Like most American kids that grew up in the 80's I watched the Indy 500 every year and became interested in motorsports thanks to that race, but I didn't really get hooked until I started watching Formula 1 racing in the late 90's. My favorite era were those years with the great Mika Hakkinen/Michael Schumacher battles. (I was a Mika Hakkinen fan) So my fondness for Formula 1 waned once Mika retired and Schumacher started winning everything, even at the expense of his teammate Rubens Barrichello. My interest in F1 has only been lukewarm since.

Then I turned to Champ Car racing here in the US for my motorsports fix. However that was quickly extinguished once Champ Car and Indy Car merged and we were stuck with Tony George and his many foibles. (It was entertaining to watch the Hulman/George drama I'll admit.) My interest has been less than lukewarm with Indy Car lately, even without Tony George at the helm.

Over time however, the excitement I once had for motorsports has slowly gone. Maybe it has to do with my age, I don't know. But I think I will pour my efforts into my Trooper and my interests in the outdoors to add excitement to my life.

Thanks for checking out my blog, I hope you enjoy it. I will still post racing news when I find something interesting or noteworthy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

They said it: The year in quotes

(by John Oreovicz 12-22-09)

I was struggling to put together my traditional end-of-year compilation of classic comments from the open-wheel world, and then I stumbled onto a gem of inspiration embedded in a recent story by Marty Smith right here on

"There's a market right now for folks who are willing to tell it like it is," he wrote. "It's a rarity these days."

Ain't that the truth. Marty was lamenting the way NASCAR and its sponsors tend to, shall we say, strongly suggest that drivers show as little personality as possible. It's pretty much the same way in Indy racing, and drivers almost never deviate from the script in Formula One.

So it's getting harder and harder to come up with memorable quotes from the year. Maybe the personalities just aren't as colorful as they used to be, and some of it is surely just me losing my memory, but instant classics like Tony George's "I take my hammer to work every day" and Bobby Rahal's "No harm, no foul" just aren't happening very often these days.

But there were still a few zingers -- especially when taken in context. We'll start with an entry from a veritable quote machine who ought to have a full-time IndyCar ride for publicity value alone. Paul Tracy is a hell of a race car driver, too -- the kind of aggressive, combustible racer that Marty and I obviously agree the sport needs more of …

"As I was laying on the couch watching the disaster of a race at St. Pete, I felt like I could get out there and clean everybody's clock, the way they were driving." -- Paul Tracy

"I continue to be perplexed by the board's recent decision to relieve me from my responsibility as CEO of the enterprise." -- Ousted Indianapolis Motor Speedway boss Tony George, who therapeutically expressed himself with occasional statements on the Vision Racing Web site.

"I thought the verbal bashing from Marco [Andretti] was completely unwarranted. Who's on the outside on the first corner of the first lap, up in the marbles at the 500? Say no more." -- Jimmy Vasser defending his driver Mario Moraes after an avoidable first-lap accident in the Indianapolis 500.

Foul Language Dept.

"Where the f--- is everyone? I'm world champion, man!" -- Jenson Button's greeting to the near-empty interview room at the Brazilian Grand Prix when he arrived for his championship press conference.

"I'm definitely a guy that's done a lot of stupid s--- too. It happens." -- Scott Dixon defending Ryan Briscoe's pit-lane gaffe in Japan.

The Danica Files

Danica Patrick's pursuit of a NASCAR career was a yearlong story, and by September she grew tired of talking about it. "You'll know when I tell you," was the terse mantra she adopted. But she was still the IndyCar driver most in demand by the media and almost always a good quote.

"You have a million times more joy turning a good lap on a road course than an oval." -- Danica Patrick. Good luck finding joy in NASCAR, then.

"I'm learning how everything I say and everything I do, I just have to imagine that it's all on camera." -- Patrick's reaction to being questioned about throwing fewer tantrums this year.

"She should stay where she is." Pioneering Indy car driver Janet Guthrie assessing Patrick's move into NASCAR.

"I'm starting to get a little nervous. It's time to do my part of the deal and get in these cars and perform."-- Patrick, after her JR Motorsports deal was finally announced.

Milka Mania

Since she's riding Danica's coattails into stock car racing, maybe it's appropriate that we feature a Milka Duno quote as well. Before the season, when she was testing for that Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing ride that didn't quite pan out, I asked Milka how she would respond to the notion that some people maybe questioned her talent and whether she deserved the seat. Her reply was priceless:

"Yes, well, there's only two peoples … [writers] Robin Miller and Curt Cavin. I'm not thinking about what they say. They really don't understand about racing and it's not interesting for me what is the opinion that they have." -- Milka Duno

The Dario Diaries

"A championship doesn't all come down to one race or one point. That's the moment that everybody remembers, but it was a long season, and a lot of things got us there." -- Dario Franchitti, who said it 11 days before he won the IndyCar season finale -- and the championship -- by using a fuel-mileage strategy at the Homestead finale that had some competitors grousing.

