Monday, December 14, 2009

IZOD IndyCar Series Announces New Chassis and Engine Packages for 2011

December 14, Indianapolis – The IZOD IndyCar Series unveiled new chassis and engine packages for the 2011 series. The long awaited announcement was met with fanfare and hoopla at a 2 hour press conference at the IICS headquarters. The announcement puts to rest months of rampant speculation and wild rumors concerning the specifics of the new spec for the league that features the Indianapolis 500 as its signature event. The new car and engine specs replace the existing formula that had existed since the 1936 season.

The new chassis is comprised of a large tub or block of organically produced, carbon containing fibre from near a forested region of Brazil. Teams will be able to use this block as the starting point for car development. Participants will be able to sculpt a vehicle to exact specifications required at any one of the diverse circuits the series races on. The hard rubber compound Firestone Firehawk tires will be independently attached and suspended from the tub via four polished suspension pieces that penetrate the side of the chassis tub.

President of Competition for the IICS Brian Barnhart hailed the new chassis spec as a turning point for the series. “This new chassis package delivers on everything that our constituencies were looking for in a new car design. Spectators were looking for creativity, innovation and variety in car design, while at the same time keeping costs low was important for all teams and participants. We feel that this new spec allows for just that. Within a few regulations concerning dimensions, teams will have a completely free hand in creating the car that they feel will bring them the best opportunity for success. We believe spectators will derive a great amount of pleasure in seeing the variety of designs that will be on the track from race to race.”

Barnhart also mentioned other benefits to the new spec. “We believe we have figured out a way to bring real affordability to the highest form of motor sport. This new car will allow all teams the opportunity to compete regardless of budget. We also are hopeful that the spec will attract new teams and participants to the series.”

In addition to the new cars, new engine specs and manufacturers were announced. The new engine specs allow for single cylinder engines that utilize state of the art dry cell powder based propellant propulsion. Representatives from Honda, Audi, Mazda and Toyota were all on hand to announce their participation in creating engines for the series. Toyota representative Yukio Wasamata was quoted as saying”私達は今回悪い状態をそう吸わない” His accompanying translator related that “We really like the affordability of the current engine spec program and that the level of technology allowed Toyota a real opportunity for success”

Barnhart commented on the new engine specs saying “I think our drivers will be really excited with the engines next year. We think that they will be driving cars that are real rocket ships compared to what other prominent series race on a given weekend.”

When asked how he expects the new chassis and engine combinations to translate to on track performance and safety, Barnhart was quoted as saying. “I think the cars seem pretty well put together. Since they have fewer parts, there seems to be fewer things to break and go wrong.” He added, “During our crash testing program we discovered a tendency for the chassis to catch fire near the end of a run. We experimented a bit and discovered that wrapping the front end of the engine with a thin layer of flexible aluminum material cut down on that tremendously.”

When asked how he expected the competition to play out given the huge window for innovation and customization, Barnhart conceded “That is a real concern for us as a league. Our fans really want to see innovation brought back to the league, but on the other hand they have grown accustomed to close, wheel to wheel photo finishes. Our response to this seeming dichotomy is to create the Fairness and Competitive Equality committee. Each year the committee will review the relative performance of the teams and manufacturers from the previous season and will aim to pair teams and manufacturers in such a way as to encourage competitive balance.” When asked if there was any precedence for such a committee, Barnhart replied. “It worked pretty well in 2004 and 2005.”

When asked how he felt about the new car and engine combination, Tony Cottman who served on the development team was quoted as saying “It was a real cluster…um...challenge trying to balance the demands of all constituents to the process. In trying to heed the importance of all opinions and while … Ah hell, it was the best we could do.”

The process to create a new car for the IICS series was a 15 year process that involved input from many diverse sources, many of which are not typically employed in the creation and engineering of professional racing cars. Les McTaggert, lead development engineer on the team was quoted as saying “The involvement of the art students was particularly helpful. The art students from Mrs Barnharts third grade class did a wonderful job of creating images that provided our bloggers opportunity for pointless speculation while at the same time offered our teams the opportunity to by inspired by some really creative color and paint schemes.”

At the press conference, Terry Angstadt, the President of the Commercial division at the Indy Racing League was quoted as saying “We are really happy with the expanded coverage we are receiving at Versus. I think these new cars will keep people watching the entire 18 hours of air time each race currently receives. This engaged involvement of our viewers on Versus will insure that our audience will have a numerous opportunities to see our sponsors’ ads during a broadcast creating a synergistic burn in effect for the messages these ads convey.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

We are Family

Not sure you are aware of it, but you are part of an on-line social network. On Line Social networking is the buzz of marketing these days. You are a member of an On Line social network if you frequent a blog, receive a tweet or are a facebook buddy. Anything where you share ideas thoughts or greetings on – line with a set of people who in some cases you may have never met in person but only know on – line.

Companies, brands and entertainment entities are particularly interested in social networks as they have become an incredibly fast way to share and disseminate word of mouth information. In the old days your thoughts on a subject may only reach a small number of people as you had chance to make phone calls, write letters and have casual conversations. News traveled slow. Now word of mouth and the sharing of opinions is automated and instant. Thousands of people can hear the news within a few seconds, hundreds of thousands within minutes and millions by the hour. On top of this since news is arriving to you from a familiar source, you are more likely to trust or take at face value the information you receive. No wonder businesses and companies want to not only track and as best they can manage the information on social networks, they also want to create ripples within them. They are an inexpensive form of advertising with a built in credibility factor.

IndyCar leads the way in On-line Social networking when compared to other forms of motor sports in this country. A few months ago, as part of a blog post started but never finished, I pulled some numbers from twitter and noted that Tony Kanaan, Helio and Danica had a larger twitter audience than the entire driver field of nascar combined. Probably is not that way today but we got there first. In the long term this network is an asset the league and teams can leverage with sponsors and those who are interested in sponsoring our pastime.

One of the things that makes us special is the extent to which we are supportive of one another. When a new blogger wants to join the fray, if he asks for help from those already there, chances are he receives it. As a result, our sport is not characterized by a single massive blog or two that drown out the others. We have a wide variety of voices to dial into. From Serious, to historically educational to hysterical IndyCar blogs cover the spectrum.

One of the first to enter the space here is the blog. Not only was it one of the first but its editor, Jeff Ianucci has been an advocate for others to join him in the hobby and endeavor. I owe 7 out of my 10 readers to Jeff’s willingness to allow his platform to be a portal to my message. Likewise, if one of my strange humorous posts strikes him as funny he’ll mention it in one of his posts.

This attitude of the more the merrier, the desire to want to include and hear from everyone makes me think that we are more than just and On- line social network. In a sense we are family. Yesterday I saw a tweet go out from Jeff at MynameisIRL. He was apologizing for his recent inactivity. He then mentioned that his wife had been involved in an accident of some sort and had fractured her skull and was hospitalized as a result. If you have a moment, send Jeff a Direct Tweet, an e-mail or leave a comment on his blog letting him know that he and his wife are on your thoughts and in your prayers. If you are attending the winter tweet up this weekend, take a moment to think of Jeff and let someone else know. Most of all let him know that his family is concerned for him.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Great Expectations: The Rookie Class of 2010…

Despite my lack of posts the last couple weeks, I have SOOO got the itch for March to come ASAP. There’s a lot of good news / potential for good news to point to for how I feel – Izod Sponsorship, A third wheel at Penske and perhaps NHL, a renewed Andretti Autosports with RHR back in a competitive car, and a deserving Canadian forming his own team. All good news, but what really gets me thinking and dreaming the most is the potential class of new faces.

2008 brought a number of new faces to the series, though not necessarily to the sport. In 2008 for the first time we got to see the equivalent of Dr J, George Gervin and George McGinnis tip off with Kareem, Wes Unseld and Dave Cowens after the ABA/NBA merger. The 2008 “Rookies” were more of a book keeping anomaly than a true rookie class.

2010 could be different, very different. While none of the seats are formally in place – there’s no dry ink on contracts that have made their way through legal, the potential for a lot of good things to happen exists.

In case you missed the big story of the day (no not the one we all knew was coming) was the story about Simona Silvestra getting a test drive with HVM. Simona is the winningest female driver in the history of the Atlantics Championship with 4 race victories. While the HVM team involved brought up the rear this past year, everyone needs a start. There may even be some better news for that team, it sounds like some sort of merger of HVM and the Stargate Atlantis team from the Atlantics series may be in the offing.

This kind of merging by an Atlantics team and an IICS team brings us to the next reason 2010 could be a great year for rookies. John Edwards. Newman Wachs, the defending Atlantics champion’s team declared earlier this off season its intention to find a mentoring team to help it and Edwards enter the IICS for 2010. Edwards, from Cincinnati, OH, is a mere 19 years old and also holds the 2008 Star Mazda championship on his resume. I sort of wonder if the Mazda ads that aired during the last two races of the year are somehow related to him making this move – again just postulating.

