Hey, kids. For all six of you who may still be checking this site from time to time and who may not have had me personally tell you either in person or over the phone, I'm now appearing elsewhere. Thanks to the good folks (and hosts of the World Renowned Blogathon! Which is happening! Again! In a couple of weeks!) at GrabBagSports, I've got a far classier (read: we've got graphics and working sidebars and stuff) place to pour my prose all over like so much sugar-free imitation maple syrup. So, if you've really got a hankering to see what I'm thinking about, or more accurately, to see what Allen and Mike are thinking about, since I still blog about once every Mayan calendar cycle, head on over there. I mean, here. Thanks.
Hey, everybody. I've been meaning to write up a full breakdown of how I feel about last week's ICONIC panel announcement about the new-for-2012 IndyCar. Instead, my buddy Rick (who you'll all know from the last two posts here) and I have been e-mailing (the venue where we solve all of life's problems) non-stop about it. This is a few days belated, but a few days ago he sent me an e-mail that sums up my thoughts about the whole matter 100%, down to the last word. So, with no further ado, here's Rick's take. I'm The Speedgeek. And I approved this message.
My take on 2012:
Ok, what does everyone want? Competition. Innovation. Close racing. Safety. Speed. Different looking cars. Multiple manufacturer involvement.
What is the ultimate goal? More fans in seats to get more corporate involvement and interest to get more fans in seats to make the sport bigger and more popular and more successful with more teams and drivers.
What do we have so far? Engine specs friendly to multiple manufacturers with present or higher power outputs.
What is the worst case scenario? Another ugly spec car and engine.
How does that prevent reaching the ultimate goal? Indycar racing continues on its same staid, stagnant path with no new interest from any comers.
What is the best case scenario? 33 different car and engine combinations on the grid at Indy that show off the talent and ingenuity of mechanics and engineers as they try to capture the biggest trophy in sports.
What’s wrong with the best case scenario? It’s cost prohibitive, especially in today’s economic environment, and prevents the reaching of the ultimate goal because no one, or very few, would be able to compete in that environment. Further, racing history has shown again and again that open-rules formulae tend to favor the team with the most resources, who will eventually dominate to the exclusion of everyone else.
Here we have the crux of the issue. I think everyone thinks the “best case scenario” (bcs) is pretty darn cool. Some of us understand that, in the long run (or the long short-run), such an approach is actually detrimental. The opposite approach results in the “worst case scenario” (wcs). A spec series that no one is interested in dominated by the teams with the most resources-because they are the only ones who can afford to spend the money on those diminishing returns. What to do? The answer here, as in much of life, is compromise. Yes, the c-word. Well, not that c-word, but a slightly less offensive one. Slightly.
Compromise is necessary in racing. For example, the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race is won by the car that first completes the 500 mile distance. Simple in theory, right? Unfortunately, sometimes a car will crash or break on the track during the attempt. For the safety of the driver or drivers involved, a caution period is invoked. All of the drivers competing to finish the 500 miles first reduce their speed and bunch up so that disabled vehicles and debris can be removed and involved drivers attended to safely. Slowing a race is a compromise. A necessary compromise in the interest of safety, but a compromise nonetheless. This week we are talking about necessary compromise in the rules that shape the car itself. With unlimited specials out of the question, the next step is to determine where on the spectrum of “Spec engine and chassis to Unlimited Special” the car should land. Or, the degree of compromise. With teams and sponsors hurting for money because of the economy, NASCAR, poor management, etc, it will probably have to be towards the spec end of the spectrum. But we want to see what we can do. What do we know about the proposals?
- BaT, Swift, and Lola simply had to be sole suppliers. - Dallara has lots of experience and the existing capacity. - DeltaWing is more a theory or philosophy than an actual car. It was not specified who would actually build it. - BaT is another start-up, with unproven and nonexistent manufacturing capability. - Swift would build in California.