"I apologized to the fans, because they came out to see good racing, and I didn't feel tonight was that." -- Franchitti, who wasn't the only one who noticed the lack of passing at what turned out to be the IndyCar Series' last race at Richmond International Raceway.

"He pays all the time; he's his own worst enemy. TK is always the first man to reach for his credit card." -- Franchitti explaining why his pal Tony Kanaan seemed so out of sorts all year long.

No doubt the happiest story of the IndyCar year was Justin Wilson's victory for Dale Coyne Racing at Watkins Glen. It was the only race in 2009 that Target Chip Ganassi Racing or Penske Racing did not win, prompting Coyne to say:

"We were David and we beat two Goliaths today. My wife and I didn't buy a new house; we bought an engineer." -- Dale Coyne, after his first win in 25 years of trying.

The New Car Follies

The IndyCar Series originally announced that its new formula for engines and chassis would be implemented in 2011. That quietly turned into 2012, and the way things are going, 2013 may not be out of the question. Here's a timeline of the IRL's progress -- or lack thereof.

"We've engaged multiple manufacturers. We're at a point where at least one of them in the next 60 days should be seeking board approval for participation in the IndyCar Series in the future." -- Brian Barnhart, now COO of the Indy Racing League, in February

"We have previously confirmed five engine manufacturers have expressed continued interest in participating in the IndyCar Series in the future … and they continue to show great interest. Plans for introducing a new engine spec, while remaining and maintaining the series position as a leader in the use of ethanol biofuels remains an ongoing process with considerable OEM [original equipment manufacturer] input. We are expecting to finalize the engine specifications in the next few months." -- Barnhart, July

"I think we'll have the package announced by Thanksgiving of this year. We expect the engine and chassis specifications to be announced in the fourth quarter." -- Barnhart, September

Friday, December 18, 2009

Vision for IndyCar, speedway still on track

(by John Oreovics 12-17-09)

One of the most important stories in Indy car racing during 2009 was the boardroom coup that resulted in Tony George being removed from power at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Even more surprising was George's subsequent decision to relinquish leadership of the Indy Racing League and the IZOD IndyCar Series, which he founded back in 1996.

George's roles with the IRL and IMS were taken over by Jeff Belskus, a longtime associate of the Hulman-George family who has worked for IMS since 1987. Like the Hulman family and many key members of Speedway management, Belskus is a native of Terre Haute, Ind., and he has been a friend of George through high school and into their time at Indiana State University.

A certified public accountant by trade, Belskus has long been known as the money man in the background of the IMS hierarchy. But with George's ouster from IMS and surprise move to distance himself from the IRL, Belskus found himself thrust into the spotlight.

Shy by nature, Belskus was somewhat unfairly roasted by Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz following his first public appearance in his new roles. But the key constituents of the Speedway and the IndyCar Series are comfortable with their new leader, mainly because he was quickly able offer a sense of calm and a "business as usual" approach to the issues faced by the track and the league.

"I think it has gone as well as anyone could expect it to go," Belskus said of his first three months as the outright leader of IMS and IRL. "I'm pleased with the way it has gone. Tony and I have a good working relationship and I'm happy about that. I'm still spending a lot of time learning the lay of the land in some respects. It's been a great learning experience so far and I feel good about the way it has gone."

Belskus' longterm association with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation gave him an insider's view of the workings of the company, a huge advantage over hiring an outsider to take over the notoriously private family business. He's not concerned that he could be stretched too thin by being in charge of multiple facets of the company.

"We have a good team in place at IMS that is very experienced and we depend on them," he remarked. "Even though I'm not there, I get e-mails and phone calls, but I have responsibility for running the Indianapolis Motor Speedway."

After relying solely on the Indianapolis 500 through 1993, the Speedway now hosts three major events a year. In 2009, attendance was down for the NASCAR Brickyard 400 and the second running of the Red Bull Indianapolis MotoGP race, but Belskus is not significantly concerned.

"Renewals [for the Brickyard] have been strong -- they are in line with last year," he said. "It's a higher quality product when you don't have to stop every nine or 10 laps for a competition yellow [as happened in 2008], so we hope those problems are behind us and we can win back the fans we lost as a result of that.

"Having said that, it seems like NASCAR in general, whether it's the economy or whatever it is, has certainly had their share of attendance issues this year. It's a good event for us and we hope it continues to be a good event for us. We met expectations this year. We planned for it to be off, but I think that was as much about the economy as it was about the event."

A bigger adjustment has been required in terms of managing and being the public face of the IRL. One of the toughest tasks he already dealt with was cutting staff by approximately 40.

"It's an ongoing process," Belskus said. "We're doing what we can to review everything for efficiencies to try to be as productive as we can be. I know my way around the racetrack pretty well and there haven't been too many surprises about what's going on with the League at these events. Terry Angstadt [Vice-President of Marketing] and Brian Barnhart [Vice-President of Competition and Operations] are working hard and doing a good job, and I think we deliver a lot of value."

