Labor Day. Why??? Ok, I guess I can see the argument for it: Unbeatable competition from football and the NASCAR Chase. That doesn't fix a couple other problems. Is it really in the series' best interest to drop off the radar for six months? Going silent-no news, no race coverage, no fan interest for an entire half a year. I wonder how many new fans are lost to these long off-seasons. Do many fans turn to NASCAR and realize they can get a fix anytime they want for 10 months of the year? Do many fans watch football and forget about Indycar, instead of vice versa? Is fear of your competition a wise strategy? Is there some other calculus behind this I'm not aware of?

3. This is the big one. An Indycar race at the IMS road course. Sure, there are practical benefits: No travel for Indy-based teams, a dedicated infrastructure, etc. But I think running Indy cars on the road course can only cheapen the Speedway and the 500. (That point has very nearly been reached already; I'm waiting for the announcement that some cones will be laid out and SCCA autocrosses run on the front stretch Sunday morning, while an NHRA christmas tree has been procured and bracket racing will start on the back stretch next Thursday night.) Stop it. Protect the heritage. Maintain the mystique and keep the 500 special.
Ok, ok, ok. You've looked at the bottom line. You've been a steward of the heritage. You've consulted Donald Davidson. You're running a race on the road course and no one can stop you. All right. I'll yield. I'll stop the kicking and screaming while you drag me into the 21st century. On one condition: Don't run the road course in May! That sounds like the easiest way possible to damage the 500's cachet. Keep May pure. (Even if it is just a fortnight now...) Keep all the events you do, and keep doing them. Build the entire month up to the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Don't put on another race before then. Don't confuse fans with the Indianapolis 250 Mile Race, or whatever you have in mind.
Since I'm a reasonable person, I'd like to propose a compromise. You get to have your IMS road course race. We get to keep our May pure. You get to build more value into the facility and the season. Run the IMS road course as the season-ender. Crown the champion there. That puts it as far away from the 500 as possible on the schedule-giving you maximum time to promote during the season, and minimum downtime after the season. It also gives you a reason to promote the championship harder-not only at the other events, but with double the opportunities at the 500. Make it a big deal-maybe even a week long. Practice Friday and Saturday, qualify Sunday, spend a week hyping it up, come back for 'Carb Day 2' with the season-ending Lights race the following Saturday, and race on Sunday. Or not. But push it, and stay away from May.

On the upside, there's racing again this weekend! Looking forward to it.
Still have some of the shirts above available for sale. Still on special for $20.00 shipped. Just click on the "Buy Now" button to purchase! Your purchase makes future shirts possible! Thanks!

Until next time,

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Indycar: A Manifesto, Part 1

This is the first of a series of posts about what I think Indycar needs to do in order to grow and thrive. In this entry, I've laid out the problem. Subsequent posts will deal with what should be done about it. I hope you enjoy the reading, and please post your own comments and suggestions!

One of the by-products of Indycar's current niche market/narrow fan base is a sense of ownership felt by the close-knit fan base. Every one feels that he knows what's best for Indycar and what, exactly, should be done to grow the fan base and take the sport back to its former glory. (This was exemplified by the outcry over Randy Bernard's ouster last year. How often does a CEO's firing cause fans to declare en masse that they'll no longer consume said product?) I'm no different. While I understand that I don't own the series, call any shots, or have any say (beyond my race-going and sponsor product-buying dollars), I do have ideas and suggestions.