Let’s add in some more relevant factors. Local and state government is involved with tax breaks for Indiana-manufactured and -based entries (this is HUGE. PUBLIC money going towards racing??? This isn’t even building a football stadium that will be used 16 times a season or a baseball or basketball stadium used dozens of times a year. This is teams. This is HUGE and unheard of. I don’t know if I would have been politician enough to suggest this! Big, big, big. I don’t think this can be understated.) Teams are generally strapped for cash. There isn’t much time before the start of the 2012 season. Engine manufacturers have yet to be nailed down.
With our bcs, wcs, and all the factors in mind, let’s start eliminating. BaT, Swift, and Lola are out if we want avoid having a de facto spec series. BaT is unproven and Swift would build in California, earning more strikes against them. The DeltaWing concept realistically has a long, long way to go before it sees the track. What will the car itself look like? Who will build all the parts? Where? The safest bets to exploit all the economic advantages and get the things built in time look to be Dallara and Lola. And, frankly, between the two, Dallara’s openness to competition and track record work in its favor.
We’re still not that far from a spec series(If Dallara and Lola are chosen, then Dallara says “ok”, Lola can’t make the price point and begs off. Back to one.). So what do we do if only one manufacturer is going to work out? Where can we get some innovation? Well, everyone wants a “Safety Cell”, so lets make that spec. Fans (average and avid) –who pay the bills directly and indirectly- can’t see or tell the difference between all the dirty bits, so let’s make those spec. That leaves all the aero stuff. We can leave that open. To prevent the gorillas from dominating, we’ll cap the price and limit the number a team can have. Since Dallara isn’t in the business of selling consumer products and really isn’t advertising (their final customer is the race team or sanctioning body), they don’t really care how the cars are badged. So anyone else can fund an aero package and brand it. And a compromise is struck.
Let’s see what we have here-Competition (aero and engine manufacturers), Innovation (ditto), Close Racing can be dialed in with regulations (see last year vs this year), Safety (common safety cell), Speed (more power, less weight), Different looking cars (aero kits), multiple manufacturers. I think we have a win-win-win situation here. Is it ideal? No, but we’ve already established that the bcs is unfeasible, so a compromise was necessary. Is it exactly what I wanted? No, but I think it’s probably better in that it’s more realistic. I was, honestly, taking Ben Bowlby’s word for a lot of it. The concrete facts seem to favor this concept a bit more.
Hey, everybody. Still trapped under the boulder. This doesn't mean that I can't still keep this space open for our outstanding guest poster Rick. This week, in advance of the rapidly approaching announcement by the ICONIC panel on the chassis that'll be used by the IndyCar series in 2012, Rick's got his take on what he'd do if he were in their shoes (or boots, in Randy Bernard's case). To disclaim a bit: Rick's views on the chassis selection do not mirror my own 100%, but I think that his take is pretty interesting and I would not be at all disappointed if what he wants came to be in 18 months from now. With that, here's the floor, fella.
Over the past 15 years, a division of resources, poor decisions, and a burgeoning rival have conspired to move American open wheel racing and the Indianapolis 500 from national prominence. 2010 has seen new life breathed into the series. A new CEO, reinvigorated racing, and an enthusiastic title sponsor promise to bring Indycar racing back to a place of interest for fans, manufacturers, and sponsors. With the decision to retire the long-in-the-tooth Dallara chassis made, a unique opportunity presents itself: Reinvent the Indy Car. A new design could hold a number of advantages that could be exploited to fuel a new era of growth in the sport. The best way for this to happen would be to adopt a radical solution like the DeltaWing concept.
First, a radical new car will draw attention. Race fans, laypeople, and journalists alike will talk about the new shape of racing and what the future of racing will look like. That kind of press and buzz is essential to any kind of growth.
Second, redefining what an "Indy Car" is will separate the series from other forms of racing competing for the fan's ticket dollar and the TV channel's ratings point. Create a shape that differs markedly from what has been the norm for nearly 30 years and casual fans will no longer refer to Indy cars as "F1s".