The IndyCar Series got a huge boost in early November when it was revealed that apparel manufacturer IZOD signed a multi-year contract for title sponsor rights. Most importantly from Belskus' perspective, IZOD is essentially going to pick up the tab for the TEAM subsidy program that pays each full-time competitor up to $1.2 million annually in lieu of prize money.

"Getting the right [title sponsor] was important," Belskus said. "We spent a lot of time talking about 'fair value' and what the series is worth. We're very excited about being associated with IZOD, a brand that we feel good about."

The other bullet the IRL dodged was Danica Patrick's potential move to NASCAR. In the end, America's favorite female racer elected to remain with Andretti Autosport in Indy cars fulltime for at least the 2010 season while beginning to sample the world of NASCAR with a limited schedule for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series.

"She's great for our series and an important part of our series," said the IRL leader. "We hope to see her as a part of it for many years to come. I won't say it's absolutely necessary, but we'd prefer to have her here, given our druthers. My hope is that she's going to continue to be an Indy car driver first and foremost."

Belskus said that Indy car racing fans shouldn't expect radical changes to the IRL schedule or the Indianapolis 500 during his watch. However, at a Dec. 9 meeting, the IMS board did approve a plan to shorten the month of May Indy activities to include just one week of practice and a single qualifying weekend.

"We will still be primarily a North American series, though international events are important to us," Belskus said. "We need a compelling reason to do the international events and it is important from that perspective. For Japan, it's because of Honda. We're looking at three or four international events as the most. I don't see it as a significant portion of our schedule."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

For Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Jeff Belskus, it cuts like a knife

(by Anthony Schoettle 12-16-09)

It doesn’t make any sense.

That’s the thought that went through my head yesterday when Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Jeff Belskus told me business operations at the famed Brickyard “aren’t as bad as they look.”

Well, they look pretty bad.

There have been two rounds of layoffs within the last year, sending at least 70 people packing at the IMS—and its sister operations. That doesn’t include the people who vacated voluntarily.

There are a couple company jets for sale, the month of May is being sliced by one-third and the golf course and catering businesses are being privatized.

“The sky is not falling,” Belskus said yesterday from what looks like an unmistakable hard hat zone.

Belskus insists the Indianapolis 500 is financially strong and the MotoGP and Brickyard 400 races are “making positive impacts on the business.”

Belskus admits the motorcycle and NASCAR events aren’t making nearly as positive an impact as they once did. Still, something doesn’t jibe.

With all your properties presumably turning a profit, why all the cost cutting. And consider, this is a property—with its famed oval, 2.5-mile road course, broadcast facilities, pagoda, garages and other infrastructure—that was once estimated to have hard assets near $1 billion.

There’s another thing I don’t understand. The notion that shrinking the month of May won’t have much of an economic impact on Indianapolis.

What about all those thousands of motorsports related businesses in the region that the governor and Indiana Motorsports Association have been touting recently. Aren’t they hurt by this—at least a little?

My how things have changed. Steve Goldsmith thought the month of May was so important to the city, he threw all his support behind Tony George in the mid-1990s as open-wheel racing began to fracture.

A former top Goldsmith aid recently told me that the then mayor threw his support behind George after CART boss Andrew Craig told Goldsmith his plan was to cut back the month of May and emphasize the entire series.

In 2000, a study demonstrated the Indianapolis 500 had a $336.6 million economic impact on the city. It takes $6 million to $10 million annually on the conservative side to run an IRL team.

And we’re talking about reducing hotel and dry cleaning costs for teams and a week’s worth of yellow shirt staffing for the IMS. Oh, and a week’s worth of expenses for IMS Productions.

Belskus said the most recent move will create a six-figure savings for the Speedway. Team operators say they’ll save five-figures. By my calculations, this is a low single-figure percentage savings for the Speedway and IRL teams.

Now this startling revelation: Belskus said the IRL teams asked him to cut the month of May. I thought the Indianapolis 500 was the one thing that has kept the IRL afloat during the worst of times. I thought that’s what kept the teams, sponsors and TV partners hanging in there.

And in the same breath, Belskus told a small group of us reporters gathered yesterday at IMS’ headquarters that another IRL race could slide into the calendar space abdicated by the Indy 500—as soon as 2011. Wouldn’t that take a bit more luster off the Greatest Spectacle in Racing? This is the exact sort of idea that caused caused Goldsmith to turn his back on Craig.

This part of the puzzle does make sense: The Indy Racing League is not profitable, and its losses might now be outstripping the shrinking financial gains of the 500, 400 and MotoGP race.

Officials for the Performance Racing Industry Show, the nation’s largest motorsports industry trade show held last week in Orlando, told IBJ yesterday that business for all motorsports companies was down 30 percent in 2009—40 percent or more for open-wheel businesses.

