Thursday, September 03, 2009

Why GrandAm Shouldn’t Race at IMS

GrandAm is testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway today, and circulating rumors (including those mentioned by Curt & Kevin on Trackside this week) say that there could be a GrandAm endurance race at IMS in 2011. People will tell you things about how endurance racing won’t work there, because the track doesn’t want to release fans into the surrounding neighborhood late at night, and things like that, but let me add some more points to the list of why GrandAm should not be let onto the grounds to stage an actual race.

1) The cars are not viewed by ANYBODY as the most sophisticated in their field. IndyCars are the fastest single seater cars that run anywhere in the US. Formula 1 are the fastest cars that turn right and left anywhere in the world. MotoGP bikes are the motorcycle equivalent of F1. NASCAR Cup cars are the fastest “stock cars” anywhere, and the top-drawing form of motorsport in the US. These are the types of events that belong at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. GrandAm cars are not the fastest sports cars in the world, and are not even the fastest sports cars in this country. The Grand Am GT cars are basically at the same level of speed as the newly introduced GT-Challenge class in the American Le Mans Series. This GT-C class did not even run at Mosport last weekend, because the closing rate between it and the cars in the prototype cars was judged to be too great to be safe. That does not sound like the sort of car that should be on the track during a “feature” race.

Similarly, the GrandAm headlining Daytona Prototype cars are only marginally faster than the GrandAm GT cars, and in fact, sometimes struggle to get through slower GT traffic, due to insufficient straightaway advantage and microscopically better braking. If your headlining cars are only 1-2 seconds per lap faster around the track than the under-under-undercard Porsche Supercup cars that graced the Speedway back in the USGP years, then you probably ought to stay home.

2) There is no proven fan following of the GrandAm series, either in Indianapolis or anywhere else in the US. When NASCAR arrived at the Speedway in 1994, it was obvious that there would be a sell-out, as NASCAR’s popularity was clearly in the midst of a 20+ year upswing. When F1 arrived in 2000, there was no question that well over 100,000 tickets would be sold, since American F1 fans had gone without a US Grand Prix for eight seasons, and were starving for a chance to see F1 cars on home soil again. Add to that the factor that tickets would be far cheaper than tickets for any of the European rounds, so there would be many fans coming over the Atlantic for a relatively inexpensive racing weekend in Indy. On the other hand, can anybody tell me what the biggest crowd has been for GrandAm during the entire Daytona Prototype era (2003-now)? 25,000? 20,000? Possibly far less? Why should anybody expect that GrandAm at Indy would draw well in excess of double the largest previous crowd in series history? Even if they did draw 50,000 people to the Speedway somehow, how embarrassingly empty would the grounds look, at only 15-20% full? And would even 50,000 ticket sales be enough to justify all of the costs incurred simply by opening the gates (yellow shirts, security, EMTs, concession workers, clean-up crews, the electric and utility bills)? Unless your face values start at $200 a piece, then I’m thinking probably not.

3) When GrandAm shares a track with NASCAR for a weekend, it is always treated like a 4th class citizen. At Daytona this year, during 4th of July weekend, the GrandAm cars had to practice, qualify and race all in one day, with the two hour race itself starting SIX hours before that night’s Cup race. How many Cup fans do you think came out to the track six hours early watch a bunch of guys they’d never heard of driving cars that don’t appear to be going as fast as Cup cars? I’m thinking not too many. At Watkins Glen last month, the same sort of thing played out, with the GrandAm race starting two full hours after Cup qualifying had wrapped up. Given the choice between staying at the track for 2-4 extra hours to watch GrandAm and going into town to get dinner, how many NASCAR fans do you think chose the former? Just last weekend, when sharing the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve with NASCAR’s #2 series, GrandAm was relegated to running its race on Saturday, so as to not impede on the “fantastic” “racing” of the Nationwide series (material for another blog post sometime, though you should check out Declan Brennan’s take on the weekend). Anyway, if NASCAR, whose parent company ISC also owns GrandAm, doesn’t see fit to bill the GrandAm series at least as highly as the Truck or Nationwide series, then why should such a clearly lower run series be allowed to be a clear #1 for a whole weekend at the Speedway?

4) GrandAm does not appear to be a series on the rise, but in fact seems to be a series that’s withering away. Let’s look at average car counts in the headlining Daytona Prototype class:

2006: 26.1 cars entered per race
2007: 19.9
2008: 18.9
2009 (so far): 16.9

The current rumor is for a GrandAm race to run at the Speedway in 2011, as part of the Centennial Era celebration. Are we so sure that the series is going to be around that long? If it actually makes it two more years but the trend continues, who is going to come out to watch 10-12 DPs and a dozen or so GTs run around for 6-12 hours? Won’t that look kind of silly?