Third, a radical change lends credibility to the technology leadership platform Indy car racing has long held. SAFER Barriers, HANS devices, ethanol fuel, attenuators, and other advances only mean so much when tacked on to the same old tired machine.
Fourth, the safety progress of the last decade can be taken even further. At the forefront is preventing wheel-to-wheel contact. Mike Conway's wreck at Indianapolis was only the latest hint of what catastrophe might come about if wheels remain unshielded.
Many of the complaints I've heard revolve around the DeltaWing concept's aesthetics. I shared many of these concerns until seeing the mock-up in the flesh. The distortions of two dimensional images and unusual viewing angles don't do this car any favors. I've also been told that it looks even better decorated in sponsor livery.
One complaint is that it "doesn't look like a car". To that argument, I'd say that it's been a very, very long time since what raced at Indianapolis bore any resemblance to street cars of the day. Why must Indy cars resemble street cars now?
To those that say the DeltaWing concept "doesn't look like an Indy car", I'd suggest that it doesn't have to look like an Indy car, and maybe it shouldn't look like an Indy car. (See above.) Further, after a closer look, I'd say that maybe it's not so far off. The modern Indy car includes a long, narrow "fuselage" containing the driver. The front wheels are widely spaced and joined to that fuselage only by long, spindly suspension members. The DeltaWing concept has the fuselage and just eliminates those suspension members and moves the wheels to the naturally resulting locations.
It's human nature to react to the new and different with reluctance and trepidation. In this case, I think the new and different must be embraced to give Indycar the best chance possible to return to its once-lofty status.
Hey, everybody. I've been trapped under a rock, yet again, but I've managed to maneuver my arm out from under this thing just enough to operate the keyboard and mouse. Until I can get around to putting together some time to write up some very random thoughts from some days at the track that nobody's thought or cared about in almost a month now and until I can send up a flare to get a rescue party over here to get this boulder the rest of the way off of me, I've got a guest poster for everybody to enjoy. So now, ladies and germs, introducing my friend, occasional drinking buddy and longtime race-going companion Rick (and do not dare call him "The Rick", thank you very much, or you will be escored from the premises forthwith) with some thoughts about the next IndyCar. Enjoy.
Like most Indycar series fans, I have some opinions about the direction the upcoming formula should take. In short, I’m in favor of a radically different chassis powered by 4-cylinder turbocharged engines.
The engine formula must, first of all, attract one or more manufacturers to the series to assist with advertising, promotion, and development. At the same time, it must provide the chassis with sufficient power to achieve the desired performance (at or above current levels). Cost, durability, parity, and adjustability are other considerations.
In the current automotive market where fuel economy and emissions are key selling points, the four cylinder engine is experiencing a resurgence. Vehicles of all categories are or will be powered by four-cylinder engines, often with technologies like turbocharging and direct injection to assist efficiency and output. Indycar vehicles powered by similar engines give an immediate incentive for marketing and development. Even if the idea that modern race engine technology can actually relate to street car engines is laughable, the manufacturer can find immediate returns through marketing value and developer training.
Four cylinder engines offer the advantage of relative simplicity. Fewer cylinders means fewer pistons, rods, valves, and parts overall. Fewer parts translate directly into lower costs at all stages of the engine’s life, bringing value to every party involved. Simplicity and lower parts count also contribute to durability, which feeds back into the cost equation.
Many suggest that four-cylinder engines are inferior or undesirable. First, the value to a manufacturer that wants to change this perception would be considerable. Second, a shift to smaller engines could precipitate a marketable focus on efficiency and environmental concerns. Power levels of four cylinder engines should not be a concern (especially with turbocharging), as history is full of racing and street vehicles capable of impressive performance numbers with four-cylinders. Finally, the storied Offenhauser engine (owner of more than one quarter of all Indianapolis 500 wins) is a four cylinder engine. If a new engine is aesthetically similar, this could be a source for a heritage marketing campaign.