And there’s this: The board that controls the Speedway and Indy Racing League didn’t care for Tony George’s proclamation that the IRL needs to be profitable by 2013 or else. They liked the idea of profitability, but another three plus years of sucking money from the family fortune didn’t sit well. That six-member board includes George’s three sisters and mother.

Belskus, the IMS’ former chief financial officer who replaced George as captain July 1, got the message. He sharpened his pencil—and his scalpel—to a very fine point.

And the transformational surgery is underway.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Stars aligned in open-wheel world

(by John Oreovicz 11-26-09)

There's a tendency in life to focus on what's wrong with things, and racing is no exception.

But in the spirit of the holiday season, here's a look at what's right. In other words, a few things to be thankful for in the world of open-wheel racing.

Everyone involved with the IndyCar Series is thankful that Izod has come on board as a title sponsor that will aggressively market the series.

Izod and IndyCar officials are thankful that Danica Patrick will concentrate primarily on open-wheelers for the next few years. But they wish she and her handlers would finally get around to announcing it.

A lot of people who spend time at IndyCar races are thankful for the quieter exhaust system Honda Performance Development created for the Honda Indy V-8 -- not to mention Honda's continued support of American open-wheel racing.

All the IndyCar Series drivers appreciate the consistent excellence of the Firestone tires they race on, and are also thankful for the introduction this year of red-sidewall alternate tires for road and street courses.

Speaking of road racing, the vast majority of the IndyCar field is thankful that additional road races (Brazil, Barber) are popping up on the schedule.

But I'm sure I wouldn't be the only thankful person if somebody figured out a way to solve the Milwaukee Mile's financial problems so Indy racing's century of history at the historic venue could be extended.

I don't think I am alone in wanting to see Cleveland and Road America on the IndyCar slate as well.

I'm glad that Indy car racing still attracts world-class drivers like Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves.

I'm thankful that Juan Pablo Montoya is starting to show NASCAR and the world that former Indy car drivers really can adapt to stock car racing.

Franchitti and almost every other IndyCar Series competitor are thankful that the ever-slow and always-erratic Milka Duno didn't ever sweep them into a crash.

Another world-class Indy driver, Will Power, is thankful that Roger Penske is stepping up to run a third car for him in 2010.

I'm thankful that the broken back Power suffered (and the broken leg sustained by Nelson Philippe in the same practice crash at Infineon Raceway) was the worst injury of the IndyCar season.

I'm also thankful that I got to witness Justin Wilson's victory for Dale Coyne Racing at Watkins Glen -- one of the best racing stories of the year. A surprisingly long list of drivers out there is grateful to Coyne for his 25 years in the sport.

I'm hopeful that the next wave of American road racing talent -- including JR Hildebrand, Jonathan Summerton, John Edwards, Alexander Rossi and Gabby Chaves -- gets a fair shot at competing in the IndyCar Series, or even F1.

Speaking of F1, world champion Jenson Button is thankful that Red Bull Racing didn't get its car sorted until midseason.

Kimi Raikkonen must be ecstatic at the thought of being paid an eight-figure salary to watch F1 from the sidelines next year.

Felipe Massa is thankful for the safety advances in modern helmets -- as are the Brazilian's legions of fans.

A lot of people remain happy that a few traditional F1 racetracks like Spa, Monza and Suzuka continue to endure the onslaught of fabulous yet characterless Hermann Tilke-designed facilities.

Finally, I'm thankful that my 3-year-old son, Patrick, seems to enjoy watching just about any form of racing as much as his daddy does.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

IndyCar deal with Izod a real shot in the arm

(by John Oreovicz 11-06-09)

"Let's get the party started!"

With those words from Indy Racing League vice president of public relations John Griffin, the IndyCar Series rolled out the red carpet for its first title sponsor since 2001. With the marketing muscle of Phillips-Van Heusen Corp. behind it, the Izod IndyCar Series may finally get noticed as "The Fastest Race in the World."

At first glance, the notion of an apparel brand and a racing series teaming together doesn't add up. But if you look at the initiatives taken (not to mention the promotional dollars spent) since Izod entered Indy car racing as a personal sponsor of American star Ryan Hunter-Reay 16 months ago, it starts to make sense.

"It obviously has been a long time since we've had a title sponsor, and to be honest with you, it's probably the first legitimate title sponsor we've ever had," said IRL competition president Brian Barnhart, without mentioning short-lived former partners Pep Boys (1998-99) and (2000-01).

"I think the best thing about it is going to be the activation aspect of it because they're going to spend a lot of money raising the awareness of the series and increasing the amount of eyeballs that are watching our sport. That's the first step in raising the value of participation in this series."

It certainly sounds like the way the six-year deal (with an option for Izod to extend) has been structured will benefit everyone involved with Indy car racing. Aside from the cash influx the Indy Racing League needed at a critical juncture for the company, Izod's money will be allocated to participants as part of the TEAM revenue-sharing program. It's a given that PVH will promote the sport through aggressive television, print and Internet media ad buys and driver appearances at Macy's stores.

