The IndyCar series is suffering from another long delay between races. Not only is the series out of the public consciousness on the DirecTV-less Versus network, they are suffering from these huge gaps in the schedule during NFL football season. Keep in mind though that the IRL, when putting together this years schedule was lobbying hard to keep Surfer’s Paradise on the schedule and team it with the flyaway race in Japan.
But even with the setbacks, there are some signs of possible momentum on the near horizon. We will discuss some of these issues and their ramifications below:
1. The IndyCar Series is once again making noise about a near future title sponsor signing. Last year we heard names like Subway and Citigroup, but now the name on the hook is Phillips Van Heusen, owner of the IZOD apparel line, among others. No real concrete information has come out on this, but the IRL’s Commercial Division President Terry Angstadt has stated that they hope to get this deal inked before Homestead. In the past, they were holding out for 10 million USD per year for the title sponsor deal, along with guarantees that the title sponsor would actively market their involvement with the series.
Most likely the IZOD involvement in IndyCar would continue, along with other Phillips Van Heusen clothing lines like Calvin Klein, Van Heusen, Arrow and GH Bass possibly getting some attention.
2. The Brazilian deal may finally be close to signing. In the last week or so Rio de Janeiro has emerged as the most likely home of what we will dub “The Southern Hemisphere Indy Grand Prix”. Terry Angstadt and Tony Cottman made a recent trip to Brazil where Terry was reportedly ironing out the commercial side of this agreement, while Tony was assisting locals in coming up with a track layout. They are hoping to make an announcement before the Homestead race.
This has drug on for so long. We first started hearing details about this in the spring. With this Brazil race supposedly kicking off the 2010 season in March, this seems a bit tight to get everything inked, announced and arranged in time to get butts in the seats. On the other side, if this doesn’t work out, the comparisons to all the flyaway races that CCWS arranged but never ran (China, South Korea) could not be escaped.
3. Not much new has come out about the engine roundtables. The last we heard, Honda, Audi, VW and Porsche were all interested parties. Since then, the VW has solidified its controlling stake in Porsche adding them to their stable alongside Audi. Clearly VW would most likely not enter the IndyCar series under two different badges, but stranger things have been known to happen.
Honda has recently picked up their option to continue providing engines to the IndyCar Series until the end of 2011. Most likely they will be joined in 2012 by a member of the VW group, making for two engine manufacturers in the series.
Again, Terry Angstadt has stated that they will make an announcement about the engines by Thanksgiving. Hopefully, we will hear some leaks before that though.
4. The chassis front has been interesting to say the least. We are expecting a chassis announcement to come along with the engine announcement before Thanksgiving. At this time though, there sounds like some very different options on the table. Brian Barnhardt (IRL President of Competition) has stated that they have up to four interested chassis manufacturers, but that they most likely will go with Dallara.
What is most interesting is that they are considering two different chassis options. One is a more traditional indy/formula style car, the second option is described by Brian Barnhardt as “radically different”. Trackside Online questioned him about this, asking if it was something like a front engine roadster, and Brian responded that it would even be more radically different than that. So far, we have heard no leaks about what that might mean, but it might have something to do with some of the ideas that came out of the Art Center College of Design collaboration with the IRL to design a car for 2011. And some of those design ideas were pretty wacky looking.
Brian went on to state that they have a database of safety and crash information for traditional indy/formula style cars, which would make it cheaper to implement one of those style cars as the new chassis. Since that database of information doesn’t exist for this radically different idea, it would be more expensive to use since it would require them to crash a whole bunch more of those tubs to gather that information.
Further, the IRL cannot afford a complete miss on the design of the new chassis. Clearly, the current chassis is dated and was the less appealing looking when you compare it with the Panoz G-Force which it competed against for several seasons. But, if they end up putting out a design that is found to be lacking or just plain wacky, they may find more people jumping overboard.
5. The Versus TV deal is starting to gather very vocal detractors. Especially since it has come to an impasse with DirecTV. But Versus has started to make noise about how the IRL has exceeded their ratings expectations. Clearly, an average Nielsen rating of 0.39 is nothing to brag about, but Versus has chosen to roll all of their coverage together into one number. They are claiming that more people watched the 11 2010 IndyCar races on Versus than watched the 12 ESPN/ESPN2 races last year. But lets examine this statement. Versus has chosen to roll all 7 hours (qualifiying, race, rebroadcast, Indy Lights) of coverage into that number, so clearly it is no great feat to compare 77 hours of Versus television to ~27 hours of ESPN/ESPN2.
But what is clear is that Versus is committed to making IndyCar grow on their growing network. What the series needs more than anything is partners who are committed to helping it grow. ESPN was clearly not that partner, and paying for time on NBC is clearly not the answer either.
Here is the problem, we have been waiting on many of these announcements for quite some time. The IRL better get their act together and get the new car, new engine, Brazil race and title sponsor inked and announced so they can build positive momentum into the offseason. The teams desperately need some new things to talk about when they approach potential sponsors.