The primary advantage of turbocharging in this engine formula is power. A boosted engine’s output is largely dependent on manifold pressure. Even a small displacement engine is capable of very, very high power levels if pressure is sufficient. Further, this power level is adjustable. Engines of varying designs from different manufacturers could easily be equalized through management of their allowed boost pressure with the use of pop-off valves. Different power levels could also be specified for different types of tracks, again by managing allowed boost pressure.
I believe that an affordable manufacturer engine lease program is probably the best path to take. While individual engine builders may want to experiment and innovate to find an advantage, removing this possibility works to the advantage of all of the teams on the grid. Centralized test and rebuild services would keep prices for everyone down, and small teams would not have to be concerned with excessive costs, testing time, or being financially responsible for the destruction of an engine.
The title of this post was going to be "Carb Day Highlights", until I realized that some of the things that I saw were not highlights at all, but were instead either lowlights or just...lights. Something in the middle. With that, and with the thought in mind that I need to wake up in a little under 7 hours if I'm going to make tomorrow's (what? After midnight? Damn. Then it's today's) Planet-IRL.com First Annual Blogger Summit.
- The day started off on an up note for me when I, running late because I failed to realize that the North 40 Lot would be a vortex of parking insanity on Carb Day, ran into a buddy of mine on staff after I'd only gotten about 200 yards inside the north end of the track. He charitably let me catch a ride on his golf cart over to Pagoda Plaza, where I just made it in time for the daily 15 minute live version of the "Cavin and Kevin Show". Nice. Very nice.
- I spent about four minutes gawking at the Delta Wing prototype. I firmly believe that the car should be shown in pictures with a banner hanging behind it that says "Delta Wing: Better In Person".
- Then, it was cars on the track. Actual IndyCars on the actual Indianapolis Motor Speedway track. I think I spent the hour of practice switching between Tweeting strings of unrelated consonants and blacking out. I can't really remember what happened here.
- The Lights race. Too bad for Pippa. Too good by Wade Cunningham (again, yawn). Too weird by JKVernay, who ground to a halt right in front of me in the pits with an apparent locked rear end after one lap, then whose crew got him going again after six laps (aided by Pippa's and Jeff Simmons' second lap crash and caution), and who then spent the race carving up through the field until he threatened (repeatedly and forcefully) to reclaim one of those six laps from the leaders.
- Spent some nice time meeting and catching up with Allen Wedge from Furious Wedge and his wife Kelly (who my wife would say spells her name wrong). Actually, this time alternated between "nice" and "infuriating", as Allen appears to have far better formed opinions about most things IndyCar than I do. Me? I just like watching cars going fast, I guess. Anyway, it's never exactly fun when you figure out you're not only not the smartest person in the room, but you're also not the second smartest. In a room containing three people.
- I had the brief chance to meet face-to-face with the Incorrigible Roy Hobbson from The Silent Pagoda during the ZZ Top concert. Actually, it wasn't a "meeting" so much as just a "receiving a high five from somebody running past me who is wearing one of those 'beer can helmets' that's been modified to carry two pony kegs of Hamm's". Anyway, I'm certain that was Hobbson, and I'm certain that right now he's either half-buried in one of the infield's sand traps or all-incarcerated in the infield pokey.
- I did actually see a couple of guys on Hulman Blvd. who were being shaken down by the infield cops. It took everything I had not to go over and recite entire sections of the famous Bob and Tom bit, "Sid Gurney: Infield Security", just to rub it in.
- Oh, back to the fifth circle of hell, aka, the North 40 Lot. 800 feet in 40 minutes, you say? While 75% of the day's total crowd is still shotgunning Miller Lite inside Turn 3? Sure. That sounds reasonable.
