Fixing IndyCar & Turbo The Snail

The turmoil in the IndyCar Series seems almost never-ending. Whenever a problem is fixed or a new idea is tested it seems as if there are always two or three clouds following closely behind. Part of it is unhelpful gossip and hearsay, part of it is genuine inanity from various figures inside and outside the series (and by that I mean the organisation itself, the teams, drivers.. well, anybody really). The series doesn’t really deserve it.

IndyCar has come a long way since the ‘split’ and the messy post-unification days of 2008-2010. The racing is good and there are some top-notch drivers and team personnel as well as good people in the ranks of the series, all of whom I’m sure are being let down by others.
The fact some good folks were fired recently, some of them not in the job for all that long, for cost-cutting reasons is a terrible sign particularly as some are in marketing which is a chronic weakness of the series, they hadn’t been around that long and were just starting to make their presence known with some great ideas.

The whole parent organisation seems introspective, in denial, or working to outdated business practices. It feels as though everyone is clinging to the 90s, or even the 70s. I really hope the recent top level management changes bring about a change in attitude even though the early signs (the firings) are not good. Some certainty would be appreciated. New boss Mark Miles keeps talking in management-speak of a ‘deep dive’, which apparently means he’s ordered a data-rich analysis of the whole company (or even the group of companies controlled by the Hulman & George Co. of which he is CEO).

In much the same spirit, Steph at More Front Wing recently performed her own multi-part analysis which is well worth your attention. She has run through all the different factors which need addressing, some of them are pretty fundamental. All the same, they needed pointing out in a rational manner and that is what she’s done.

I don’t agree with all of the answers but that’s fine, what was needed was a dose of realism and some potential suggestions. Do read and comment with your own ideas and observations. I’m afraid I rambled for far too long in the comments sections with my own thoughts!

Turbo

There is some positive news in the pipeline. DreamWorks are working on a feature film connected to the IndyCar Series – it is about ‘Turbo’, a racing snail who wants to go faster and faster, sees the Indy 500 and wants to race in it. Yes, really. At first I was sceptical too because it sounds ridiculous, but then I saw the trailer and saw how well DreamWorks rendered IMS and the IndyCars themselves. I’ll reserve final judgement until I see the film but do you know what? This might work.

Check out the trailer here:

Allen at Grab Bag Sports made a great point: this is going to shift the demographic of the average IndyCar fan, which is currently getting older and fewer in number. If this film works – even if it is only moderately successful – it ought to attract kids and their families and skew the ‘casual’ fanbase in a younger direction. It might even open up interest internationally. Allen also spotted word of a mooted spin-off cartoon series. Let’s hope that happens.

Quite how many people outside the US ‘Mid-West’ will connect the race in the film to the real life Indy 500 and IndyCar Series remains to be seen. IndyCar and the H&G parent company need to be sure their house is in order in the next six months so that they are ready to make the most of this opportunity.

Grand-Am & ALMS Merger: Cars & Tracks

This is a follow-up to my opinion piece on the merger itself and in this post I focus in on the potential race classes as well as my choice of schedule for the 2014 season and beyond.

Class Structure

This part is phenomenally difficult. Trying to merge two series, one with five classes and the other with two when all have different speeds, different strengths and weaknesses not just in performance but in cost. Add in a whole set of team owner agendas as well as the desire to liaise with the ACO to retain a link to Le Mans and you have one big headache!

This is how they are now, and what I would do with them.

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On The Merger of Grand-Am and ALMS

Exciting things are happening in sportscar racing at the moment. A succession of changes in outlo0ks is reshaping top line series everywhere.

Globally this is no better seen than in the reintroduction of a long-overdue World Championship for those competing at the Le Mans 24 Hours. On a regional scale the Blancpain Endurance Series is going from strength to strength in Europe, and although sadly FIA World GT1 had to be scaled back and relaunched next year as a Europe-only GT Sprint series perhaps that is the best format for it.

The biggest change at a regional level, and one which may have far-reaching implications, was the announcement that IMSA’s American Le Mans Series by Tequila Patron, and Grand-Am’s Rolex Series would be merging by means of a buyout. At long last!

The Reaction

The unexpected news was greeted with universal praise – just four and a bit years after Indy unity, ‘the other’ two warring American series were coming together. It was as if a big weight had been lifted from everyone’s shoulders. Just one thing.. how DID they keep it a secret?

Almost immediately after that came the worries. Grand-Am was making a purchase and Grand-Am is owned by NASCAR – does that mean the independent spirit of the ALMS will be lost? Are we going to get yellow flags for light debris, lucky dogs and green/white/checker finishes? Will they cut the link to Le Mans and lose those cars?

We are told repeatedly that this is NOT a takeover. We’re told this is definitely and defiantly not the same as the IndyCar purchase of ChampCar, in which anything related to the latter was mostly rubbed out, where just a few teams, drivers and events remained, and very few series staff and other assets. Some would later find their way in and others headed elsewhere (particularly to either sportscar series) but altogether it was a messy business.

Positivity

This time it is very much an integration. The companies have ALREADY merged. They call themselves ‘ISCAR’. No, me neither, but they can change it later. ISCAR has both Grand-Am and IMSA/ALMS figureheads at the helm, with equal say, and a mantra of ‘open dialogue’ being the order of business: They are listening. To fans. To teams. To drivers. To manufacturers. And to each other.

We’ve witnessed the united approach for some months now and do you know what? I believe them. They really are considering the best – and worst – of both existing series and organisations. The biggest card in their favour is time. There is no rush for 2014.
IndyCar’s hand was forced by having to get it all done in a matter of weeks. Had the IndyCar deal happened a year ahead of the actual series merge it would’ve come out of it very differently indeed. Lessons have been learned that experience (and some now in sportscar racing were involved in the IndyCar ‘merger’ – they know what they are talking about), it isn’t an experience anyone wants to see repeated.

That said, there is a hell of a lot of work to do to merge two different organisations and philosophies. A year isn’t very long in that context. Indeed the teams and drivers need to have an idea of class structure fairly swiftly – and I mean very, very soon – so they can make their purchasing decisions for 2013, if they buy now can they keep their cars for the new series or will they have to buy again?

ISCAR also specifically state they want to keep the link to Le Mans. I’d like to see how that manifests itself. I reckon that means keeping at least two ACO-compliant categories and leaving a gap in the calendar for teams to go over, or allowing them to skip a round.

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