I’m not sure how the IICS will classify him officially, but with no series starts other than two 500’s and the finale at Homestead, If the champcar guys were rookies then Alex Lloyd is one in my book. Lloyd looks to make his first full season foray into the series next year with a rumored drive with NHL sporting pink HER colours. The 2007 IndyLights Champ won eight races on his way to the title that year, indeed it was Lloyd and a rabble of hapless victims. He has spent the last two years laboring in relative obscurity as the test driver at Target Chip Ganassi, only seeing the light of day at two 500’s (both of which ended in mechanical failure) and at the recent finale at Homestead. His pole day qualification run last year continuing to serve notice and hint at the potential yet to be revealed.

Less likely to make appearances next year are Ana Beatriz and Jonathan Summerton. In both cases, drivers with more talent and race victories than leads for funding. Both would make a deep class even deeper if money were found. It would not surprise me to see both in cameos next year, Ana in So Paolo and via a concerted twitter effort, Summerton is making a run for 500 funding.

Of course there’s one name I have not yet mentioned. Some times life brings you full circle – I began my IndyCar fandom as a 12 year old rooting for a driver named JR. As this past year progressed I found myself hanging on the efforts, results and success of another JR. JR Hildebrand is the defending IndyLights champion and a driver who has had a world of experience in a variety of different cars despite his late start to the sport. He has raced in Atlantics, tested and IICS car, represented the US in the A1GP series and most recently tested an F1 car for Force India. The most recent test drive was a bittersweet moment for me as a fan – balancing the good news that JR had such a rare opportunity with the concern that his career might not bring him to the series I follow with a passion. (JP Note: NO! I didn't wait for him to come out of the porta potty! There's just more porta potties per capita @Mid Ohio than anywhere else in the world)

Something all of these drivers have in common of course is talent, but more importantly they are all marketable. They are Izod friendly - great examples of drivers who have the potential to connect with the Izod demographic the league is seeking to appeal to. If the stars align and contracts get inked Izod would be well served to shoot another spot featuring this group of comers.

What’s more, none of them were born with famous last names or have been blessed with a deep pocketed sponsor to accelerate their careers to the big leagues. These are the work hard success stories that the league needs to build cred with many of the fans that were lost during the split era. Nothing against the skills or abilities of drivers such as Marco, Graham, Moraes and Viso – but the members 2010 class are the competition who will validate whether this current list of young guns is “all that” or not.

If we think ahead – to when the Izod IndyCar series sponsorship is renewed, to when the current Versus contract runs its course. Which drivers will be the face of the series?? Perhaps some that we will see for the first time this coming year and I can’t wait to find out.

Monday, November 9, 2009

JP Visits IICS Mt Rushmore

Greetings from the week that moves JP up another level in his airline's frequent flyer program. Ind to NYC to Stamford to IND to Detroit to San Antonio to Houston to Dallas to Atlanta to Ind.
No deep thoughts or instances of deranged humor - not enough time. Will follow up the "Whitespace" post with "Creating a new Business Model" later in the week.
For now, just a couple instances of IndyCar promotion in the big apple.
I haven't had the chance to see Versus for, hmmm, about three months now. They apparently have a new series - "Big Time Sports Jobs" or something to that effect. Which I take gives audiences an inside look at particular sports related jobs. It looks like IndyCar gets some love in at least one of the episodes. To support that series, there is a huge billboard featuring the IndyCar episode on the Long Island Expressway heading into the Queens midtown tunnel. It's the last thing that anyone from Queens, Brooklyn or eastern Long Island sees on their way into midtown Manhattan.

And of course there is IndyCar Mt Rushmore, Times Square, 42nd and Broadway... Yes that is a lifesize JP in the forground...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Searching for the Whitespace…

Note From JP: Sorry – no humor today – this piece is meant to be supportive of the Izod sponsorship deal, but OMG I never thought it would wind up being as long as it is…

Suppose you were running a company and it was floundering. You might decide to go out and hire some one with a fresh set of eyes to look at your situation and suggest things that no one inside your company might be able to suggest because they are too close to the issues at hand. Typically this means that you would go out and drop six to seven figures on a corporate consultant like Accenture, Deloitte or McKinsey.

McKinsey in particular, is known for a particular approach to solving all business problems – That being to coach companies into finding the Whitespace. Find the Whitespace, Fill it and Exploit it. SO what is Whitespace?? Finding the Whitespace is where a company decides to market a product to an underserved market. If there is an unmet need, then fill it. If there are underserved customers who can pay for service, then create a product or service and serve them. What goes along with this strategy, is the discipline of leaving behind markets that are already over served by numerous competitors or dominated by one that is insurmountable.

The sports landscape of the US is very simple, there is football and then there are a bunch of niche sports. Look at the ratings – there’s no way to argue otherwise. So as a member of the rabble of afterthought sports, what is the formula for success?? All sports media properties do one basic thing, they create a sports product with hopes to entertain a captive marketplace so that advertisers can market to that captive audience. Since all sports other than Football are niche sports, it means the audience for those sports is not a cross section of the general population. Those audiences have specific demographic characteristics that differentiate them from the general population. Those demographics then determine to a very large extent, the kind of advertisers that will pay to sponsor and advertise within those events.

Now let’s bring those McKinsey MBA’s into the discussion. In this context, finding the Whitespace would mean finding an audience for your sports media property that is unique and desirable that no other current sports media property can deliver to advertisers who wish to target that kind of audience for their products or services.

Traditionally, racing properties had audiences that delivered car people to automotive based sponsors (gas, motor oil, tools etc). What differentiated Indy racing and nascar back in the day was simply geography (both series had a pretty similar sponsor base). At some point, media exposure for both events grew beyond regionality and the two sports began to bump into each other for exposure to the same audiences. At that point, nascar was able to better appeal to the audience that changed their own oil, or spark plugs or who cared that the car vaguely looked like what was in their garage. Once that was accomplished, taking it a step further, nascar successfully expanded their fan and sponsor bases to include everyone who might regularly shop at Wal-mart and companies whose product’s might be on special at Wal-mart.

During this time, IndyCar split and squabbled…twice. 1979 and then again in 1995. Always so focused on the petty differences in house. During the second split both threw the concept of “Finding the Whitespace” to the wind, and focused on taking on an entrenched gorilla of a sports media property. The IRL thought it could run all ovals, hire all American drivers, go pack racing and out nascar nascar. Nascar, knowing that it would fail, egged it on and did all they could to nurture the futile effort. CART hired down on their luck F1 drivers and sought to take their racing to the world in an attempt to rival F1 itself. Without the signature event to draw large sponsorships, CART could not keep up with the soaring F1 budgets and the technological arms race that those budgets funded. By 2007 both had failed and heading into the merge neither had been able to forge it’s own sustainable identity or audience to pitch to sponsors.

So here we are, the Guys from McKinsey have just left the building and IndyCar is struggling to find the white space. Let’s think about the Goal for a second - Take racing to an audience that is either underserved by auto racing or that is not involved with the sport to begin which, at the same time, is desirable to a meaningful set of sponsors.

With two big swipes, we can identify where the “Whitespace” is for IndyCar. First, nascar is prowling the land and lays claim to walmart shoppers and sponsors. Since walmart generally serves the bottom half of households based on income, the Whitespace we seek will have on average, higher incomes. In this space plays F1 and sportscar racing. If either of these is entrenched with a fan, chances are that person is older (ie got into sportcars by joining a club, which meant that to be wealthy enough to own a 911 or ‘vette meant you had to have some years of disposable income under your belt), foreign born (forgivable – Sean you get a pass here) or stubbornly snobbish to the point of stupidity (ie an American F1 fan – yeah I’m talking to you David).

So we can now fully define the white space the series needs to pursue. Affluent (or potential to be Affluent), Young, Open Minded and Intelligent. Some people have suggested that X-gamers should be a target for the league, but this only glances the mark. The group to be targeted here are not X-Gamers – but rather X-Gamers who grew up, went to college and got a job. I understand that does not fit all current IndyCar fans – Please don’t go away, but to cite George, the Oil Pressure guy, please be welcoming of those who may start showing up and bank rolling your passion.

Now let’s ask the question, does IndyCar have to seriously worry about being out done for this potential audience??
--Will there be a challenge from nascar? No, because honestly this group probably holds their country cousins with a certain amount of cultural disdain.
--F1? No. Within this country F1 is an afterthought, in the rest of the world it is a beast. On US soil it is vulnerable – No US drivers, No US race and unless rabbits start appearing out of hats – no US team. A lousy on air product, broadcast in a horrible time slot. If the uninitiated were somehow able to stumble across a race, do you really think the racing product would fascinate someone? The technology only appeals to someone in the know already.
--Sportscars? They might have a chance – if only GT cars were on the track. But watching an ALMS race also includes the prototype classes. The LMP cars have wow factor, but there’s not enough of them to represent a competitive field and their existence marginalizes the GT cars that do.
--If there is a real threat here – it would be something like Drifting. But drifting does not have an anchor that is the cultural icon that the 500 is.