- From the ridiculous to the sublime: The Carb Night Burger Bash! OK, to be serious for one second, I look forward to the Burger Bash as much or more as any other event that happens during my calendar year that doesn't have the words "Race" and "Day" attached to it. This year did not disappoint. I met up with fully 4/11ths of the rest of my intrepid All Racing Fantasy League team owners (Craig, the aforementioned Allen Wedge, and the brother assassins, Jesse and Ryan; good fellas, all), hammered down a burger, a bushel or so of fries and roughly a gallon of vanilla milkshake (I'm bringing plenty of souvenir cups home, honey!), threw empathetic vibes toward a clearly downcast Pippa Mann, who stopped by to chat with Curt, Kevin and the crowd for a few minutes, basked in the aura of one Tony Kanaan for about a half an hour, spent a good 20 minutes holding my hands to the sky during Randy Bernard's brief Q&A session like those snake-handling churchy people you see in certain movies, and was, of course, thoroughly entertained by Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee. The bar has been raised yet again by those guys. If you did not make it this year, you made a grave mistake. Rectify that next year, for your own sake.
- A lowlight: many, many bloggers and Twitterers in attendance at the Burger Bash. Alas, I and my ARFL chums spent so much time busting on each others' teams and generally busting on whatever happened through our stream of consciousness that I didn't get a chance to make a full set of rounds. That's a bad job by me. So, my work is cut out for me at the Bloginator Conference tomorrow (dang! Today!).
OK, you'll all have to excuse me for no pictures for now, as A) it's nearly 1:00 AM now, and B) I'm dumb, and forgot my download cable in Nebraska. There is more, more, more to come from Indy! We're just getting started!
Some quick thoughts in advance of this year’s Indy 500, scribbled down while shanghai’ed (briefly, and only because President Obama was allegedly flying through at the time, but still) at Chicago Midway International Airport, on my way to Indy for the weekend:
- “Red” cars almost locked out the first two rows in qualifying. However, other than Helio’s pole speed, the entire bulk of the field is covered by less than 4 MPH. With the draft supposedly making more of a difference in traffic this year, and the addition of the “push to pass” button, we might be in for a decent race on Sunday. Well, at least among the “red” cars at the front, and then another decent race for 6th through 10th for the entire rest of the field.
- Bruno Junquiera ran the seventh-best speed of the entire field, in worse conditions than the Pole Day qualifiers ran in, and after only seven laps of getting up to speed. Um, I think he’s going to be fast on Race Day.
- Andretti Autosport was out to lunch on qualifying weekend. I don’t think that will hold come race day. TK will be doing a patented Derek Daly “burn from the stern” (that’s the phrase patented by Derek, not the actual act) from his 33rd starting spot, Marco and Danica will be able to hang in there in the mid-pack, and move up with other peoples’ mistakes, John Andretti will be doing his thing of being completely invisible until you read the race rundown in the paper in the next day and you find out that he finished 12th, and RHR will be doing RHR things all day (that’s “passing people” and “being a general nuisance to people in theoretically superior equipment” to the uninitiated out there).
- The KVRT drivers will probably continue to damage equipment, both theirs and others’. Sorry, Jimmy. I love ya, but you’ve got a team full of crashers there.
- Alex Tagliani will hang with the lead pack until the first round of stops, have a slightly slow pit stop that puts him between the leaders and the midfield, and will drive around by himself until he falls afoul of some nonsense. Sorry, Alex, but the fairytale is going to end around lap 80, and probably at the hands of one of the aforementioned KV guys.
- First out? Sebastian Saavedra. Sorry, kid. Your gearbox is gonna give up on lap 14.
- Speaking of 14…Vitor…get comfy in the 10th through 15th range, and then be ready to move up late in the day. I’ve got you pegged for a semi-out-of-nowhere 9th place this year.
- The “New” Snake Pit will be derided by the oldtimers as too tame and by the family crowd (which, who am I kidding? I’m probably a member of now) for being inappropriate for any year post-1983. My opinion? If you have to start a Twitter campaign to publicize your “drunken outsider festival of alcohol-laced debauchery with extra booze on top”, that's not a good sign. Um, you know who else uses Twitter to disseminate PR material? Scott Dixon. You know who else? CNN News. You want to be associated with the wild and crazy likes of those folks, “New” Snake Pit? Didn’t think so.