Izod is likely to reserve plenty of track signage and work closely with promoters in local race markets.

"We expect to be very aggressive in our spending," said Mike Kelly, PVH executive vice president of marketing and creative.

The title backing, worth upward of $10 million annually, is part of PVH's strategy of building Izod's brand image through sports marketing, including securing naming rights for the Meadowlands arena that the New Jersey Nets call home.

The IndyCar Series also offers PVH the opportunity to cross-market its premium brands, including Calvin Klein, Timberland and Sean John, to the demographically upscale open-wheel audience.

Kelly was Hunter-Reay's guest at the 2008 Indianapolis 500 and said, "It took about four seconds before the needle was in my arm."

By the Watkins Glen race on July 4 weekend, RHR had earned a personal sponsorship contract from Izod. The driver arguably responsible for delivering the Izod title sponsorship to the IndyCar Series affirmed his enthusiasm for the partnership during the presentation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Pagoda Pavilion on Thursday.

"This is a fresh start for the IndyCar Series," said Hunter-Reay, who is reportedly on the brink of clinching -- with Izod's support -- the open fourth seat with Michael Andretti's team. "This is what we've been waiting for. They're more a marketing company than anything else and the sky's the limit right now."

With the economy in a continued tailspin and Indy car racing's public profile at a low point, Izod couldn't have picked a better time to get on board with open-wheel racing and the chances of the sport making a comeback increased significantly with Thursday's title sponsorship announcement.

"As a corporation, if you see what we're doing across all of our brands, we have not pulled back in our marketing spend even though the environment became difficult," Kelly said. "We have grown, our brands have grown, we've grown in market share -- we believe in share of units, share of dollars, also share of voice and share of mind.

"While our competition has pulled back on their spending, we see it in the marketplace. We've been aggressive with the spend. We're fortunate to be able to do so as a healthy company. It's bearing fruit for us."

Kelly said he and PVH were captivated by the potential of using the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Centennial Celebration as a marketing platform and believe Indy car racing can regain the stature it enjoyed in the 1980s and '90s until the battle for control of the sport between the IRL and CART/Champ Car killed whatever momentum the formula carried.

"The assets are so rich," Kelly said. "If you think about the power of [Indy car racing] during the '80s and the '90s on the American racing landscape, now you've got a next generation that just doesn't realize how sexy and cool this sport is. I think we have a lot to offer the league, but the league has a lot of great assets to tell a story with.

"It's an opportunity, no question," he added. "If everything was rosy and the series was mature after the unification, I'm not sure we could afford it. I think it's right time, right place, and we do see upside. If you think of it as a toddler that's on its feet now, that's the kind of position we like. We want to be part of it, because we're not just committed for the short term."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Is NASCAR playing it too safe?

(by Ed Hinton 10-22-09)

I shall now ask you the fans the toughest, touchiest, most personal, most politically incorrect question I have ever asked you:

Is racing dangerous enough for you anymore?

This bears asking, in light of your massively expressed discontent and growing apathy toward NASCAR. I wonder if the radical reduction of danger in the safety revolution isn't at the root of it all.

Don't get me wrong. I never have been one of those who believed the masses came to motor races to see people get killed.

But I have always believed you came, in some measure, to sense that death and serious injury were being narrowly avoided before your eyes.

I could hear it in your thunderous cheers whenever a Dale Earnhardt or a Tim Richmond would climb out of a demolished car and wave to the crowd. Or a Rick Mears would rise laughing out of a pile of rubble at Indy.

Before Jimmie Johnson rocketed from obscurity at the lesser levels to astounding success in Cup, his entire career highlight film lasted less than a minute: one horrific crash at Watkins Glen, head-on into a barrier that exploded; he jumped right out of the wreckage and onto the roof of his Busch car, and thrust both arms skyward.

Both he and the crowd were clearly exhilarated by his triumph over near-disaster. I wonder if your current apathy toward him is, in part, because he's had no moments like that in Cup.

I'm not pushing you onto a psychiatric couch here. I'm just asking about human nature, the anthropological fact of fascination with, say, the high-wire artist, the matador, the Navy SEAL, or -- in the analogy once drawn for me by NASCAR president Mike Helton -- the fighter pilot.

Atop that list of the daring, for more than a century between the first automobile race in 1894 and this, the fruition of the racing safety revolution, was the racing driver.

These past few years you have told me in droves that NASCAR has become boring -- "BO-ring," you often spell it -- via e-mail and comments on the ESPN Conversation pages. Yet NASCAR publicists bombard me constantly with computer-acquired "loop data" meant to prove, mathematically, that there's more passing, closer racing, fewer runaway wins than ever before.

So all I can rely on are my own eyes and memory, and I cannot for the life of me see that the racing is any more or less boring than it ever was whenever fields get strung out, and someone leads and leads and leads. Johnson does it, but so did Richard Petty.

You roundly say you despise the Car of Tomorrow because it's awkward and further dampens the racing, and because it is essentially a kit car neutered of make.