BUT Just because you are targeting a certain audience, does not mean your product is going to be found by that audience or greeted with receptivity. And this is where Izod Steps in. Hit the site ( look at the models. Who are their customers??? Looks to me to be the Whitespace audience the league is seeking. Izod introduces IndyCar to its existing clientele and by its endorsement says "Hey this is good - really good stuff". That group, if they stick, will be an audience that other sponsors may want to tap into. Products like Premium Alcohol, healthier energy products, higher end technology, potentially Tobacco companies looking for events to sample market innovative products like snus.

What does Izod get from the sponsorship? Let’s look at their mission statement. “Izod embodies a youthful, energetic spirit with a sports inspired lifestyle that’s seen in its embrace of bold colors and clean design”. They need a sport, a sport they can call their own, who’s image they can tailor to fit into that mission statement about “sport inspired lifestyle”. Golf is taken, the team based stick and ball sports simply are not appropriate. They see IndyCar as their best option to fulfill the mission.

So does it all seem a little pie in the sky, a product of overly hopeful thinking? Keep in mind – very few things in life have not happened or been tried in some shape or form before. Remember Michael Schumacher 15 years ago? Before he was the Red Baron? Before he drove for Ferrari? Remember his team? The sponsor of his Car? Remember the first world championship… driving the Bennetton Renault??? To this day the United Colors of Bennetton is one of the premier fashion labels in all of Europe. And on this day, about 12 hours from now, Izod hopes to have found in IndyCar, what UCB found in that Renault F1 team all those years ago. In Ryan Hunter Reay, at least in a marketing sense, it hopes to have found its Michael Schumacher for America…

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fanta to Sponsor Foursome of Female IndyCar Drivers

More great news for the IndyCar series was released Monday. As always, feel free to use the Hyperlinks to enhance your blog consumption enjoyment….

Fanta Soft Drinks Inks Major Sponsorship with IndyCar Series Drivers

November 2, 2009 – Atlanta, Georgia

The Fanta brand of soft drinks announced a new advertising campaign and sponsorship program that will feature a quartet of IndyCar drivers. The campaign will revive and feature the popular Fantanas dance team. In the current campaign, the Racing Fantanas will be portrayed by current IndyCar drivers Sarah Fisher, Milka Dunno, Ana Beatriz and Simona De Silvestro.

In addition to an aggressive domestic media plan that targets a Latino audience the deal also includes sponsorship for the drivers involved. Beatriz and De Silvestro will receive primary sponsorship for the 2010 – 2012 seasons driving for Rahal Letterman Racing. Fisher and Dunno will receive associate sponsorships from the deal.

Vice President for North American Fanta Brand Strategy, Bill Zahren, was quoted as saying “We have really wanted to feature a scantily clad team of B level celebrities as the Fantanas for quite some time now. Unfortunately since the deal with the Pussycat Dolls fell through, the project has been at a stand still.” When asked what made the quartet of IndyCar drivers a good fit for Fanta, Zahren replied “We here at Fanta really like fast women, so working with women that go fast seemed like the next best thing”.

The television spot will feature the high energy dance routines that made the Fantanas a mainstay in pop culture. It will end with a bit of humor, where Beatriz, De Silvestro and Dunno will break from dance formation heading towards the camera and excitedly scream something in their native languages (Portuguese, Italian and Spanish) into the camera, then exiting to leave a startled Fisher to stop dancing and inquire in a loud puzzled tone “What???”

When asked how she liked filming the commercial with her co-stars, Fisher replied, “Wow, did I ever feel like a Caucasian Midwesterner with no rhythm!! These girls can really wiggle and boogie – It was hard to keep up. Fortunately, Milka was great, she taught me all sorts of new dance moves. I plan to pay her back next week. She is going to visit our shop and I am going to teach her how to change gears in the race car.” When asked if there was anything disappointing in the filming, Fisher replied “I sort of wish I had a little more costume to work with”.

Asked if she was looking forward to the increased exposure from the campaign Dunno replied “La luna es de color púrpura y que sabe a pescado” which translates into “The commercials will let people see what a talented driver I really am”.

Rahal Letterman Racing Team owner Bobby Rahal was asked if he was looking forward to working with the two young drivers moving up from developmental series “I am really excited to work with such great young talents as Ana and Simona. It reminds me of when we signed Danica, times two. Since they have already won multiple races it feels like we are ahead of the curve”. Rahal was also asked how it felt to be back on track for 2010, he replied “I am really looking forward to getting back into the pit box next year. I really have missed being there since Karl Haas got the restraining order.”

When asked what the future might bring for the racing Fantanas, Zahren stated “We hope to expand the franchise and feature cameo appearances for some of the other drivers in the series. We have a creative in storyboard testing right now that will feature the Fantanas bringing a little Fanta and some joy to Will Power. We also hope to tie into some of the other great things going on in the IndyCar series, we plan to create a commercial spot featuring Hideki Mutoh and his newly chosen Gridgirl .”

At the press conference, Terry Angstadt, the President of the Commercial division at the Indy Racing League was quoted as saying “We are really happy with the expanded coverage we are receiving at Versus. I think over time a sizeable audience will eventually have the chance to enjoy this really great example of sponsor activation” He also added that he hoped to extend this sponsorship to a racing event, citing the hope to run a Fantana 400 at the Fontana Speedway. To date however he stated that “The receptionist at ISC hasn’t returned my call” adding that he “plans to send her some flowers next week”.

Ok - So this really isn't, well, real... Yet! But admit it - you can't get enough of the Fantanas... Here's one more to tide you over...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

IndyCar Drivers to Star in Upcoming Reality Shows.

In case you missed Jay Howard in his driving teacher cameo on MTV this evening you will have other possibilities to see some of your favorite IndyCar drivers on TV with their helmets off…

October 20, 1009

Stamford, CT – Versus Announces New Reality TV Show Featuring IndyCar Driver

The Versus television network is happy to announce its first foray into sports related reality television programming. Wanna Be My Grid Girl? will feature IndyCar series driver Hideki Mutoh in a series that is part “The Bachelor” and part “Average Joe”. The show will present Hideki as the dapper young bachelor looking for love and will co star with 15 beautiful women all vying for his affections.

Before the show began filming, the female co-stars were informed that the show would star a world famous race car driver. The women were not informed which driver exactly they would have the chance to meet and romance. Episodes of the show will feature Hideki and his grid girls doing hot laps in both the IndyCar two seater and in Tony Kanaan’s hot tub. Tony will serve as part spy, part dating coach as he plays the alias of fitness coach for the girls.

President of Versus, Jamie Davis was quoted as saying “With the recent economic down turn, the market for Male enhancement informercials has gone soft. Needless to say we have some empty air time on our hands.” He went on to add that “during the season, we heard and were touched by the story of Tony trying to find his friend and teammate a date. We wanted to find a way to help.” Davis was optimistic about the show’s potential for success “This seems like a better Idea than Fanarchy did when my nephew first came up with it – and hey we get a .89 rating for that.”

Through an interpreter, Hideki was quoted as saying that “during the recent races at Kentucky and Milwaukee he found the American women in the stands to be ‘Exotic’ and unlike the women of his native Japan”. When asked what specifically he found attractive in the American women that captured his attention, through his interpreter he replied “I am really interested in the facial and oral jewelry that many American women are adorned with. The strange bluish body markings are also very attractive and distinctive”

In describing his alias role as Fitness coach, Tony Kanaan said “I plan to work these girls hard, really make them sweat. I want to figure out which ones would be right for Hideki and which ones would be better off with someone else”.

At the press conference, Terry Angstadt, the President of the Commercial division at the Indy Racing League was quoted as saying “We are really happy with the expanded coverage we are receiving at Versus. I think this show is another great indication and message to our sponsors that the expanded coverage we receive on Versus will insure that a sizeable audience will eventually see their ads during a broadcast” He also added “We also hope to be able to make an announcement soon that at the end of the show Hideki and the Grid Girl he selects will be presented a two week trip to a beautiful beach locale somewhere in Brazil.” Also adding “We also have a nice press release written to announce an official clothier for Hideki during the show” Formal press releases for these details are expected in seven to ten days.

October 27, 2009

New York, NY – Sixteenth season of Amazing Race to feature IndyCar Drivers Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti

The sixteenth season of CBSs’ Emmy award winning Reality show The Amazing Race will feature up and coming stars of the IndyCar Series Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti. The Amazing Race features pairs of contestants as they travel racing around the world making several stops in various countries along the way. While in each country teams compete in various challenges that test their dexterity, courage and common sense. The show is hosted by New Zealander Phil Keoghan.

