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.

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