Thursday, June 18, 2015

Six Critiques

I always love some Indycar racing, but as with everything in life, there are things I don't like about it. If I liked everything about Indycar and went with everything they did with an approving mindset, I would be a puppet. Like I've said before, if you don't like that mindset, feel free to stop reading my opinions. If I don't like something, I will speak out about it. Rather than writing multiple pieces about multiple issues, I've put it all into one blog.

No one will deny that Indycar's on track product has been stellar ever since the introduction of the DW12 in 2012. But still, there are some things I don't like about Indycar and thus I would change. Here are six things I have observed recently and that I would fix ASAP:

1) The Schedule
My biggest ciriticsm of Indycar since 2011 has undeniably been the formation and execution of Indycar's schedule. In my opinion, Indycar had great schedules between 2008-2011, but since 2012, Indycar's schedule has been woeful. I don't like the doubleheaders. I don't like the castration of 1.5 mile ovals (since the loss of downforce on Indycars, I highly doubt we will see a repeat of Las Vegas). I don't like the fact that we've lost Baltimore, Chicagoland, Edmonton, Houston, Homestead, Kansas, Kentucky, Las Vegas, Motegi, Nashville, New Hampshire, Richmond, Sao Paulo, and Surfers Paradise since 2008. Now, there's news swirling that NOLA's future may be in doubt.

This isn't counting the fact that Indycar is missing out on other great venues, like Road America, Laguna Seca, Portland, Gateway, Rockingham, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Michigan, Streets of Denver, and many others. Indycar has managed to cut corners, like adding doubleheaders to inflate the schedule count. They've also added a second race at Indianapolis. While that's a good race and well liked, it again seems like a temporary fix to a big problem: lack of venues.

It's about that time of year where rumors regarding next year's schedule begin to swirl. First on the block is Road America, which happens every year. Mark Miles has been saying for a while now that 2014 and 2015 were place holders for a great schedule in 2016. If he and the entire Indycar team fail to execute, Mr. Miles might be out of a job. Get the schedule right and put races on the calendar that people give a damn about.

2) Economics of Aero Kits
Aero kits. All the hype for several years finally came to fruition in 2015, where manufacturers could create custom designed kits to implement on the DW12s to increase speeds and downforce. While manufacturers (Chevrolet and Honda) got to show off their innovative skills and compete against one another, they've been a large burden on teams.

The aero kits have aided downforce levels and have increased speeds and broken many track records this season, While the only objection I have to them on the track is their fragility, I do have a big problem with the cost of the kits. Two big team owners, Michael Andretti and Sam Schmidt, have voiced their criticism, Michael Andretti said, "Millions and millions of dollars have been spent by manufacturers and the teams, and I don’t see that it has put one more person in the stands."

Sam Schmidt said, "We tried it and it's not working. If we lose a lot of Honda team sponsorships it's going to be really a bad thing...  The biggest thing is I've never had anyone tell me what's it for, why we are doing this. It's not putting butts in the seats and increasing the TV ratings... You can't recover the money that we have spent, but we can still keep pissing it away on development."

Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600
Tony Kanaan representing Chevrolet (right) and Takuma Sato representing Honda (left) displaying the
varying Aero Kits introduced in 2015 (Photo: Sean Garden / Getty Images North America)

I see what Indycar is trying to accomplish with aero kits, but aero kits could kill off several teams that aren't doing well financially. Rather than pour money into the kits, I would rather see engines with more horespower. Aero kits seem like a great thing to try in a series that is doing great economically great, and, well, Indycar isn't doing great economically.

And since Honda doesn't have a contract signed for 2016 and beyond, if the aero kit decision doesn't pay off, it could spell the end of Indycar. Chevrolet can't carry the load like Honda did for several years. Honda is one of the most important sponsors and partners that Indycar has, and we cannot afford to lose them.

3) Yellow Flag Procedures
Indycar is notorious for taking their sweet damn time under yellow flag conditions to clean up whatever it is that needed to be taken care of. But I've ranted about this more in length following the travesty we saw in NOLA, and if you would like to read more on that, click here.

4) More Teams / Third Engine Manufacturer
One way to increase the size of the field and to actually have a Bump Day at Indianapolis is to have more teams and a third engine manufacturer. For the past several seasons, it seems like Indycar's current teams are expanding and keeping the car count average levels, rather than new teams jumping in.

Obviously there's more than a third engine supplier (like increasing revenue for teams or adding incentives for new teams to come in) to increasing the size of the field, but a third engine supplier could help add entries and bring down the costs of leasing engines. Manufacturers like Mazda (strong affliation with Indycar), Toyota, Alfa Romeo, and Kia would be great fits in the sport.

About the new teams and expanding teams; we've seen teams like Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing, AJ Foyt Enterprises, and more expand in recent years, while other teams, like Ed Carpenter Racing, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, HVM Racing, and other teams have merged. Since 2008, Indycar has lost full-time teams and entries, including Conquest Racing, Dragon Racing, Dreyer and Reinbold Racing, HVM Racing, Newman/Haas Racing, Panther Racing, and Vision Racing.

Road Runner Turbo Indy 300 Practice
Justin Wilson of Newman/Haas Racing leads Ed Carpenter of Vision Racing, both teams which
have since closed shop, at Kansas, a track which no longer hosts Indycar, in 2008
(Photo: Marc Serota / Getty Images North America)

Hopefully new teams will be on the horizon. The all-female Grace Autosport has announced their intentions to run in the 2016 Indianapolis 500. Carlin Racing, a top class racing team in many formulas and a team who has employed Indycar aces like Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Charlie Kimball, Conor Daly, Mikhail Aleshin, and Carlos Huertas, has joined Indy Lights in 2015 with the ambition of joining Indycar in 2016. Juncos Racing, a team that has a history in the Mazda Road to Indy, is building a factory in Speedway, Indiana with the hopes of fielding an Indycar team in the next couple of seasons.

