IndyCar Officials Attempting To Restore Series' Stature With Recent Changes
The 96th Indianapolis 500 will be held Sunday, and IndyCar participants and officials are "intent on restoring a series that has been lapped by NASCAR,” according to Herb Gould of the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES. They also believe that they “have put the damaging open-wheel divisiveness of the ’90s in the rear-view mirror.” IndyCar has “introduced a new car, aligned with multiple engine-makers for its turbocharged V-6 engines and added safety measures to prevent another tragedy such as the one that took Dan Wheldon’s life last October in Las Vegas.” However, there is an “ongoing debate about where IndyCar should take its races, from the balancing of races at ovals, street courses and permanent road courses to racing in the United States vs. international events.” And there “still are major visibility issues to address: Ten of IndyCar’s 16 races are televised on NBC Sports Network, the successor to Versus, an obscure channel that saw a modest 10 percent gain in average IndyCar-race viewership, to 402,000 in 2011.” The other six races “are on ABC, which saw a 28 percent jump in viewers from 2010 to 2011, to about 3 million per race.” Gould writes there “still is much work to be done on the television front.” In addition, the loss of “high-profile Danica Patrick to NASCAR ... has cost IndyCar its most recognizable drawing card” (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 5/25). USA TODAY’s Nate Ryan writes the “cumulative effect of Patrick's departure likely is a decrease in overall exposure” for IndyCar. ABC’s Eddie Cheever, a former IndyCar driver, said, "You can tell there's a difference in the paddock. Danica brought a lot of interest from people that were not really involved in racing.” But he added, “There are a lot of very talented drivers in IndyCar, and I think the series will just pick up and keep on going forward." ESPN VP/Motorsports Rich Feinberg would not predict if Patrick's absence would affect this year's Indy 500 rating but noted that the ‘11 race “drove the biggest audience in four years.” IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said that Patrick “did receive an outsized proportion of TV coverage but didn't necessarily have a negative impact on the circuit because she overshadowed its winners” (USA TODAY, 5/25).
MAY I MAKE A SUGGESTION? The AP’s Paul Newberry wrote for IndyCar to “regain anything resembling the gravitas it had during that glorious era when icons such as A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti reigned over the Brickyard, there must be some serious changes.” Newberry suggested several changes that include an emphasis on speed, allowing more of the drivers' personalities to enter the sport, standardizing race start times and expanding the series. IndyCar also would be “well served to give its drivers a little more leeway with their lips.” There are “some intriguing personalities in the garage," including the "social media-savvy” James Hinchcliffe and Helio Castroneves. In addition, there is “absolutely no consistency to the start times on this year's schedule.” There are “eight different start times for the 16 races, which makes it tough for those at home to keep up." Driver Justin Wilson: "I know when a NASCAR race is going to be on. For the most part, it's either Saturday night or Sunday afternoons. We need to pick a start time that's universal." Newberry wrote, “Everyone knows that 16 races are not enough, which is why IndyCar officials are actively pursuing more events.” They have already announced a new street race in Houston for ‘13 and “are downright desperate to get more ovals on the schedule.” Driver Graham Rahal: "We're out of the public's eye too much" (AP, 5/24).