To begin, the question "How did the sport get into its current state?" must be answered. The easy answer is the 1996 CART/IRL split. I'm of the opinion that the split dealt a crushing blow at exactly the wrong time. The early 1990s saw several things happen nearly simultaneously. First, all of the hugely popular old-time heroes retired for good within a few years of one another: AJ Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Al Unser Sr, and Mario Andretti. Emerson Fittipaldi and Rick Mears also hung up their helmets in that timeframe. Second, American open-wheel racing became a stepping stone on the way to or from Formula 1: Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet, Christian Fittipaldi, and Jacques Villenueve fall into this category. (For that matter, 12 of 19 CART/Champ Car champions from 1989-2007 had come from would be F1 drivers.) It's hard to market your series and its drivers as the best in the world when they have their eyes elsewhere. Finally, an ascendent NASCAR was gaining serious traction on its march into the mainstream.
Just as open-wheel racing faced these challenges (whether realized or not), it was split into two antagonistic, competing circuits. Overnight, the experienced fan realized that his series was now two, both run by people who appeared to be more concerned with their own bottom line than what the fans wanted. New and would-be fans were faced with confusion that would take at least a 5-minute conversation to even begin to understand the issue. I was able to relate much better after a personal experience: I was a big Formula 1 fan in the late '90s and early '00s. Sunday mornings I would make an effort to wake up early and watch the races. As Ferrari and Michael Schumacher's dominance grew, it became more and more difficult to justify rising early to watch a race where I knew who the winner would be. Eventually, I made the effort only to tune in to see who was on the podium. As my obligations and responsibilities changed, it was easy to allow my Formula 1 enthusiasm to wane to almost nothing. It just wasn't worth the effort with other demands on my time. Since 2003, I've watched only a handful of F1 races. Even when I had more time, I didn't go back to watching full-time. I think 1990s open-wheel fans faced a similar situation: they were given an excuse to turn their attention elsewhere, and they did. They won't be back. Even now, when a former race fan learns of my enthusiasm for Indycar, the almost universal statement is, "yeah, I watched until the split and never got back into it." Why would they now? They have other hobbies and interests that don't threaten to insult them.

Next: Solution #1.

Of course, the shirts above are still available! If you like it, please click the link above and buy one! Your purchase will help make future designs (of which I have a lot I'm excited about) possible! Thanks!

Monday, August 5, 2013

More (Yes, More) Mid-Ohio

It's a New Winner Special! In honor of Charlie Kimball's first victory, my green-and-gray shirts (take a look to your left) are on special for $20.00 for one day only. Shipping is still free within the USA. Be like the cool people and get one!

On that note, I have to again extend special thanks to those who helped fund the effort on Kickstarter, who continue to help, and those who spread the word. If you've Tweeted or ReTweeted or Facebook Shared or Pinterested: Thank you. Special thanks also go out to my lovely wife, to Steve Cunningham, and to Jason Piro (need some design work? Get in touch with him at Piro Graphics).

I don't know about anyone else, but I found Sunday's race at Mid-Ohio fascinating. Most of the big names guessed wrong on the strategy and paid for it, while the guys who went all-out were rewarded. It appeared that most of those big names had planned on minimizing their time on pit road by making only two pit stops. In order to make the fuel economy numbers needed for that strategy to work, those on the 2-stop strategy had to drive conservatively (to put it mildly) the entire race. This usually works out for the conservers, since typical strategy is to minimize time slowing down and being stationary for the pit stops. On Sunday, however, it appeared that the reduced pace those two-stoppers had to run slowed them down to the point where they actually lost time to drivers who made three pit stops, but were able to run all-out for the entire race. I believe the TV announcers said that the total time penalty for a pit stop (in-lap, pit road time, and out-lap) was 24 seconds. That meant that the two-stoppers hoped to save 24 seconds over the three-stoppers. Which sounds good on paper-but it means that they would have to run within 0.267 seconds of the three-stoppers for the entire 90 laps of the race. I believe I heard on TV that the speed gaps were more like 2 seconds per lap... Did the engineers miss the strategy because the Firestones fell off faster than expected? Or did the engines burn more fuel than expected? Either way, the result was a lot of fun to watch.

Being free of cautions helped make this a "Pure Strategy" race. It was entertaining, and maybe it showed a new fan or two how much of a chess game auto racing really is.

Mid-Ohio looked GREAT on TV. Made me miss going there. I wonder how much the look of the track and the broadcast was affected by the relatively late running time? Everything looks more colorful and more dramatic with the sun lower in the sky. I don't recall CART races starting that late there.

I'm happy for Charlie Kimball. I've come away from every interview I've heard with him impressed. He's a great spokesman and a great representative of the sport. I don't think he's gotten a lot of respect the past few years, but that might be changing. 2013 has turned out to be a breakthrough year for him. Plus that Mid-Ohio trophy is cool!

Dario Franchitti's record over the past 4 races is second only to Scott Dixon's. Add a win, a second, and a sixth from Kimball, and it looks like Ganassi is back on top. So long as Chip stays off of pit walls.

Anyone who is ever surprised by Simon Pagenaud's performance hasn't been paying attention. Notice that he's currently an invisible 5th in the championship standings. Which is the same position he finished in the 2013 standings. It's no wonder Penske tried to hire him for 2013.

More later. Enjoy the schedule's off-weeks. Maybe they won't seem so bad if you have a new shirt; one with an Indy car on it! See elsewhere on this page about picking one up!