Graham was asked what interested him in appearing in the show and competing in the race. “Whenever we have sponsor meetings at McDonald’s I am amazed at how many places in the world Have McDonald’s restaurants. My dad said he knew someone at CBS and thought he could pull a string or two.” Andretti added “It always seems that the Race has at least one or two smokin’ hot all girl teams”.

When asked how they expected to work together as teammates during the show Rahal said “I fully expect that we will tackle tasks according to our talents and abilities. I look forward to doing much of the driving and taking on the intellectual, decision making responsibilities during the show” To which Andretti replied “Driving, yeah maybe if it rains” Rahal commenting back “We might let Marco drive if we get word that another team might spin out”

When asked if they looked forward to some of the more challenging tasks that the series is know for, such as Bungee jumping off the walkway between the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, eating deep fried beetle larvae in China or carrying 200 lbs of Swiss cheese up the Matterhorn, Rahal answered “I’m not eating any worms – I’m sure I will be able to find a McDonald’s wherever we wind up” Andretti responded “Dude, I’m an Andretti, You’re eating the worms” To which Rahal retorted “Ok then you can drive after you finish the worms” Which prompted Andretti to comment “Well I guess some of us just better understand what it means to be a teammate and some don’t. I need to talk to my agent”.

Phil Keoghan, the host of the show was quoted as saying “It’s really too bad that the plan to feature fellow New Zealander Scott Dixon and his wife Emma fell through. I understand that with a child involved it makes it difficult to be away from home for an extended period.”

After the press conference was over, Rahal and Andretti were overheard in a conversation. Rahal started "Maybe your dad could pull some some strings and get Hildebrand to show up for that worm eating episode?" To which Andretti replied "Yeah, but we can't let him drive, people will figure stuff out."

The Amazing Race #16 will start filming in November and will be broadcast beginning in February 2010.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Is Open Wheel Racing Open Wheel Racing if the Wheels Aren't Open???

An interesting “question” made it into Curt Cavin’s Q&A today. It was more of a “Hey everybody look at this” and Curt obliged by posting the link. It purported to be a sneak peak at one of the two car designs under consideration for 2012. While there is no guarantee that it is, I think there’s enough commentary pointing to some basic facts about the image to suggest that it very well could be. A little more on that later.

I think it would be logical that with any sort of change like a new car spec it is quite possible that there is not only plan A but also plan B. Plan A being evolutionary along the same basic program and Plan B being more of a radical departure. For a series on the brink of obscurity, the radical departure has to be in the consideration set if a simple evolution changes nothing about the current state of affairs.

An image from that would up on Pressdog’s site back in August shows what could be considered to be an evolutionary design. It comes from one of the design seminars that IndyCar and Honda sponsored during the last off season. It’s reverse wing design is interesting and different, though the champcar hold outs would likely call it ugly because the nose of the car does not point upwards over the front wheels like the F1, GP2, A1GP and ChampCar’s do (did). At the end of the day however there’s no mistaking it as an Indycar.

The image that wound up referenced in Curt’s Q&A is quite a bit different in its wing development. In many ways, the lack of a single point up front and more importantly the closing in of the rear wheels the design could signal the end of Open wheel racing as we know it. The Klingons have arrived and they want to go racing (and they did not bend to ALMS’s request to shower first)

I personally think these images are legit. First because it appears to be an evolution of another one of the designs from the design seminars, an image is below (sorry for the poor quality, I lifted it with a screen shot from the IRL video embedded in the page, I would have Mrs JP work her photoshop skills here, but she is watching Grey’s anatomy and hell hath no fury…)

Second, and please God forgive me, but quoting Humpy Wheeler “Dem cars need some fenders, so dat people kin pay you money to put stickers on it”. Just take a look at that rear wing. It would do for IndyCar sponsorships what the front hoods do for nascar. Third, once you get the wing treatments off, you see a pretty familiar driver tub and engine compartment nestled under there.

Finally and most compellingly, is the closing in of the rear wheels. Why would IndyCar do this? Let’s talk a little about one of the minor controversies of the series now completed.

Lost in the Robin Miller inspired, post Chicago hub bub about cars racing too close and that being dangerous was what “dangerous” meant exactly. The pack racing enthusiasts waxed on about drivers knowing the risks they are taking and that’s part of the their jobs as if the worst thing that could ever happen at a race is that a driver might perish in the event. As awful as that might be, it is not the worst thing that could go wrong at a race. The IRL got a good lesson in that a few years ago at Charlotte when a wheel got loose from a car and made its way into the stands to dole out an instant demise to an innocent spectator.

The worst case scenario of course is LeMans 1955. As exciting as it might be to watch Dario doing back flips in Versus promo spots, the spectre of a racing car catching some big air is a sight of terror for anyone associated with a track or series. Dead customers quickly translates into a dead track or league.

Have modern IndyCars ever come close to putting one in the stands? Well, if you have ever really looked closely at Briscoe’s accident at Chicagoland, thought about where the car hit the fence, noted that it took off from the middle of the track and then try to imagine what the trajectory may have been should it have launched from closer to the apron, things get a little scary. The culprit here, aside from drivers getting together in the first place, is the risk of front and back wheels of an OWR car getting together. The Racecar engineering page quotes Les Mactaggart, The Indy Racing League's senior technical director:

'The clever part - and we are working on some ideas - will be how to prevent front-to-rear wheel contact. It may be nothing more complex than a flexible blade that comes off the rear energy structure, something about six inches wide that sits behind the rear wheel. As another car's front tyres push into the blade so this is pushed against the rear wheel, preventing physical contact between the two and the resultant doubling in acceleration. We need to look at ways of preventing the two wheels from touching.'

Closing in the back wheels on new car design accomplishes that exact goal. The thinking would be that a safer design will allow fans to watch the kind of racing that we saw at Kentucky and Chicagoland this year while still allowing league and track officials a little more piece of mind that the big one won’t happen on their watch.

I have stated that I think this image is legit and one step further, it wouldn’t surprise me if it were a designed leak. If IndyCar did traditional research to gauge reaction to such a radical idea, they would need to do the concept test with racing fans, who of course gossip like little children (I know we can’t help it, it’s the F1 in our blood – Pressdog made the astute observation that of the 1,070 IndyCar fans in the world, 40% have blogs and the rest leave comments on them). With the risk being that if in the end, the league chose to go conservative, all hell would break loose when Dallara 3.0 was rolled out and expectations came raining down from the heavens. In this digital age companies (notably three letter networks considering potentially controversial story lines in their primetime programming) test ideas via planted leaks, and then use the bulletin board and blog scraping software they own to get a read on how the “thought leaders” reacted and what kind of “buzz” it was creating in the comment postings.

So what does JP think? I think the league needs to make a splash here. Something that will get the rest of the racing world to take notice. If the series is to remain spec, the spec needs to push the envelope for the rest of the racing world. But does closing in the rear wheels accomplish that? Does front wing styling reminiscent of a Romulan battle cruiser belong in racing?

Is an open wheel series and open wheel series if the some of the wheels are closed? What will be the reaction? Will it enchant or enrage? Will it pit purist vs progressive or will it be hailed a modern marvel by all? Well that’s the gamble, the risk of pushing the spec towards revolution. Could the league evolve in the short term, with a lower priced vehicle until the grass is greener and then take the plunge another 3 years down the road? It could have – perhaps three years ago, but having kept the same spec for so long has ruined IndyCar’s reputation among racing fans who find the technology as interesting as the competition.

To borrow from another sport where projectiles hurtling towards the fan base is a good thing, It’s the ninth inning, and I think the league needs to step to the plate, point to the deep seats and swing hard.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mazda to Indy Lights in 2010???

So amongst the never ending commercial playlist of “Everything’s going to be alright”, “What?!? You think this is wrong?” and “It’s in our products and in our Culture” Did you notice it? Something new. Something different and something that did not involve Male enhancement or a really silly looking dance by someone who should have known better. There it was, a new member of the advertising playlist. During the last two races of the year a Mazda racing commercial made its debut in the commercial reel. I only saw it once in each race but it was there.

The commercial itself highlighted all the various forms of motorsport that Mazda was involved with, including ALMS and Formula Atlantics. It is very similar to the Racing spots that Honda used last year. But unlike that ad which made sense because Honda is an official sponsor of the IRL, Why Mazda? Why here and why now???

As mentioned before Mazda is involved with ALMS and Formula Atlantics. Heading into 2010, both series are in trouble. As the Australian A1GP debacle has shown – just because a series has published a schedule and issued some press reports, until the cars are lapping the track, you cannot assume that it will be business as usual next year.