The new car is aesthetically ugly beyond question, and drivers tell us it's a handful and a clunker. Beyond that, I can't see how it has necessarily hurt the racing -- unless we're constantly watching the driver, inside the car, fighting the wheel and the brake pedal.

As for brand identification, they all looked the same to me a decade before the COT came along. It started in 1997 when NASCAR let Ford get away with a racing Taurus that looked nothing like a street Taurus, and the aerodynamics war went out of control from there, until they were all prototypes, none recognizable from the showroom namesakes.

I wonder whether the real issue with the new car, conscious or subconscious, is that its purpose has been too thoroughly fulfilled -- that it is too safe.

You say the drivers, including Johnson, are mostly vanilla. I wonder if it's more that you don't detect that distinct aura of swagger in men who knew and accepted, whenever a starting grid rolled off the pit road, that they might not make it back.

For the record, no journalist was more vocal than I on behalf of the HANS, soft walls, safer seats, moving the driver more toward the center of the car, and energy-dissipating materials in the cars.

It had gotten to the point that the price of the occasional reminders of the danger was too dear. I'd written too many accounts from too many racetracks where the pall of death or career-ending injury lay palpable and miserable.

I still feel that way. I still applaud, standing, NASCAR's adoption of every single safety measure, and more, advocated by the experts I brought into the discussion in the terrible outbreak of death by basilar skull fracture in 2000-01. Most of those Ph.D.s and M.D.s are now paid consultants for NASCAR.

Still I wonder whether, in doing the right thing -- the only thing, given the scientific capabilities -- racing has had to remove a rudimentary element of its electrifying appeal: the intangible edge on the human spirit during an event that involves high risk.

For a few months after the day Earnhardt didn't climb out, Feb. 18, 2001 at Daytona, NASCAR's television ratings spiked to their highest levels ever. They have declined, pretty much steadily, ever since.

In death he finally made the cover of Sports Illustrated, a place I'd failed to get him in life, during the nine years I worked there, through the prime of his career. Its sister magazine, Time, put him on the cover too, with a story that contained some information I'd written in SI stories that didn't make the cover, information now deemed more interesting to the masses because he was suddenly dead.

Driving the TV-ratings spike in the Earnhardt aftermath were male viewers ages 18-34, the demographic advertisers covet most. After the TV roller coaster, I kept getting this image of youth in droves, parking their dirt bikes and skateboards and saying to one another, "Man, dudes actually die at this NASCAR stuff, so I better check it out."

Then, HANS devices in place, soft walls under construction, danger radically reduced, the youths apparently returned to watching the X Games.

But throughout the aftermath of Earnhardt I felt this: He himself wouldn't have been disgusted by it all, for nobody understood the mass appeal of danger more than Earnhardt. It made him, he knew. And it would destroy him, he seemed to sense all along. And he accepted that.

He once showed me a letter from a woman asking him to drive her husband's hearse from the church to the grave. It had been the man's dying wish.

I knew how Earnhardt was -- he wouldn't go to funerals even for close friends such as Neil Bonnett and Davey Allison. Death was too real, too looming in his own life, too clear and present a danger to Earnhardt all the time.

Knowing this, and having been the victim of his chops-busting humor many a time, I went right back at him over the hearse-driving request. I dropped the letter onto the coffee table between us and asked, "Well? Did you do it?"

"Shee-ee-ee-IT, no!" he said.

And then he muttered: "I'll be in one of them bitches soon enough."

This was six-plus years before his death. Only months before it, amid much driver unrest over the deaths of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin Jr., Earnhardt famously admonished his skittish peers:

"Put a kerosene rag around your ankles so the ants won't climb up there and eat your candy ass."

I wonder if that isn't what you miss most about him, the seven championships and 76 wins just being the rationale on which you would have rioted had he been left out of NASCAR's very first Hall of Fame class.

But Earnhardt was the paradox of indescribable enormity in NASCAR. A realm always on the bittersweet edge of danger due to the occasional reminders, the deaths of lesser names, could not bear the death of its biggest, its literally most-worshipped star ever.

This was too much. Something had to be done.

It was a flashback to what had happened in Formula One in 1994, when its own man deemed invulnerable to dying in a race car, Ayrton Senna, was killed at Imola, Italy.

The very next race, at Monaco, I sat with F1 czar Bernie Ecclestone in his motor coach in the paddock on race morning, saw the urgency in his face as he looked me in the eye, and heard him utter the words that would begin the worldwide safety revolution that, by now, has changed the electrifying nature of motor racing everywhere forever:

"It is necessary to give out the message to the world that we're not people who don't care."

They had to end the image of blood sport, even in the one so long regarded as the most dangerous -- and therefore somehow romantic -- sport of all, Grand Prix racing.

That they did. The high-tech safety revolution began, though it would not reach NASCAR for seven more years, and the very real death of its own perceived immortal, Earnhardt.

