IndyCar 2018 – JohnTheRaceFan

In December, Racer magazine began a series of pieces about what people in and around the series think the direction of the Verizon IndyCar Series should take for 2018. Mario Andretti, Will Power, Bobby Unser and others have lent their opinion as well as others, with more pieces forthcoming.  Each has a unique idea of how they would like to see the series improve over the next few years.

I’m hardly an industry insider.  I’m pretty much a hack blogger with an opinion. And opinions are neither right nor wrong, so I’ll share mine.  Thus, I present my own thoughts on where the Verizon IndyCar Series should be and where it should be headed in three years’ time.


2018 Schedule
I know I sound like a broken record, but the season has to be longer.  Mario agrees with me.

I cannot come to terms with the reasoning for ending the season so early.

I think that pretty much sums it up.  The schedule has a good number of races. I don’t know if there’s room for more races, even if the schedule draws out until October or even November. I do, however, think that the quality of the venues needs to improve. There needs to be fewer parking lot autocrosses like Houston.
And no double-headers.

My 2018 dream schedule:

Sun Mar 18 - St. Petersburg 
Sun Mar 25 - NOLA Motorsports Park 
Sun Apr  8 - Long Beach 
Sun Apr 15 - Phoenix International Speedway 
Sun Apr 29 - Barber Motorsports Park 
Sun May  6 - Indianapolis Road Course 
Sun May 27 - Indianapolis 500 Mile Race 
Sun Jun 10 - Belle Isle Detroit 
Sat Jun 23 - Texas Motor Speedway 
Sun Jul  8 - Milwaukee 
Sun Jul 22 - Canadian Tire Motorsport Park  
Sun Jul 29 - Pocono International Raceway 
Sat Aug 12 - Road America 
Sun Aug 26 - Circuit of the Americas 
Sun Sep  2 - Cleveland Burke Lakefront (Labor Day) 
Sat Sep  8 - Iowa Speedway 
Sun Sep 30 - Mid-Ohio 
Sun Oct  7 - Nashville 
Sun Oct 28 - Sonoma 
Sun Nov  4 - Fontana

That gives 20 races, and could be 21 if Roger Penske insists on a double-header at Belle Isle. It would be a well-rounded schedule that includes more ovals of different sizes.
The breakdown: 8 ovals, 8 road courses, 4 street circuits.

NOLA is earlier in the year to coincide with Mardis Gras and avoid mosquitoes in the swamp.
Phoenix returns with an early spring race. Cool temperatures on a short oval.
I’d like to see Cleveland come back, and I could see the city doing a big Labor Day celebration and including the race at Burke Lakefront. It could be a thing.
Texas Iowa would both be night races.
The season finale at Fontana would end in the early evening, under the sunset, giving the event the most aesthetically pleasing backdrop.
Nothing else on there really seems outlandish, I wouldn’t think. Barring my Cleveland pipe-dream, this schedule seems feasible, at least.

Dump ABC
ABC has had a stanglehold on the Indianapolis 500 and won’t let it go. It’s a huge deal for the network, and draws high ratings, no doubt.  However, they also have several other VICS races in their contract and locks NBCSN from showing races on their over-the-air network.  OTA is where your ratings numbers come from, as they reach the most viewers. A majority of the fantastic racing we’ve seen the past couple years has been on NBCSN, which is a premium channel to some and unavailable to others.
That’s a problem.

Get IndyCar on NBC exclusively and get more races on over-the-air NBC and it would be huge in so many ways. Never mind that the commentators on ABC are nothing but awful.

2018 Car
My hope is that the DW12 and its successor will have more than two engine and aero kit developers involved in the series. It’s no secret that Kevin Kalkhoven has wanted to get his Cosworth team involved, but would need a partner like Ford.  Since Cosworth is developing for Toyota platforms, maybe that’s another potential IndyCar lump.

The idea of a standardized cell with different engine options and different body configurations is a concept that could attract the interest of engine manufacturers, design studios and the like. And with the amount that can be changed, I’d like to see the ideas of other groups or companies come to fruition. The concept presents lots of opportunity for innovation.

Assuming that VICS is thinking ahead, 2018 would likely be the one of, if not the last season for the DW12. A successor should have been chosen.  I’d hope that the methodology of having different design options for teams to choose will continue into whatever chassis platform comes next.

The turbo V6 is a good solid platform. Going into 2015, I think we’ve only begun to tap the potential of these motors, and by 2018, we’ll have hopefully destroyed the 237.498mph lap record Arie set in 1996. Ideally, three or more engine suppliers could be feeding the teams, too. All this variety and excellent racing from a common safety cell…  It sounds like a great combination to me.

The Grid
I’d like to think that the current trend of drivers coming to IndyCar from other series, particularly European formula series, will continue to drive talent toward VICS and the Mazda Road to Indy ladder.  While I don’t think anyone wants Pastor Maldonado to bring his brand of “excitement”, there are other drivers with talent, skill and experience that could very well try to become the next Nigel Mansell and attempt to take over American open wheel.

With the costs of Formula 1 being well above the stratosphere and so few seats available, only the drivers with the most talent (or the largest check) will get a seat, leaving many looking for other opportunities to race. Sure, there are other options like DTM, various touring car series, rally or whatever, but many drivers feel most comfortable in open wheel for whatever reason.