Atlantics is a series with a proud tradition but was left as an orphan after ChampCar merged with the IRL in 2008. It has been tagging along as a support series for ALMS over the past two years. At the finale this year, the series was able to muster a whopping 10 entrants. Now Martin Pruett via The Other Side is reporting that the lead team in the series, Newman Wachs and its defending champion (a JP favorite) John Edwards, is likely to race elsewhere next year (quite possibly in IndyCar). If the series could find buyers for the swift chassis, the series would be over with a soft landing. At this point, a hard landing looks more likely.

ALMS in the prototype division is equally challenged. Fernandez racing is closing shop, Acura involvement is still in the balance, though most believe the die has been cast for Acura to pull the plug. Both developments leave Dyson Racing’s Mazdas as the only competitive P1/P2 entrants for next season that raced the majority of this season. The ALMS officials have announced a new Prototype Challenge class, at this point less than a handfull of these "spec" cars for the "Non Spec" series have been sold.

So with the two highest levels of its North American racing program in jeopardy, Mazda could be searching. Searching for a new dance partner to race with and Lights is available. The Firestone IndyLights Series powered by, well, no one. At this point I am just speculating and matchmaking, but, this seems to be a match made in heaven. Hopefully the pieces can be put into place.

Lights in 2010, IndyCar in 2012??? BB always seems to mention that there are multiple engine manufacturers involved with the new car effort in 2012, four tends to be the number most mentioned. Honda, Alfa and some sort of double counting of the VW/Audi/Porsche family are the players usually mentioned. Hopefully, the silent partner here is Mazda. Since the day Toyota left, I have thought they would be a nice addition and a good fit. I drove a Mazda at the time and thought it would be cool to be able to make the connection.

One thing that some of these developments do show, is that no matter how bad things seem to us right now. The IRL will answer the call and race for the foreseeable future. As other series wither away to financial oblivion, The 500 and the IRL live on. I spent the weekend in NYC and borrowing from a source there, perhaps the IRL can adapt from another inspiration – “Give us your tired, your weak, your poor of spirit and light of wallet. Because together, tomorrow we’ll race another day”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Embracing Your Inner Goliath...

So here we are the finale of the 2009 IndyCar series, three drivers in a winner take all final race for the yet to be named, but potentially soon to be Izod championship. While the year has been a bit of a struggle, the league could not have hoped for a better set up to the finale. Three decent stand up guys all worthy of the honor are in the position to put on one heck of a good show. Since none of them are named Meira or Hunter Reay, JP has at least another season before “One of my Guys” takes home the prize. Next year my chances may go up a bit if a team owner out there does the right thing and gives JR Hildebrand a chance.

Most people, when they don’t have a dog in the fight will tell you that they root for the under dog. Not sure that any of the three fit that moniker exactly. Two (Scott and Dario) have been there before and the one who hasn’t (Briscoe) has Team Penske on the side of his car. My heart seems to be tempting me to paint my face blue and white and wear plaid, my head is saying something else. In this case I have decided to pull for the driver whose win most benefits the series. I have been doing a lot of that the past couple years, and the league certainly needs it. So who is JP’s Choice?? We’ll get to that in a minute.

Those of you familiar with Indianapolis sports radio market know that 1070 has local talk shows from 10 – 1 and from 3 – 6. From 1 – 3 they have a tape delay of ESPN radio’s Colin Cowherd show. Which of course is like listening to fingernails on a chalk board. Primarily because he has this annoying tendency to notice the big pink elephant in the room and talk about it incessantly. Inconvenient truths that typical sports fans don’t want to acknowledge.

One of his “Truths” that he frequently pontificates on is that Dynasties are good. People may say they root for the little guy, but they don’t switch the channel to watch him. He points out that when the Yankees are in the world series, ratings are significantly better than when Tampa Bay has the honor. The Lakers in the NBA final will always out draw the Spurs in the finals. A golf weekend with Tiger on the leader board invariably doubles the ratings number put up without him.

Ultimately, the point is, watching a team or an individual who may have a claim amongst the all time greats is always going to draw more viewers than will a faceless no one’s one shining moment besting mediocrity. For as much as we say we like underdogs. Without Goliath, there is no David. Just a bunch of other David’s competing that no one can tell apart. David needs Goliath inorder to stake his claim to fame.

IndyCar needs a Driver that is Goliath. Right now it has teams that are Goliath and that only goes to perpetuate the idea that racing is car over driver. IndyCar needs someone who we can all point to and say “He is the best of this generation and is up there for all time” becoming the face of the series. IndyCar needs a Goliath to be the polarizing figure that becomes the guy half the fans follow because he is that good and the guy that everybody else hates because again he’s that good. Greatness becomes interesting, and the struggle to ultimately best it becomes compelling.

So who is JP pulling for in the finale? Who is the best candidate to become Goliath? If you said Scott Dixon, Gold Star to you. Lost in the hoo haa about record keeping a couple months ago when Scott passed Sam Hornish Jr IRL record for wins was an assessment of what Scott HAS accomplished and what he very well COULD accomplish by the time he is done.

Suppose Dixon wins on Saturday, that will be AOWR victory 23 and championship #3 for a guy who is 28. If he stays at TCGR with the same current formula, it is not unreasonable to imagine that he could win another 4 races each of the next two years (which would be a step down from 08 and 09). These would bring his victory count up to 31 for a driver who would only have turned 30. Then tied with Paul Tracy, that would leave the rest of his career to pursue Unser Jr (34), Michael (42), Mario (52) and AJ (67).

AJ’s number will probably never be threatened, but Dixon could have a shot at Mario’s talley. It could be argued that records mean different things in different eras, but with a victory Saturday, Dixon will have dominated his own. For some benchmarking let’s compare Dixon’s numbers to the second generation boys. Unser won 10.3% of the races he started, Michael 13.2% and Scott (both ChampCar and IRL) 14.5% (15% if he wins Sat, and IRL only of 18.8%). Among the elders, Mario 12.8% and AJ 18.2%* A stat that stunned me while doing this research, Dixon has been top 10 for 67.1% of all races entered and 72.3% for IRL races. Michael was 62.1%, Tracy 25.3%.

Of course you could argue that there’s less talent, more races, more imbalance and while I won’t profess the extent to which any of that is true – it does stir discussion and is another benefit to having a Goliath in our midst.

I would suggest that a compelling sporting series needs three things within it’s portfolio of competitors. The first are champions that stand above the rest and leave mediocrity to shame. Second are rivalries and the third are personalities. Please note, neither the second or third matter if you don’t have the first.

For those of you in Indiana, think back 15 years ago to the IU/Purdue men’s BB games, now think about them now. The games are as fierce a rivalry as they were then, but back then both teams were regularly in the top 10 and the entire nation watched. Rivalry without greatness is like watching drunks in a throw down outside the liquor store, pathetic, not compelling.

A series with personalities but without greatness ultimately fixates itself around the comings and goings (not necessarily related to the sport itself) of people on the competitive fringe like Anna Kournikova, or dare I say…Well you know who I mean, but the result is that frivolity and zipper shots, not competitive excellence defines the sport.

Once Goliath is crowned many other story lines could fall into place:

- A rival can be found (Briscoe in ’10, I can feel it now)
- Spawning a rivalry formed from a different premise (what brave American can step up to the challenge from down under?)
- Spawning another rivalry (Which “Everyday American” (Hildebrand, Summerton or Edwards) will challenge the “Silver Spoon American” (Rahal or Andretti))
- Personality can flesh out the otherwise nameless victims
- And ultimately personality will tell a future David’s story. (it began with an acceptance letter from MIT...)

The question is now to be answered – Will Dixon claim Goliath’s crown on Saturday.

*That one is astounding if you recall that for the last 10 years of AJ’s career, his girth kept him from finding the gear stick during races, forcing him to challenge the field using only first gear. Meaning that during the competitive portion of his career, AJ’s win % was well over 20% compared to Dixon’s 18.8% for his IRL career.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

NBC in talks to Merge with Versus, and various other Comcast properties

I sort of want to expound on this in detail, but I am at an airport with 13% battery life remaining...

The WSJ is reporting that NBC Universal and Comcast are in talks to consilidate and merge their combined channel portfolio. Consolidation of channels is an objective in the merger plans and my guess is that will be the end of Versus as we know it. It will probably be rolled into the NBC Universal Sports channel that now sits on DirecTV channel 604 (if memory Serves...haven't been to that part of my programming guide for a while now - those of you with DirecTV will get the Joke!).

NBC-US focusses on Olympic sports and cycling etc. Versus would bring it the Tour De France to compliment the Giro d' Italia and Vuelta a Espana (the two other grand cycling tours of Europe). VS and NBC currently tag team the NHL so my guess - look for more NHL on NBC. Right now neither VS nor NBC - US have enough programming to support 1/3rd of a real channel, combined they might have something to talk about.