By 1997, Jacques Villeneuve, soon after winning the world driving championship, got into big trouble with the FIA for telling the BBC that Formula One was losing its appeal because it just wasn't dangerous enough anymore.

This was not from a cavalier driver in youthful denial. Nobody in F1 understood death on the track better, more personally. His father, Gilles Villeneuve, had been killed when Jacques was only 11, during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix in 1982.

Yet what Jacques said was terribly incorrect politically, because F1 was in the third year of its massive safety and public-relations overhaul.

That didn't mean he wasn't right.

Joey Logano's recent wreck at Dover is a prime example of how we in the media grasp at any remaining straw of the danger element, try to magnify it, bring it back.

The very idea that Logano could have been seriously hurt in that car, in that seat, wearing that helmet and HANS, in that simple rollover, was -- well -- borderline absurd.

But he said it scared him -- of course it did, in a generation of drivers who seem to sense they're playing video games until the simulator jars them enough to remind them that crashing really can hurt.

The commentators were breathless as the replays of Logano's roll went on and on, in slow motion and real time, ad nauseam.

See? Grasping at a straw of something fleeting, nearly gone, trying to bring it back.

We all are human and we all are mortal and we all are trying to deal with that, and seeing the nearness of death is somehow a part of our preparation.

My longtime friend and writing guru, Frank Deford, broke his career-long silence on the subject of auto racing -- he'd often kidded me about the garishness of it -- in the aftermath of Earnhardt. NASCAR, Deford concluded, is indeed "a slice of American life … and death."

Our greatest living novelist, the enigmatic Cormac McCarthy, slipped out of seclusion a couple of years ago for one TV interview, in which he said he does not understand writers who do not deal in matters of life and death.

Given racing today, I wonder if the man who gained fame and fortune by being the most overtly human and mortal of us all, Ernest Hemingway, would have said what he said: "There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing and mountaineering, all the others being games."

I wonder if he'd have listed only two. He's not around to ask, so I'm asking you:

Have science and society and their mandates to do the right thing, the humane thing, and the pundits like me who preached it …

Have we reduced your once-deadly, once-electrifying sport to just another game?

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Making of a U.S. Formula One Team

(by Peter Windsor 9-25-09)

The story of the new American team that will race in Formula One next season really begins in 1985. That’s when Honda was supplying its wonderful turbo engines to the Williams team and I was working for Frank Williams as his manager of sponsorship and public affairs.

We luxuriated in the 48,000 square feet, or 4,460 square meters, of the new Williams factory in Didcot, England, south of Oxford — a new facility that included a special Honda engine test area and a one-third scale wind tunnel that had originated at a company in northeastern England, Specialized Mouldings. There, in 1977, Peter Wright and Colin Chapman had discovered the principle now called “ground effect.” At the time, that wind tunnel was the equal of anything in the world.

My office was conveniently placed near the parking lot, which meant that I could watch the ceaseless comings and goings of a Formula One team. It was not long before I noticed the regular appearance of a stocky man in jeans who always headed toward the wind tunnel, a briefcase in hand.

A few inquiries revealed that he was Ken Anderson, a young American engineer who worked for Penske Racing, running their new shock-absorber department. Anderson had started with motocross bikes in the United States, but quickly joined the rapidly expanding Fox shock-absorber company. He then formed a successful working relationship with an off-road racer, Roger Mears, winning major desert events with him before working miracles at the Indy 500.

Soon word was out: Penske’s Rick Mears, Roger’s brother, wanted to know about these amazing Fox shock absorbers that were enabling his brother to run so fast. Roger Penske then hired Anderson to set up a Penske shock-absorber company.

Penske shock absorbers quickly became a mainstay of Formula One. But back in 1985, Williams was the only team using them, on the FW10-Honda; in return for the shock absorbers, Williams allowed Penske to use its wind tunnel for development of its British-built Indy car. Thus Anderson’s regular visits to the Williams factory.

Anderson and I became good friends. We quickly discovered that we loved the same things — Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, for example, and the details of the Gemini, Mercury and Apollo space missions. We began to talk about putting our own race team together — first in the United States (with an Indy Racing League team in the mid-1990s) and, more recently, a Formula One team.

Anderson first contacted me about his Formula One idea in 2006. He had built the Falcon IndyCar in 2002 in Charlotte, North Carolina (the car never raced because of a sudden change in the I.R.L./IndyCar engine regulations) and he was now working as an engineer at Haas/C.N.C. Racing, a Nascar team financed by Gene Haas. Anderson said that he had convinced Haas to finance the design and construction of a full-scale, rolling-road wind tunnel in North Carolina and that he, Anderson, was going to manage the project. If he could pull that off, he promised, then a Formula One team would be the next step.

I followed the progress of what would become the Windshear wind tunnel. By the end of 2007, Anderson had finished the tunnel ahead of schedule and under budget. Most of today’s top Formula One teams spent time in Windshear in 2008 and virtually all of them declared it to be the best tunnel in the world. From there, our American Formula One team was but a short step away.