Thanks to the success of the DW12 and the dearth of talent, VICS could present a welcome challenge for drivers that hit a wall blocking their path to Formula One. That’s what Conor Daly, Simona de Silvestro are doing presently, and by 2018 I’m sure there will be others as well.  While it’s a shame to see talented and likeable drivers not fulfill their dreams of driving in Bernie’s show, IndyCar could benefit from drivers with some semblance of star power to reach a more international audience.  It’s all about getting eyeballs on the sport.

I think it’s feasible to see a full-season car count in the high 20s. Assuming a 28-car grid (which would be lovely!), that means only six one-off drives would be needed to make Bump Day Qualifying Day 1 at Indy mean something again. We get enough one-off entries now with a field of 22 full-time entries (including the Conway/Carpenter split season) to make a full 33-car grid for Indianapolis. It’s not a stretch to have 8-10 one-off rides on top of 28 full-time entries.  You can do the math as well as I can, and it adds up to Bump Day drama! (Notice I didn’t cross it out there!)

Close The Revolving Door
The offices at 16th & Georgetown go through management personnel like my four year-old goes through Goldfish crackers. Ever since the IRL/ChampCar reunification, everyone from the CEO to the Race Director to various operating personnel have come and gone from VICS. The constant rotation of personnel gives an impression of instability of the series, even more so than the financial quagmire that is Formula One.

Now that the Verizon IndyCar Series is operating in the black, some stability in the folks running the series would be a good idea. While Randy Bernard was a great idea man, he really wasn’t a racer. It’s pretty obvious that the personnel at the top of the VICS food chain need to have a racing background in order to truly grow the sport. Only people who understand motorsport can truly lead a racing series through the minefield of team owners, suppliers, sponsors, drivers, safety crews, and fans to keep the train from derailing.

I’ve no idea who those people could, should or would be. I’m sure there’s someone with the credentials, the experience and the passion for open wheel racing that would be a good fit. I don’t think you’re going to find them on LinkedIn, though. How do you go about finding those ‘perfect fit’ people? I wish I knew, and I’m sure VICS wishes they knew, as well.

Promotion, Promotion, Promotion!
The only races that seem to get any decent promotion are either backed my a manufacturer (Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, for example) or the ones that Andretti promotes. Every race needs to have both national and local/regional promotion to get butts in the stands and excitement about the event. this is doubly true for oval races, since oval racing is viewed by non-fans as “just cars going in a circle”.

It’s great that Honda gives out free tickets when you test drive one of their beige-mobiles (new NSX notwithstanding), but that only serves one market and doesn’t promote the series as a whole. Every race should see drivers in the area a week before the race at schools, radio & television stations, karting centers, car dealerships, sponsors’ facilities or even local sports bars. Let the people of a community meet the drivers, see the cars and get some interest in this race thingy that’s happening in their town. People can’t attend an event they don’t know about, so inform them.

Don’t leave it up to the venues to promote the races, either. VICS has to have a hand in promoting the series.  When Izod signed on as the series title sponsor, they at least made an effort with the silly ads where drivers were trying to get to a party on an tropical island somewhere using some exciting mode of transport. I never did figure out how Marco was going to get to that island on a dirt bike.

By 2018, I hope Verizon will be promoting in full-force on television (please, no drivers walking around saying “Can you hear me now?”) on subscribers’ mobile devices, in their stores and even billboards. They have the brand power to make that happen, far more than Izod. Is that enough?  I don’t think so, but it’s certainly a good start.  If Verizon and other series partners work together to activate and promote VICS, markets that host an IndyCar race would get blanketed with promotion, almost to the point of annoyance, but that can’t be left up to the sponsors, either.




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4 Thoughts to “IndyCar 2018 – JohnTheRaceFan

  1. It’s all been said before, but it all deserves saying again and again until 16th & Georgetown finally start paying attention. The TV contract is killing them.

  2. I agree with most of your statements and with Mr. Patterson above….however I see your schedule still ignores the Pacific NW. Going to Sonoma is not nearly close enough. A couple of notable CART drivers came from this part of the continent, Parker Johnstone and Greg Moore (Parker wasn’t amazing, but was competitive). This area is severely under served by motorsports and I think (if promoted correctly) would attract droves of fans. Look how many came out to the comparitively little GRC event in Seattle? Yes rally is big here, but I think there is also a draw for any form of major motorsport because it is so under served. And quite honestly, Portland International Raceway is a premier racing venue. It doesn’t have the elevation changes of Barber, but it has a great combination of high speed and technical bits that I’d say are equal to or better than any venue in the mid-west.

    1. PIR is great, I agree.
      However for any top-level series to race there, upgrades are required to the facility. Until someone shows the willingness to invest in the upgrades, I don’t see VICS considering it as a potential venue.

      I think it’s pretty obvious that IndyCar isn’t going to invest in facility upgrades. They’re profitable, but not rolling in dough.

  3. I don’t think Phoenix would work with modern indy cars after the repave. It seems like the racing line in 3 and 4 would be about 40 feet inside the banking, to say nothing of the butchered backstretch. How about a trip back to Loudon? Otherwise, love that schedule idea

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