This opens up a lot of discussions now. Would you feel differently about the Versus deal if it rolled into a branded NBC channel that received promotional support on other NBC Properties???

What of the ABC Package of races? Would it be in the best interest of IndyCar to consider moving the remaining ABC races, including the 500 to NBC if they covered more races and better supported the NBC US race telecasts??

Kudos to Defender, who is either a psychic or had some information on this as a potential reality...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Motegi and the Puple Ottoman in JP's Family Room

So I started getting these tweets last week about the logistical nightmare of packing up an IRL team and prepping it to ship to Japan for this week’s race. If I were to believe these tweets, posts and releases it would have me believe that this was an organizational task of herculean proportions.

Hogwash. You want a difficult logistical and technical challenge? This week JP is bridging the technological chasm that created itself two weeks ago when Directv dropped Versus. I figured that this would eventually compel the league to arrange for a video stream of the race which was fortunately announced this week.

SO the plan – stream on the computer and watch on the 42” plasma. We’d get the logistics done over the weekend and be ready to go Friday night. Sounds pretty simple, but the problems start early. The internet service for the house is not actually in the house. Since I work remotely out of a home office, the internet is located with the office, which is in a finished part of a barn on the back of the property. Being surrounded by cornfields, there’s no cable or DSL which leads me back into the evil clutches of satellite based media providers. SO given the limits of satelite based internet providers, I have just barely enough bandwidth to stream. I also have a wireless modem, in the office, which is again in the barn whose signal I can pick up in the back half of the house. Unfortunately the 42" plasma is in the front half of the house.

The first unplanned purchase, an $89 wireless AP, to sit in the back of the house getting the signal from the barn and amplifying it so that internet service is now available in the front of the house and for about 150 feet out into the cornfield across the street. Mrs JP works in IT so I leave setting up this sort of thing up to her. Apparently, we didn’t purchase the most user friendly of $89 AP units. After an hour on hold and another hour of Mrs JP speaking very loudly and slowly into the phone with a slight Bengali accent the $89 AP unit was working. Mrs JP was grouchy and MR JP, yours truly, spent the night sleeping on the couch. On to day 2.

On day two we went to hook the laptop up to the plasma and yet another problem presented itself. Our home laptop didn’t have a svideo or hdmi jack, only a vga jack. The 42" plasma has a multitude of electronic orifices, including all three of the previously mentioned ones. All my prior computers were macs so I had no vga cables handy to pull out of a box and use. Mrs JP, Being a PC, said she had hundreds of various cables that plug into any number of electronic orifices, but of course, they are all in storage. When Mrs JP became Mrs JP she moved in but most of her stuff moved to a storage facility.

So off to the storage facility we drove. Once at the storage facility, not only did we find a vga cable but we found a bunch of other vestiges of Mrs JP’s bachelorette pad that now became the solutions to missing links in our current home furnishing portfolio. Which is where JP made the mistake of opening his mouth using the forbidden words “Garage Sale”. Another night on the couch for yours truly. This time JP had the extra benefit of pondering the day's follies while staring at a newly relocated purple ottoman.

On day three we hook up the vga cable to the 42" plasma and begin to stream through the new $89 AP that relayed the internet signal from the office in the barn that has internet from the evil satellite media provider. We flip the screen from the laptop monitor to the 42" plasma and success!! Video!! Yes Video pulsating through 42 stunning inches of visual electronic nectar enclosed in a high grade translucent material. Yes stunning video in Millions of shades and tones of color. Yes Video, Video, WOW, Video.

Note I did not mention sound. Primarily because there was no sound, just the sound of slience. Where the people stared confused by the plasma god on mute.

Unlike the other electronic orifices, vga only relays video. SO we try turning up the sound on the laptop speakers, which worked as long as you were within the 3 ft of the orifice challenged computer and 42" plasma. Go sit on the couch next to the newly rescued purple ottoman and it was like listening to that guy. You know the guy, wearing a KORN goth outfit jamming to Cyndi Lauper on his iPod three seats away on the NYC subway. That wasn’t going to do. This time Mrs JP was eager to come to rescue. “I have a set of headphone jack speakers we can plug into the laptop and listen to those”. She said. I asked “Great, where are they?” A devious smile bloomed over Mrs JP’s face as she said. “At the storage Facility”, now otherwise known as the land of previously forgotten home furnishings.

So on Friday night, as those of you with actual cable television that still carries Versus sit down to watch the race live in peace and quiet. Remember JP, his 42” plasma TV, the vga cable, the orifice challenged laptop, the $89 AP device, the people at the suport call center who best understand English when spoken with a slight Bengali accent, the wireless router in the office in the barn where the evil satellite connection is and of course the newly relocated purple ottoman. And as you are remembering JP, please say a prayer. A prayer for clear skies on that particular evening. Because did I mention that the evil satellite internet service loses contact with the satellite when there is so much as a sprinkle falling from the sky…

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Dear Danica, Just Go.

Dear Danica, I hear you have met someone new, someone with more money, someone more trendy to be seen with. I hear you will be the belle of the ball and as much as I have appreciated our time together, Just Go.

Dear Danica, I am not mad, I am not angry or Jealous. You’ve shown that your heart is elsewhere and I don’t want to be strung along. Just Go.

Dear Danica, I know you haven’t accomplished everything you have wanted to, but if you can’t focus all your attention on those goals, they won’t happen anyway. Just Go.

Dear Danica, I’m sorry that Chip wouldn’t let you date around, Sometimes you have to pick a team and be dedicated. Just Go.

Dear Danica, I am worried about how some of my friends will treat you. You remember Mid Ohio, some cheered but others boo’ed, loudly. I hear the rumblings, you’ve become a villain. They will all boo you next year. Just Go.

Dear Danica, I remember when you were first in the spotlight and people talked about you simply for what you might mean one day. As so much of that has not happened, to keep yourself in the spotlight, you have had to shed more clothes with each successive photo shoot. I fear that if you stay here, two years from now results won’t be any different and you’ll have to film a soft porn video to keep the public’s fleeting attention. If the spotlight is so important, Just Go.

Dear Danica, The years ahead will have more twists and turns, I know you like to keep focused on what’s around the next left hand turn. I fear you will struggle and fall behind. Just Go.

Dear Danica, There’s some one new for me also. Her name is Simona. She isn’t from around here. She’s not as pretty as you and not as famous, but wow can she turn right. She’s young but she’s done things now that you never did when you were her age. I am just worried what people will think about you when she hops into Dale's extra car and they see her hit the road and take to the streets. Just Go.

Dear Danica, There’s always the class reunion in May. Just Go.

Dear Danica, about those man boob commercials, they left me feeling cheap and tacky. Just Go.

Dear Danica, You will struggle where you are going. Other’s that have gone before have had their troubles. Even though things are apples and oranges, if you linger and find modest success here, your struggles there will only cheapen what others think of me. Just Go.

Dear Danica, I worry about the people you have been listening to these days. I know they don’t think much of me, but I worry they are thinking as much about themselves and their pocketbook as much as you. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way. Just Go.

Dear Danica, I enjoyed those times I got to bask in your glow and meet new sexy people, but when I see Sarah, She takes me back to my roots, the people I can’t forget and the people that will pick me up and see me through. Just Go.

Dear Danica, You are not my savior. I was a mess five years ago and I am a mess now. I don’t know what I have gotten out of our relationship, but I know you've benefitted more. I now know that some one else isn’t going to make me better – I have to do that myself. Just Go.

Dear Danica, I know people are worried about me, But I will be ok. I have indomitable spirit and belief in my purpose. I will find my way. Just Go.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Early to Rise and Early to Bed, Scheduling the IndyCar Series to Avoid America’s Real National Pastime

Racing is racing and as much as we enjoy it, that is all it will ever be. Football is football and in America football is king. In this day and age, it is America’s true national pastime. One of the perils or running a racing series into the fall are the unavoidable conflicts between a race broadcast and any number of televised football games on a given weekend. nascar’s answer to this a few years ago, while ratings were still in the ascent, was to throw a competition yellow and bunch the championship race back up with “The Chase for the cup”. The thought was that the extra drama from a tightened points race would finally give nascar the final umph to go after the king of all sports media properties the NFL. For what it was originally was intended to do, it failed. Now other secondary “successes” such as attention for sponsors whose drivers are on the chase bubble are now widely reported to justify it’s initial creation.

IndyCar realistically has no such grand plans to take on football, nor should it. But here we are with a meaningful points race for the championship heading into a disjointed close to the season that may confuse and lose the casual fan. George at Oilpressure has commented on the
current season ending with a wimper so I won’t spend too much time hashing over what might be wrong with the current system. George suggests the season should end on Labor day to avoid the football season.