- I will quadruple my all time record for money spent on merchandise in one weekend, between the new Izod throwback t-shirts, some great looking new team and driver hats, and my sudden compulsion to buy a diecast to put in amongst all the butterflies that adorn my daughter’s room.
- Between Izod’s publicity campaign (including getting Mark Wahlberg and Jack Nicholson to be front and center on Sunday), some great potential stories on Race Day, and some potential history in the making (Helio matching Mears, Foyt and Unser), the 500 will be in the top-3 stories on Sportscenter on Sunday night. And we were all here for the comeback. Bask in that.
Hey, readers (that's all fourteen of you), I'm not usually somebody who's given to gloom and doom, especially when it comes to motorsports. The sport has been through tough times: the World Wars, the 1955 Le Mans disaster and its fallout, the 1970s fuel embargo, the 1996-2008 open wheel split, economic recessions, both past and present, but people always come back to racing. It's in peoples' blood. It's a part of peoples' identities. For a lot of people (myself included), giving up racing is similar to giving up breathing. It's something that can be attempted, but something inside you makes you start again.
Let me be clear here. I am not giving up on racing. I'm still going to watch a slew of races this year, and I'm going to be more than happy to discuss racing with people, here, on other blogs and even in person, very soon. This isn't my attempt to say goodbye to the sport.
What this is, though, is a brief embargo on my following the minutiae of the sport. Over the last two weeks, four different manufacturers have unveiled their suggestion for the next generation of IndyCar, slated to begin racing in 2012. As a car nerd, I have loved looking at the different concepts, and I've enjoyed (to an extent) hearing peoples' opinions on the cars as people have debated which might be the best path forward. It's still very, very early in the process of deciding what the new car is going to be, though, and there are many missing details for all of the designs. I can't wait for those details to come out (engine format, aesthetic revisions, wind tunnel models and numbers, etc.), but I am happy to be patient. Rome was not built in a day, and nine different IndyCar concepts will not be transformed from foam models and CAD sketches to running cars in a day, either.
However, all of the "debate" surrounding the new cars has completely sucked the fun out of following IndyCar racing (and most other racing, where there is precious little in the way of good news lately) for me. I've enjoyed doing some doodling on scratch paper, trying to figure out how the Delta Wing chassis works. I've enjoyed attempting to answer peoples' questions on this same topic, though my attempts are simply guesses, because even as a trained engineer, I have not been sitting next to Ben Bowlby as he fiddles with his design programs. I've enjoyed dreaming up "improvements" to the cars' appearances, specifications and concepts. I've enjoyed daydreaming about what IndyCar could become in the future, and a posible return to prominence in the American (and worldwide) sporting scene.
I have not, however, enjoyed having my comments answered with "That car looks like it should be called the Delta Wang!" I have also not enjoyed reading comment after comment, blog post after blog post and e-mail after e-mail to Robin Miller that fall in the two camps of "If they pick such-and-such car, I'll never watch another race!" or "The IRL are a bunch of idiots if they don't pick the car by so-and-so!" I have had enough of the pithy, one-line comments making fun of a car, or a person, or an entire sanctioning body. Nobody is listening to each other. Everything is a quip- or rant-contest.
I hear you. "It's the internet, dude! That's how people interact out here! Lighten up!" Look, I get that. I've been writing here sporadically for almost four years now, and regularly reading other folks' blogs for almost as long. It's just...sometimes you get a gut full of something and you lose your taste for it. I know people who worked at Pizza Hut, for instance, and say that after they'd been there for six months, they couldn't stand to eat pizza for a really, really long time. That's about where I am with internet discussion about IndyCar racing. It's not fun anymore, and I can't stand how depressed it all makes me feel about the sport I love.