Look, I love racing. The more, the better, as far as I’m concerned. However, there is something special about Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For 83 years, only the Indy 500 took place there. For the last 15 years, only top-level motorsport events have come to town. But, once you open the gate to clearly inferior forms of motorsport, then where do you draw the line as to who to let in and who gets shut out? If GrandAm gets to run, do you also kowtow to future overtures from NASCAR to run Nationwide and the Trucks there? Does the Speedway circle a date for Indiana Sprint Week? How about karts or quarter-midgets? They’d be cute to watch there, right? On the other hand, if they’re going to start running autocrosses on the front straight, complete with a Chicago Box on the yard of bricks, maybe I should shut up and start thinking about booking my hotel room for 2015…


Palmer said...

Oh, SpeedGeek......

The economies of scale has hurt the average car count over the years, not the series itself.

Some things I agree with you on, but this one not so sure.

Grand-Am has a great business model for its participants and partners, especially the privateers.

ALMS has the business model of factory backing and the new technologies.

Look at what ALMS had to do, add an LMP Challenge class, and bump up the GT3 Patron Cars to balance out the fields for 2010.

A prototype category that is spec? what?

Were have I seen that one before?

Anyhow, what needs to happen is a combined weekend. Grand_Am on Satrurday, and IMSA on Sunday.

Grand-Am is North America, while ALMS is more International.

I do think an ALMS event would be a more diverese draw with teams coming over from Europe to do the Indy race.

I think the ALMS would have a more prestigious feel, but I think Grand-Am has the business feel.

2 different philosphies again.

Hope all is well.

Palmer said...

Read the above story!

The SpeedGeek said...

Palmer! As in, "Palmer" Palmer? If so, how's stuff? How's the 944 treating you?

Yeah, I'm less than thrilled about the two new classes for ALMS next year, and that's part of the reason that I don't see ALMS as a true major player on the international scene anymore. Marshall Pruett did point out on his weekly chat on SpeedTV this week that there's going to be a 1 pro/1 rich guy rule for the LMP-C class, which should employ more dudes who we like: Cosmo, Gidley, those kinds of guys. That's a nice thing, but yeah, it does dilute your product to willingly allow a bunch of rich guys on the track in clearly slower cars just because you need to boost car count. That's a Marty Roth/Jack Miller play, and that's not cool. It's stuff like this that makes me think that IMSA doesn't belong at the Speedway, either.

Believe me, if there was some sort of combined weekend that had GrandAm or ALMS or both running as an undercard to F1 (fat chance, especially the "both" part, given what that column says about the impending GA/ALMS war), I'd be the first guy to plunk down $200 for a good seat. How many people are going to come out for a sports cars-only bill, though? Enough to pay the laundry bill for all those yellow shirts? Maybe, but that'd be about it. The back gate, with all of those pit passes, is liable to far outweigh the front gate. That's not a sustainable business plan for a place with the infrastructure of the Speedway.

I just don't see that GrandAm or ALMS are showing me anything that tell me that they deserve to be a headlining act at a "headliners only" venue like the Speedway. They wanna run at IRP? Great. They can have at it. The Speedway is for major leaguers only.

Palmer said...

Yes, it is Palmer. Andy, the deal is, it won't be a headliner all to itself on a weekend. From what I hear it will be an undercard to the Brickyard Weekend. Remember all those rumors about NASCAR buying into a much larger stake into Grand-Am. There is a reason for it for both sides. Grand-Am gets more NASCAR marketing (saves the cost of having their own department) and then they get access to everything NASCAR like drivers and such. The flip side bonus in NASCAR's eyes, it became another viable support series, or co-headliner (like in Montreal), for some NASCAR weekends. Right after they announced the business process of the acquisition, or merger (which ever), All of a sudden Kansas is looking at adding a road course with the Casino proposal with the State, then Michigan wanted to rebuild their infrastructure, one item in the plan involved their defunct road course.
They’re one also tidbit, I know you probably won't like Andy, but Sports car racing has always been about pay-to-play racing. Those Gentlemen drivers out there have always been there and they deserve to be there, they actually keep the sport up-a-float and being able to run. The Grand-Am business model is actually quite smart, in that they offer a couple of different prototype chassis, and what not, but the car anyone can drive and get about 80-90% of the car’s true potential. So in other words, they gentlemen driver has a team, races the car, and then in the first stint pits, and hands it over to the pro, who can wheel it around at 95-100% of its potential. If it weren’t for the gentlemen driver, sports car racing probably wouldn’t be around, except for only some if any events.
Also the way Grand-Am froze the rules, allows for guys not having to purchase a ton of new items every year, and keeps the cost down. The ALMS figured it out, but it took a recession for them to get the net. I like the idea of going back to the original plan of LMP1 factory teams, or other high funded teams, then LMP2 being for the smaller teams and gentlemen drivers, and then GT2 being for the factory teams (GT-1 needed to go a long time ago), and the GT3 being incorporated for smaller teams, and gentlemen drivers. Also, you comment about the Dr. Jacks and Marty Roth’s, granted I don’t think going around an oval at 220mph is great for those both, but they have the freedom to do it. As for them in sports car racing, I can see them in our sporty car environment more, but also that might be where they belong as well. I raced against John Pew in Skip Barber, good guy, and he is a gentlemen driver with Michael Shank racing, owns quite a bit of the team, and he kicks butt, and is up to pace.
I will also leave you with this note, Paul Drayson is a gentlemen driver as well (did very well in business and has a government job) his main income is from UK Government, and is a so-called gentlemen driver, but man he has the speed, and from what I can tell is a really great guy too. If the ALMS where to go to Indy for a stand alone, they could do it better then Grand-Am as of now, because you would probably have a majority of Lemans Series, American Lemans, and a couple of Asian Lemans teams (2-4) here for the event. Plus it would bring technology back to the speedway.