Building on this, I had a thought, not an original one, and not one that I am completely sold on, but an Idea I certainly would welcome your opinions on (sorry about that run-on sentence Mrs Choate, I tried to use some big words to make up for it...). What if IndyCar began its season on the weekend between the conference championship games and the super bowl, a week before the festivities at Daytona. Then wrapped the whole deal up at a big labor day party? It would, by design, miss the entire football season. Yet it would still allow for a racing schedule to potentially expand from its current 17 race format to a 24 race format once adequate funding was infused into the series.

Scheduling might be a bit of an adventure – getting enough warm weather venues early in the season. It would undoubtedly require a couple events recently shifted to the end of the season to be switched back earlier. The season could conceivably revive a season opening race at the Disney Mickyard , then avoiding the superbowl and Daytona festivities head a couple weeks later to Homestead. A swing south of the equator to Brazil then Mexico City would flesh out the beginning of March which could be finished up with a trip to Charlotte. The schedule would then carry on as it currently does with the need to find a spot for Motegi back in late April which probably could be paired with the rumored and postulated event in China. The 500 would move to nearly the middle of the season which would progress through the meat of the schedule as is then end with back to back action filled D shaped mile and a half events at Chicago and Kentucky.

If the league was concerned about going completely dark during the end of sponsorship silly season, it might think about holding a non points paying “all star” weekend sometime in September at Las Vegas. This weekend could feature the season ending awards banquet, and a race where say the top 15 finishers in the IRL raced side by side with the top 5 finishers from the lights series. The twist? Two races – the first in Lights Cars and the second in the ICS cars where drivers and teams would be matched via random draw. Prospective sponsors could be brought in for the festivities and introduced to drivers (at both levels) and teams making a final pitch for sponsorship in the coming year.

Anyway, Just an unfiltered random thought. We have plenty of time on our hands as we wait for Motegi. This post is meant to initiate an open discussion so feel free to comment.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

On Moving the 500 start time and 2011

This weekend Tim Cindric and Michael Andretti offered suggestions that the 500 should be moved back to it’s original 11 am local time. In order to potentially persuade other (read: nascar drivers) to participate and get a ratings bump. Some die hard traditionalists insist that the ratings decline for the race is a result of the time change, which is not a fair representation of the data. The decline began 20 years ago and accelerated when the split began to marginalize the event and the series. The start time is not the primary root of all evil issue, some people just don’t like seeing their cheese moved.

The first thing to mention here is that the 11 am start time from 20 years ago is not the 11 am start time of today. Indiana got with the rest of the country a couple years ago and finally went to Daylight savings time. In the olden days an 11am Indianapolis start meant a noon NY start, an 11 am Chicago start and a 9 am LA time. To match those local start times for the daylight savings time era would mean starting at noon. Starting at 11 with DST means a 8am west coast start time that probably hurts ratings more than helping…

Keep in mind that the 500 isn’t the only race to have changed it’s time. The 600 would also need to slide back an hour to really make cross pollination possible.

As for how much cross pollination would actually occur?? My guess is 3 – 4 drivers actually pull the trigger at best. I am sure John Andretti would give it a try, though his near miss on qualifying this year may scare him away from taking risks with Richard Petty’s reputation. I definitely think you could get Hornish and JPM back and for the teams the drove for in the day and now drive for in nascar. As part of the centennial celebration they NEED to be here in 2011 (I list a couple others down below…). Then I think you could get AJ Allmendinger interested, he is after all an Open wheel guy. The old boy open wheel roots racin’ boys of Tony Stewart and Robbie Gordon might give it a go. The wild card, go figure, might be Kyle Busch.

Past that, I just don’t see it. The two forms of racing are simply too different for guys to try to pick up in a couple weeks time. These guys are too proud to go out on race day, run a few uncompetitive laps and park it before things go wrong. Don’t be snowed by the PC answers that drivers like Junior or Jimmie Johnson give – sure they’d “Love” to but they are simply not trying to offend anyone. That is the approved response to that question from the secret book of nascar sanctioned canned responses. A more complete and patronizing response is given by Jeff Gordon when he says he “respects these guys and what they do” too much to try to do it himself in a way that cheapens what they do.

One thing I would love to see as part of the 2011 race and celebration is to expand the field from 33 to 40. There were 40 participants in the original 2011 race and this one time only expansion would allow, for lack of a better description Honorary “provisionals” that would flesh the field out with all capable and available drivers who were a part of making the race and the series what it is today. A legacy stipend of $500k could be made available for down on their luck guys to find rides.

Seven spots and seven drivers. Here is my list.
Past winners: Hornish, JPM, Rice and Lazier. (This list might expand if some one like Wheldon falls on hard times between now and then)
Heroes of the Split: Tracy and Bourdais. Tracy is the most important open wheel driver of the past 20 years to have never (officially!?!?) won the race. Seabass was to Champ Car what Hornish was to the IRL. Both being the most accomplished drivers from either series to never race in a unified series. Unfortunately for AOW, both jumped ship the year before unification into greener pastures that weren’t available in AOW at the time.
And finally Tony Stewart - the local boy who left for greener pastures.

I would also think about having a couple extra pace car drivers for the 2011 event. This would be a way to honor people for what they have accomplished or what they have meant.

My three: AJ Foyt, Alex Zanardi and Jeff Gordon. Foyt is obvious, on that day it is possible that he could again be matched or potentially passed, but he was first. The second two never got the chance to participate in the race. Alex Zanardi is one of the most inspiring stories for a driver ever associated with AOW racing, he deserves the ovation he would receive. Jeff Gordon casts a long shadow over the series to this day, what might have been and why things are what they are. He will likely never race in the race he so wanted to race in when he was a young man, but the chance to pace the event on it’s 100th anniversary would say a lot.

Some Post Chicago Thoughts

But not many – it’s LATE!

Briscoe seizes the moment…

I mentioned in last week’s post that if Briscoe could get a 53 point play in one of the last three races, he would have a strangle hold on the championship as that would put Dixon 33 points behind. Ryan managed to accomplish that in the first race. The race for the championship is not over but Ryan has staked his claim. If he can keep his car off the wall, Ryan has pretty much forced Scott to win the next two races. I would be more bullish on Dario if at least one of the last two races were on a road or street circuit.

While both Motegi and Homestead are mile and a half they are not the same cookie cutter D shaped tracks as Kan, TX, Chi and KY. Motegi is a more like a larger version of Milwaukee with one end tighter than the other. Homestead is like a longer Milwaukee with higher banking in the corners. So the point is that both are unique to the series and getting the setups right will be a factor in both of these races.

Other teams are getting closer…

Yes the red cars won, but Rahal and Moraes were tight there at the end. It may not happen this year but the Transition teams are closing in on their first oval win in the IRL. Some sponsorship cash for both to fuel improvement and we could have a “big four” soon which would be a welcome sight.

Boy that place looked empty…

The night race might look good on TV but a cool spell and a very late start appeared to kill the attendance. IndyCar really needs to think about pressuring ISC to de- couple the IndyCar race from the nascar season ticket. Even though more tickets may be sold as part of a package, a house that empty is a problem. In large part, that speedway and race exist so many of the Chicago based sponsors can have a home race, but I am not sure those empty seats do much to impress the sponsors.

If in future years that race avoids MotoGP weekend, enough Indianapolis fans and those displaced by the loss of Milwaukee would likely bring a bigger crowd than we saw today. If ISC is worried about gate revenue from the loss of “forced” ticket sales to the nascar faithful then they simply need to up the prices on the cup dates. For the nascar faithful the IndyCar race is like an NFL pre season game – some thing that they don’t want to pay for but are forced to pay for to get the races they actually want. The tickets then become scrap paper for the nascar fans and tedious to obtain for the IndyCar fans that really want to attend the event.

When the race lineup is prettier than the start.

Struck me on more than one occasion that during the race, cars were lining up 2 by 2 formation much better than they actually do to start the race. Perhaps Mr Barnhart can figure out how that happens it and bottle it for the beginnings of races.

Was this a rerun??

I don't mean this next thought to indicate that this evening's race was not enjoyable nor marketable to a viewership audience. Rather read it to mean that I like the variety of racing that comes with oval courses of different shapes and sizes and the road courses and street circuits that deliver a compelling race on a given Sunday...

I may have my head handed to me here by some of my readers, and I hate to go Robin Miller on you, but it strikes me that I have seen this race before. In many ways the race this evening might have well been the Kentucky race from earlier this season. Taking this one step further, it seemed to be a carbon copy of most of the previous Chicago races from years past.

The races at the cookie cutter mile and halfs certainly create close racing and finishes, but sometimes I struggle with the idea that the final finishing order depends on who gets a draft at the right moment or who gets an aero bump from behind. Starts seeming too much like nascar - Drivers in identical cars running flat out hoping to catch a tow. To me races should test the skills of the driver and involve driver skills of shifting and lifting. Of course, races on those types of ovals tend to separate the men from the boys (and yes women from girls) and the racing doesn’t seem so competitive or compelling on TV.