I'll cut the melodrama right here. I'll be back. Remember, I can't quit racing same as I can't quit breathing. Just don't expect much in the way of posts here for a while (yeah, yeah, you didn't expect any, anyway) and don't expect much in the way of my comments elsewhere for a while. I just need to cleanse the palate for a week or three. Not that things are going to be any better by then, but I'm going to be ready for some actual racing by the time the transporters are unloading in Sao Paulo (and Melbourne, for F1 that same weekend), as opposed to faceless internet bickering, which is the only thing going on right now.
It's been a hot topic for quite some time, and looks like it'll continue to be a hot topic for some time to come for the IndyCar series: how do we draw more eyeballs to our on-track product?
One idea that's been kicked around in the blogosphere and in multiple calls to Trackside over the last year or so is that of trying to get an IndyCar race on a common weekend with a NASCAR Cup race. This idea has been floated about several tracks, but the one that seems to come up the most often is the spring NASCAR weekend at Phoenix. Curt Cavin has said that he understands that the IndyCar series has been offered by Phoenix International Raceway (a track owned by International Speedway Corporation, a sister company of NASCAR) a Thursday race day for that weekend, and that the IndyCar brass have turned down this option. I can't say that I blame them, as Cup team haulers are barely arriving in town by Thursday, much less any race fans. The majority of the attendance for such a race would have to either be local or willing to spend the entire week in the area, and anybody who wanted to come in for just the weekend and catch the IndyCar race would be out of luck.
I do not believe that NASCAR has any intention of helping the IndyCar series in any way, as any extra attention paid to the IndyCar series by fans, the media or sponsors could be taking away from the attention that all of these parties pay to NASCAR. I've said in the past here that NASCAR treats GrandAm, another sister company to NASCAR, as a third rate citizen when they share a track, making GrandAm race hours in advance of any other NASCAR action or even days before the headlining race. They would treat IndyCar no better should they ever decide to share a race weekend with IndyCar.
So, in order to get more eyeballs on the IndyCar series, are there any series out there that could team up fanbases? The obvious (I would hope) answer here is the American Le Mans Series, a series that already shares a couple of weekends per year with the IndyCar series. Things have not always been happy in that partnership, from what I've heard, with the two sides tussling over who headlines at what race and which series gets what amount of track time. The time for this ego-driven bickering to stop is right now.
The IndyCar series does not appear to be as healthy as many people would like. Several top line drivers, including Graham Rahal, Oriol Servia, Bruno Junquiera, J.R. Hildebrand and Buddy Rice are currently without rides, and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who is sponsored by the series title sponsor, Izod, lacks the sponsorship dollars for an entire season. By all accounts, car counts will not top last year's, and there's a good chance that some fields will be back down to the 20-21 car range. Meanwhile, the ALMS has had to consolidate its prototype classes and introduce two "spec" classes, one prototype, one GT, in order to boost car counts beyond 20. For either of these two series to categorically say that they are in superior enough shape to dictate terms of race weekends to the other is absurd at this point.
I wrote here about going to a joint ChampCar / ALMS weekend at Road America a couple of years ago. It remains one of the best race weekends that I've ever attended, even though we skipped out on the Sunday ChampCar race (I had little interest in flying home at midnight after watching only 17 cars race, and with a couple of those occupied by the immortal Tristan Gommendy and my personal favorite, "Bleepy" Dan Clarke, who actually posted one of his two career ChampCar podiums that weekend). I can tell you from my personal experience that that weekend was by far the most crowded non-Indianapolis USGP road race that I've been to, far beating out events that I've seen at Cleveland and Mid-Ohio.
IndyCar and the ALMS share weekends this year at Long Beach and Mid-Ohio, but this could be much, much better if IndyCar's new management and ALMS's long-standing management could put aside their egos and work together on their 2011 calendars. With few exceptions, IndyCar and the ALMS should race together just about every time IndyCar takes to a road course. With a couple of IndyCar's current road races possibly going away for next year (Edmonton is rumored to be on the rocks, and Sears Point seems to be universally reviled by the fans, if not team sponsors), IndyCar could even add a couple of ALMS events to its calendar without upsetting the balance of ovals / road courses.
