Last night, sandwiched between two lengthy NASCAR announcements, Texas Motor Speedway President and promoter extraordinaire Eddie Gossage announced plans for the 2011 IndyCar event at his facility in Dent County, TX.
This idea featuring a doubleheader certainly isn’t knew to Championship open-wheel racing. It was a feature of both USAC and CART in the late 60s and through the 70s.
“I think it is important that we elevate all of our races to give them a big-event feel. Eddie Gossage and Texas Motor Speedway certainly are taking things to the next level with the Firestone Texas Two-Step doubleheader. It was a concept that was first run by USAC in the 1960s, so it plays on an Indy car tradition but also brings a new no limits feel to the event.” — Randy Bernard, Read more quotes from Mr. Bernard and Bobby Unser at IndyCar.com
This time around, the twin races will award half the usual points for each race, but it doubles the potential risk for teams, especially the smaller ones who don’t have a lot in the way of spare parts or backup chassis. There are a lot of pros and cons in this type of format, and I’ve been trying to think through them over the previous evening and this morning (after coffee). Here are some of my thoughts.
The uniqueness of the event will certainly draw attention and potentially sell tickets. Having a week break between the Greatest Spectacle in Racing and the “Texas Two-Step” as they’re calling it will help put butts in the seats as well. Although the crowd was still strong this year, attendance was certainly down from previous years and this change could be enough of a novelty to draw in some who were sitting on the fence before.
Opportunity for multiple winners
Having two feature races will allow for more potential winners for the weekend. Its not likely as most of the time in the past, a single driver has won both races in a doubleheader. Reality and perception are different beasts, though, and the perception that your favourite small-team driver could win, even if they lose the first race, is another potential bonus for fans.
Reconnects with Championship open-wheel racing
Ever since Randy Bernard took up the reigns of the Indy Racing League, he has sought to bring back some of the nostalgia and reconnect with the extensive history of Championship open-wheel racing in America. One of the things that many of us have railed against over the past thirteen years is the perception that the IRL doesn’t see any history beyond 1996. Bernard has been working hard to remove that barrier and reclaim the rich history of IndyCar racing regardless of what sanctioning body ruled over it at the time. I say good on him for that!
Expense for small teams
Any race is a challenge for a small team with a budget that is barely enough to make ends meet.
Timing for the two races
The heat in TX, even in early June is brutal! This year, the daytime temps were well into the 100s and at the track, it was even worse. The races at Texas in recent years have been held at dusk, when there’s a breeze and the temperatures calm down a bit. Its actually very pleasant, weather-wise, but the race ends pretty late. With running two races, even though it adds up to the same total distance as before, the length of the even would have to be extended. Either the event would have to begin earlier in the day, therefore closer to the brutality of the Texas summertime heat, or last longer into the evening making it an even later night than it already is.
My biggest concern about the twin races is their length: 114 laps each. The fuel cell in today’s IndyCar holds 22 gallons of ethanol. To make the race a 1-stopper, a car would have to make 3.86 mpg. With help from some yellow flags, a driver with a delicate right foot could make it. This worries me. Rather than seeing two shootout-style events, we could instead see two fuel-mileage races. This would suck the life right out of what has been a great event in the past. A two-stopper could do it while only needing to maintain 2.59 mpg which one could achieve driving flat out under green flags the entire 171 miles.
So there are my thoughts. What are your’s? Agree? Disagree? Do you see other potential positives to this, or additional challenges? Let us know in the comment section below.