Palmer said...

Also, the Porsche 944 racing is going well this year, out of 6 races, I have finished on the podium twice a 2nd and
3rd place finish; and yes there are more than 3 cars in the races. We have a standard 7-8 cars entered, this weekend it is around 10 or more. Not bad for our class, when you count all the other series we race with.

We are getting ready for Gingerman Raceway this weekend!

Palmer said...

Read this as well :

Marshall and Robins take on the activities.

Here is my last point, which ever series is running there, remember it is a sportscar race. Be thankful we might have a sportscar event of any kind there at the speedway.

I have been to both the Rolex 24 hours and Sebring 12 hrs in the past 3 years, and I will tell you people are for sure at those races, and in the infield.

It is all about money. Follow the cash and the best business plan.

The SpeedGeek said...

I guess I don't quite get what the point of a Cup-undercard event for Brickyard weekend is. Are GrandAm going to draw enough extra fans to offset the added expense of using both the oval and road course configurations on the same weekend? Unless somebody can show me the numbers as to the break even point (extra tickets sold vs. cost incurred) and supply me some proof that those extra fans are going to come out, I just don't see that happening.

Daytona and Sebring draw fans to those events because they both have 40-50+ years of equity (people come every year, and keep coming back). They also take place at a time of year that people want to go to Florida to get out of the cold. Indy has no sportscar heritage to speak of, and while they might (_might_) draw fans from Ohio and Michigan, people are going to less races nowadays, not more. If I'm given the choice of my one yearly race in Indy, between a Brickyard/GrandAm bill and the 500, it's not even close for me. Memorial Day weekend, all the way.

Believe me, I understand the place of "rich guys" in sports car racing. They effectively paid for me to put food into my mouth for almost two full years after college. I just feel like sports cars, being possibly more than half-filled with guys who are around because they've got money and it's their hobby, don't belong at the speedway. IndyCars and NASCAR have certainly had their ride buyers and rich guys over the years, but at a far lower proportion. The Speedway has a mystique about it, in the vein of "no guys who are driving at 80% allowed". Maybe that view is outdated, but I believe it. I'm willing to entertain sports cars at literally any other track in the country BUT the Speedway.

My other problem with the whole GrandAm at the Speedway thing is that allowing GrandAm to run makes you even MORE beholden to the whims of NASCAR. I think that's a bad idea, but maybe the "new" ownership of the Speedway disagrees.

Congrats on the good runs in the 944 and good luck this weekend! Can't wait to hear all about it!

Rick said...

The SpeedGeek already knows how I feel, but I'm going to throw this out there, and let me know what your better-connected minds think:

Grand-Am was conceived for two purposes:
1. Hold onto complete control of the Rolex 24
2. Weaken ALMS-at the time (2003), the most viable non-NASCAR series running. (Back then, I recall a statistic that claimed an ALMS season got more exposure than IRL and CART combined, excluding Indianapolis)

Thus, the only people who really care about the series are the rich guys who aren't rich enough to run in ALMS. I kind of doubt that even the folks in Daytona Beach care that much...

Unless I'm way off-base, why would they ever run with ALMS? How much faster per lap is an LMP1 prototype?

I'm also skeptical of the turnout of any Grand-Am race at the Speedway. I just don't think there are enough people to care to show up, much less pay the bills, as SG has pointed out.

Really, I'm having a hard time understanding why GA (as nothing more than a France family tool) would run at the Speedway for any reason.

The more I think about it, the fewer real reasons I can find for this to happen.

Finally, those cars are god-awful-paper-bag-wearing-nasty-butt-ugly. But that's just my opinion...

Palmer said...

Both of you are entitled to your opinions, but let me throw this out there.

The more and more I think about it, and the more I talk to others, there will not be any co-events between ALMS and GA. In fact I have it on good word, that Miller Motorsports Park, wanted this exact same scenario about 2-3 years ago, but ALMS was fine with it, but GA was not.

As for Sportscar racing at the Speedway, I will through this out there, for one and only one time.

I see:

A) the Speedway being sold to most likely France Family within next 5 years.

B) Remember The people within GA also own AMA Superbike. So, if MotoGP doesn't stay, then there is a replacement right there.

C) I don't see it as an Undercard to BY400 (takes a while to flip track around); and I don't see it as a stand alone event anyway.

D) I think they might race there, but unless they will have a seperate Nationwide racing event on Road Course (I don't think so).

E) who knows?

I would just enjoy the fact Sportscars did go around the speedway on a Thursday in September, and if they get a race Speedway, then they get a race there in Speedway.

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David said...

Agree wholeheartedly!

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Brian McKay said...

Dragsters "are the fastest single seater cars that run anywhere in the US."