I don't mean for this to turn into a "if I could run the racing world and construct my favorite calendar" exercise. I want this to represent what the IndyCar calendar could look like, if they were to sit down at the table with the ALMS and tweak their schedules to dovetail one another's. Here goes:
March 5, 2011 - Homestead (an oval-based series ought to start on an oval; this is a separate blog post, I think) - IndyCar only
March 19-20 - Sebring - ALMS 12 Hour race on Saturday, IndyCar 200 Mile race on Sunday, or they could swap the order to maintain ALMS's headliner status (Sebring would be great for IndyCars: long straights, wide, plenty of passing; this would replace St. Pete, which I wouldn't miss much)
April 2-3 - Barber Motorsports Park - IndyCar on Saturday, ALMS on Sunday
April 16-17 - Long Beach - ALMS on Saturday, IndyCar on Sunday
May 7 - Kansas Speedway - IndyCar only
May 21 - Indy Pole Day (assuming that the current qualifying rules stand next year, not that they should)
May 28 - Indy 500 - IndyCar only
June 4 - Texas Speedway - IndyCar only
June 19 - Iowa Speedway - IndyCar only
July 3-4 - Watkins Glen - ALMS on Sunday the 3rd, IndyCar on Monday the 4th (this is tricky; the ALMS teams will be back from Le Mans by now, but will ISC be willing to allow this to happen at one of their tracks?)
July 17 - Toronto - IndyCar only (unless ALMS wants to come play)
July 30-31 - Mid-Ohio - IndyCar on Saturday, ALMS on Sunday (giving a nod to ALMS headlining a weekend; ALMS usually puts on a better show at Mid-Ohio, anyway)
August 13-14 - Road America - ALMS 500 Miler or 6 Hour on Saturday into the evening, IndyCar 200 Miler on Sunday (this needs to happen, and I will not argue about it)
August 27 - Motegi - IndyCar only (if it must stay on the calendar for now...)
September 4 - Kentucky - IndyCar only (a quick turn around from Motegi, but it's close to most teams' shops)
September 17-18 - Road Atlanta - IndyCar on Saturday, ALMS on Sunday for Petit Le Mans (changing Petit from Saturday to Sunday to maintain ALMS headlining status for their season finale)
September 25 - Chicagoland - IndyCar only (the season finale MUST be at Chicagoland)
The ALMS will have to make a couple of concessions with this schedule, namely shifting their Miller Motorsports Park date back to May and moving their Lime Rock date to coincide with IndyCar's Toronto date or one of the oval weekends. But, they also have some latitude to fit in a race at Laguna Seca, six-hour, sprint or otherwise, possibly in late August. The ALMS might be upset that they're not headlining more dates than they are, but if you're only fielding 20-25 car fields over four classes, can you really call yourself much of a headliner?
Anyway, how's that for a schedule? Eight ovals, three street races (if you include Sebring), and five road courses, including the triumphant return of Road Atlanta and Road America. We lose St. Pete for Sebring, Sao Paulo goes away (it sounds like it's on somewhat uneven footing this year, but if it turns out to be a success, maybe we can slide it in by moving up Homestead one week and putting it before Sebring), Edmonton drops off (as it might anyway), and Sears Point goes the way of the dodo. IndyCar and ALMS fans both win because now they get fantastic value for their dollar at SEVEN different tracks, and every non-NASCAR fan in the country has those dates all circled on their calendars. I don't know about you, but I'd be seriously tempted to turn in my Indy tickets in exchange for weekend passes at Sebring and Road Atlanta. OK, maybe that's a stretch, but you get my drift.
The era of insisting on standing and succeeding on one's own is more or less over for both IndyCar and the ALMS. It's time to put away the egos, embrace what the fans have been asking for and stand together. It might be their last chance.