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...

My Blog List