Weekly Question – Foreign Drivers

UOWWBA asks:

Is the prominence of foreign drivers in the league hurting the IRL?

The answer to that depends on which drivers you’re talking about. If you’re referring to the highly successful championship winning drivers Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Cristiano da Matta and all the rest – then clearly you are insane if you think that somehow hurts IndyCar or any other series they’ve run in over the last decade. Joel at IRL-O-Rama wrote a good piece in answer to this same question, and I agree with him entirely.

On the flip side if you’re referring to the ride buyers which propped up the last few years of Champ Car then yeah, it does hurt. Several of those guys had no business being in a top line single-seater. But then you could say the same about the ride buying Americans which propped up the first years of the IRL.

Us hardcore fans of racing don’t give a monkey’s where the drivers come from if they are talented and are able to get a ride in a good team.
What I think the question is driving at is the appeal to the more casual fan. The guys who only watch when someone of their nationality is winning. We have the same in Britain, many more people watch F1, tennis, golf, etc. whenever a Brit is winning or competing for wins.

Those ‘fans’ will never change and that’s a shame because they are missing some great racing and great sport generally. They seem to miss the whole point of Indy-style (and sportscar) racing as opposed to NASCAR – bringing top drivers from around the world and racing them against the best America has to offer to see who’s best. And guess what guys: sometimes the Americans win!

From my limited knowledge of the beginnings of the Indianapolis 500 I seem to remember something about those first races consisting of drivers from everywhere racing cars from all over the place to see which combination was best over a distance. I’ll wager that’s one of many reasons why the 500 became so huge in the first place. Surely as the Speedway enters what it terms the ‘Centennial Era’, that’s the one thing it needs to hold on to?

Let me compare it to our little BTCC. Ten years ago it was at its height with big fields of British drivers alongside the cream of talent from all over Europe choosing to join them and race here. Result: big crowds at the circuits, good TV ratings, sponsorships, all the rest of it.
Nowadays we have smaller fields of British drivers and only one foreign driver, albeit he’s one of the best tintop drivers around. Result: far smaller crowds, relatively low TV ratings, and less sponsorships (and this was before the crunch).
OK the modern cars aren’t as good as those a decade ago and you didn’t have WTCC then, but still the point remains:
BTCC fans not only appreciate the foreign drivers racing here but consider it something to be proud of that some the best talent from across Europe chose to race here instead of DTM or any of the other national series. There really isn’t any reason why IRL fans can’t look at it the same way.

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Speaking of non-Americans looking for IndyCar rides, check out Dan Clarke’s quotes when he was interviewed by Autosport.com prior to this weekend’s A1GP event.

“I’m still living in Indianapolis, and we’re still gearing up for a season in IndyCar. But if the opportunity arises to do more of these (A1GP) races then I will jump at them, of course. But after this race I will go back to Indianapolis and continue with the negotiations that we’re having there with the teams in IndyCar.”

More on Autosport.com.

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