Hopefully more teams come back and/or start up operations soon, because current Indycar teams can only expand for so long before the money dries up.

5) TV Deal
One way to get more teams is to increase team revenue, and one way to do that is to get more sponsors, and one way to do that is to get a better TV deal so more eyes will be focused on Indycar making the sponsors happier. Now, I never have and currently don't presume to have all of the answers to all of Indycars problems, and this is one of them. I don't know how TV contracts work and I'm not sure anyone other than ABC and NBCSN is currently interested in broadcasting Indycar races, so I don't exactly have a solution to this problem. However, Indycar can't brag about its great on-track product if no one watches.

6) Starts and restarts
Standing starts were a hoot! I loved them. However, the were ditched before the 2015 season, and I don't really blame them. The bad clutch systems on the car and the anti-stall system that does nothing to prevent the car from stalling have made standing starts dangerous and tedious for drivers. Still, they were a thrill to watch and I wish the clutch systems would be improved to make standing starts an option again.

I have been impressed (for the most part) with starts and restarts this year. However, I miss double file restarts. I don't think they are the best idea on road courses, but on ovals, they work like a charm. Also, Indycar should not be afraid to throw the yellow flag if the leader takes off before he is supposed to, causing the field to spread out (90% of the time, this leader is Helio Castroneves, who doesn't believe restart procedures apply to him).2

lat abbott toronto 0615 5705
Picture of the failed restart at Toronto (Photo: LAT Photographic)

Thanks for reading folks! Let me know if you have any questions or if you want anything cleared up.

-Matthew Hickey


  1. Three things.

    1 - restarts, It seems the procedures on restarts lack consistency and style. Over here it seems procedures are alot more rigorous and enforced at every single event, it seems in Indycar we go from what is an acceptable restart one weekend, and the next, its a different story, dependent on the street-road course the series visits. It also seems cars bunch alot more on restarts to what we are used to here, it's good for racing off the restarts, but more likely to cause a second yellow I find.

    2- TV ratings - The problem isn't the networks, the problem is the perception of Indycar being a small series, therefore it has a small voice, the networks, both NBC SN and ABC have sports with far more impressive ratings, so its possible to have that. NBC SN of course is behind somewhat, but its improved substantially the past couple of years. I'm very curious what the ratings will be for NASCAR when it arrives on NBC SN next month for a comparison.

    ABC's problem is investment, but then why would they invest in a series that has such small ratings, outside of the one property that is useful for them to have, which is the Indianapolis 500. The problem is to get more investment (exposure) is to have higher ratings so its worthwhile doing so, it really is one of those horrid issues that just circulates.

    If it did go to another channel, Indycar aren't going to convince anyone major to take the whole series on the main network now, so it would be Fox Sports or bein sports or someone niche, like NBC SN, so it's kind of like swapping out one for another. No gain. Lets put it this way, if you where an exec at FOX etc, would you want to buy the rights to a series which this weekend had lower ratings than the population of the city of Little Rock?

    3 - Aero kits - other than what you have said which I agree with, I think I should point out, that part the problem also is the message is lost. The core message of this was "Honda and chevrolet, unique kits to differentiate the product" ... the messages we have heard is parity is wrong, aero kits responsible for multiple yellow flags, Indy '500' aero kit alterations and a whole group of other issues, with very little discussion or interest on the reason for these kits.

    1. To clarify, I mean the "City" of Little Rock, not the urban/metro - 196,000

  2. Several thoughts:
    The schedule has been atrocious. Every year it's the same drivel of IndyCar is looking at this track they use to race at and nothing happens. When the Series want $1.5 million, unless a track has a sponsor lined up, it's never going to happen. Originally, 2015 was to be the banner year for the schedule but that didn't happen. Having the season compressed is also killing us. Notice how many teams have become involved in other series so they don't have to lay employees off.
    The aero-kits are a failure. I believe in competition and Honda made a dumb decision to go with Wirth. They deserve to get their butts kicked this year but next year, you need to hit the reset button so that Honda and Chevy teams have an equal chance to win. If sponsors do leave Honda teams, IndyCar is to blame when teams fold or lose car counts.
    IndyCar looks like a bush league series every time a yellow is thrown. It shouldn't take multiple laps to pick up 1 piece of debris. When did it become acceptable to make the caution long enough so that cars could pit under yellow? 1 lap of caution and then go green would mean cars have to pit under green. They don't have the phantom cautions to bunch the field up like Nascar but for heaven's sake, don't take 15 minutes for a 1 lap caution.
    IndyCar desperately needs a third engine mfg. Mazda supplies the entire MRTI, why aren't they supplying engines to IndyCar? Talk about relevance? If a third engine mfg is impossible, it shows you how low the series really is in the eyes of the automotive community.
    For a series that markets themselves to have the best drivers in the world, they get an F on starts/restarts. Double file restarts should be at every track. If you are the best drivers, figure out how to not wreck each other on starts/restarts. The decision at Toronto to not start double file due to a wet track was absurd. The message being sent is that our drivers have no clue how to start or restart a race, they drive like 16 yr old boys trying to impress the hot girl. Use your heads and show the world you can start/restart no matter what the conditions are.