I remember a race from many years ago that involved Paul Tracy and Nigel Mansell at Phoenix. Still today it sits in my memory as the best race I have ever seen. The two traded the lead over and over, not running side by side with one guy edging forward on one part of the track and the other on another part, but actually having lead changes where one guy fell behind and got behind the other only to come back the next lap and take the lead back.

Perhaps I just miss Phoenix, Nazareth and soon to be Milwaukee – bear with me please…

Chris Estrada has a Post on this issue at his site. View Post

Congratulations JR!!!

JR Hildebrand closed out the Firestone Indy Lights championship today with one race to spare. After a bad qualification run and only needing to finish 13th to close the championship, he steadily worked his way through the field showing maturity and avoiding mishap to finish fifth and claim the crown.

As with other Lights champions of years gone by, It seems landing a ride in the big cars next year might be a challenge for JR. Michael and Gary – If you can’t take him on in the IndyCar series next year – give the kid a reward for his work and success – Run a Fifth car at Homestead with the AFS livery. Let JR have the chance to show his prowess to the rest of the paddock and to potential sponsors. In theory, the Atlantics champ is getting a Million dollar prize to take to a ride at the next level – A ride at Homestead would be a great reward for a guy who out classed his competition this year…

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Random Infineon Thoughts

SO much for Infine-Yawn at Snore-noma…

As much as track design and configuration plays a role in how competitive and interesting a race is over several visits. Today’s race yet again showed that circumstances, scenarios and situations can make a race. All the lead up to this race was about how bad the event would be. Not that this was by any means a classic, but thanks in part to some disappointments in quals, the first lap melee, and Versus’ coverage that made a point to find the compelling stories on the track the race that played out on TV was reasonably entertaining. It sounds like the race we were all expecting occurred a couple hours earlier in the day, when the Lights series ran.

Dario’s Last Hurrah?

For the season at least. With only mile and a half’s remaining, this looks like a two man race to me. Dario certainly is no slouch, but Briscoe and Dixon are masters of the genre. Briscoe can nearly close the deal, with a 53 point play in one of the last three races. The best Dixon could do in the same race would be to drop another 13 points to Briscoe. 33 points to make up in the other two events would be a pretty tall order for Dixon. Then again, he’s where he said he wanted to be, the stalker, no the stalked. I imagine when he said that, he wasn’t quite imagining the fiasco that was this weekend for him. For Briscoe, it would be a very nice story of perseverance and personal growth.

We have your size in stock, just not in the color you requested…

Or have you ever gone to the car dealership trying to decide if you should buy a car without certain features you want because there’s not a car on the lot with them and the special financing ends today?? As great of news as Danica’s apparent imminent signing is, one senses that the league will benefit a little less than what could have been. No matter the activation that Motorola or Boost has in mind, it pales to what an activated Target sponsorship with Danica in a starring role would have meant for the league. Judging from the Boost pig commercials airing during the race today, it will certainly be tackier.

With that said, it is GREAT news that Danica is back and there is nothing stopping her from being able to independently pursue some of the same types of activated opportunities that would have been nearly automatic with Target. Perhaps she could do for Hanes for Women what MJ has done on the men’s side. She would be the only person in the world who could pitch tools, automotive and women’s wear at Sear’s. Here’s to her management team getting VERY creative (but NOT nearly so tacky) in taking Danica to some new endorsement deals.

We don’t care about the 9 car…

Don’t remember what the exact words the Chipster actually said during his in race interview, but it struck me from the tone in his voice, that this is what he meant and he wasn’t just talking about just the run today. Dixon has started to become vocal about the potential of not being at TCGR next year (for more, download the Trackside podcast for last week). This has the taste of something getting personal. Presumably, of course, this relates back to money. Specifically, what Scott has accomplished in his time with the team, what the team may have been prepared to offer Danica and the chasm between the flip sides for both of those coins.

Dixon is credited for originating the “Cheap” Ganassi moniker, and the prospects of Gil DeFerren starting a team that has the presumptive appearance of being run with all the efficiency and success of Penske or TCGR seems to have Scott thinking of new challenges, and a thicker wallet. As much as we thought the big domino this off season would be Danica’s decision, this has the potential to be bigger, much in the same way as Wheldon’s departure from TCGR last year. You gotta wonder just how much of a hurry Graham Rahal, Will Power or potentially RHR would be to sign a contract knowing that a seat could open up at Ganassi. Just imagine what you are thinking if you are Alex Lloyd…

If neither Chip nor Scott blink, there could be an impact on Scott’s ultimate place in the history books. Two more years at TCGR with the same competitive formula probably gets Scott to 30 wins by his 30th birthday, ahead of where anyone running today would be (Tracy, Helio, TK and Dario could all have as many wins but they would be at the end of their careers). Scott would be left with his entire 30’s to chase the 10 additional wins that would put him into racing immortality passing Micheal Andretti’s total. (Yes, I know, AJ and Mario – but for the same reasons that some people argue that Richard Petty’s 200 wins should be put into context relative to Jeff Gordon’s career, I would argue that there are modern and Post modern era’s that need to be separated in open wheel racing). On the other hand, to take a startup team and lead them to competitiveness and ultimately a championship would also be an achievement of note.

A Sure Sign of the Apocalypse – A Feel Good Story in F1.

I woke up early this morning with enough cognitive skills intact to observe that Rubens Barichello won today’s European GP in F1. Two weeks ago we all thought that the story here would be the Red Baron’s return to the sport and it turns out to be the triumph of his former wingman. Rubens is 37 years old which in F1 years translates to 117 years of human aging. Good for Rubens.

What I found interesting during the race was Bob Varsha mentioning a conversation he had with Rubens where he asked what Rubens intended to do when his F1 career was over. Varsha reported that Rubens seemed interested in possibly racing in the Indianapolis 500 or some other form of racing in the US. I don’t think he was talking nascar.

So what else could there be? Thank goodness for Gil DeFerren and all the speculation we get to indulge ourselves in courtesy of his efforts. Both Rubens and Gil are Brazilian (And as any typical American surely knows, all Brazilians must know each other!!). Gil has stated the intent to continue his ALMS program next year. Given Gil’s retirement from the car, if Pagenot fills one of the IndyCar seats at Gil’s new team, it leaves the ALMS effort without drivers… Rubens in Gil’s ALMS car with Gil running a third car at Indy dovetails nicely into the comments Varsha provided.

A Good Outing for Conway

I was happy to see that Mike Conway had a good outing this weekend ending his afternoon on the podium. This season was deep into a spiral that didn’t seem to have a happy ending for the lad. He had two chances to show his quicks on street circuits before he took a deep long trip into the brave new world of American Open wheel Oval racing. I saw him in person at both Milwaukee and Mid Ohio and the change in his demeanor was pretty pronounced. At Mid Ohio I tried to offer some verbal encouragement, but not being very nimble with my vocabulary on the spot what I said undoubtedly came out as “Maybe today you won’t suck as much as the past couple months”. Certainly not what I meant.

Mike has shown speed on all the road courses. He has also shown the impatience of a young man trying to prove his worth and the incidents that accompany such efforts. The Ovals beat him down and I gave thought to writing a post criticizing the D&R team for putting a guy in the seat w/o some ovals in Lights under his belt. As things went poorly, it was commonly thought that Mike was another incompetent who had bought a ride. When Cavin suggested that he was hired for his driving potential many seemed surprised. Mike developed a rather unkind nickname and was the butt of many one liners in the blogosphere. In perspective, has he done any worse in year one than Viso or Moraes have done in year two?

It is an interesting fact to note that the last time D&R was on the podium, they got there with a guy named Briscoe.

Who’ll Sign JR??

In case you missed it, JR Hildebrand classed the field in this morning’s light race. With four victories under his belt, he needs merely to finish 13th or better next race out to claim the Lights title. With Raphael Matos, Hideki Mutoh and Richard Antinucci acquitting themselves well as rookies and sophomores, perhaps the notion that the Lights series is not a good feeder for the IndyCar series can be dismissed. Hopefully in the future, we need not worry about a Lights champion getting a shot in the big cars as it has been recently been a struggle for both Alex Lloyd and Jay Howard. A little later into the silly season I have a post planned to comment on this, but the league needs guys like JR. Hopefully this season’s success will translate to a decent opportunity next year.

Finally –

Get well soon Nelson and Will – Godspeed. As much as people complain about the current chassis, when I saw the accident Saturday afternoon, thoughts of Paul Dana and particularly Alex Zanardi came to mind. Injuries from this sort of collision probably can never be completely avoided. The Paul Dana crash involved the same car at nearly twice the speed, but if racing an “ugly” car with “Exotic materials that are too expensive” means I get to see these two drivers race again next year. I will take the “Ugly” and “expensive” car.

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