The overriding principle of our project is that, contrary to current wisdom, it is possible to design and build a Formula One car in the United States (rather than in Europe, where all the current teams build their cars). Why would we want to do that? There are a number of good reasons:

Much of the current Formula One technology originates in the United States.

It is much more cost-efficient to design and build in the United States than in Europe (as such car companies as BMW, Mercedes, Honda and Toyota have proven over the years).

Europe is crowded. It’s fine for Ferrari in Italy or McLaren in England, but for all other Formula One teams, it is a case of playing catch-up or paying prices at a premium, particularly when it comes to recruitment and supply.

The Formula One calendar is now based at least 50 percent outside Europe. Never has the sport been so “global.”

By basing ourselves in the United States, we would have the “pick of the bunch” from all the key suppliers, most of whom have been a part of Anderson’s world for the past 20 years.

As a national team, we would start from a unique marketing base. We would plan to race American drivers in the medium term and to build a conduit for them, from grassroots racing to Formula One. The large majority of our staff would be American. We would give talented American engineers and technicians a chance to work on a world stage to which they have not had access in recent decades. On the car’s nose would be marked, “Made in America.”

From the start, we had no doubts about the technical base of the team. The obvious first move was to base it near the Windshear tunnel. We found a building with not a little motor sports history: the original “Hall of Fame” race team’s headquarters, where such Nascar stars as Kyle Busch started their careers.

The logistics, of course, were another matter. We would have to pay for all the travel to and from Europe, but, even so, the figures made sense. We could have our cars and team personnel back in Charlotte after a race like the Spanish Grand Prix faster than the average British-based team would have its trucks back in England, and for virtually no increase in cost. We would join the other Formula One teams for the “flyaway” race logistics — and we would treat the European double-headers just like any other team: We would simply truck our cars to the next race.

We would need, however, a European logistics base. This, in turn, opened another door in our thinking.

We had decided that if we were going to be based in Charlotte, in the heart of Nascar country, then obviously we would have to play to the fans, as Nascar does. We would make our factory “fan friendly,” with easy access to the public, and, with a television production facility in the factory, we would enable Formula One fans to follow the progress of the car from conception to completion.

Our European base would therefore be chosen as much for its location as for its excellent facilities. We want it to be the sort of place that our sponsors, fans and investors want to visit, something different than the standard, murky building on an English industrial estate.

Finally, there was the timeframe of operation — and this, in turn, was linked to the way we wanted to build and run the team. To finance the formation of the team and the construction of the cars in 2009, we would sell a stake in the company to a group of the right sort of investors — people who believed in us, loved Formula One and could see that this team was approaching the future in a new way and was in it for the long haul, not for a quick turnaround.

We were confronted with the global recession, and with a particularly difficult patch of Formula One political turbulence, but at one of our road shows in early February, we met a young man named Chad Hurley, a co-founder of YouTube and now the chief executive of YouTube for Google.

In a Silicon Valley cafĂ©, Chad asked us a million questions about Formula One and our project. He grasped it immediately: the beauty of a new, creative U.S. team taking on the big guns. For an American to stand up and effectively say, “I believe in F1 as the world’s largest global TV sport” when there is not even a Formula One race in America, let alone an American driver in the series, was magical. For him to believe in us and our innovative concepts was something else again.

I don’t think this would have been possible in a country other than the United States. In Europe, the attitude to the global recession was basically, “Let’s do nothing and hope it goes away.” Americans, it seemed to me in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco or Chicago, still gave time to the entrepreneur who talked sense and examined the problem from every angle.

Before the recession really hit, no one would believe that we could do the team for substantially less than the Formula One norm. In the recession, people suddenly began to listen to what we had to say. Of course, Formula One’s global reach helped: An average of 50 million people watch Formula One events 18 times a year throughout the world.

There is no guidebook to forming a new Formula One team. We are breaking new ground. In the sense that we are building our complete car in-house, we will be the first all-new Formula One team of the 21st century. We will be the first team of the cellphone-text-message-email-YouTube generation. Without those inventions, Anderson and I could never have kept so many balls in the air for so long in so many different parts of the world. We will be the first team to design and build its cars in the United States since Dan Gurney did so with his Eagles in 1966-67.

It was Kelly Johnson’s Skunk Works philosophy that inspired us from the start and it continues to drive us today. When Johnson wrote that success is primarily achieved by employing the minimum number of the best possible people, with the company’s head count controlled in an almost vicious way, he was also writing the philosophy of how a Formula One team should operate from 2010 onward.

A1GP completes crucial funding deal

(by Matt Beer 9-25-09)

A1GP has announced that it has completed a financial restructuring that it is confident will secure the series' long-term future.

There had been growing doubts about the championship's health in recent weeks, with the cars being held by freight company Delivered On Time (DOT) since the end of the 2008/09 season, suggestions that Ferrari was set to recall its engine supply, and with operating company A1GP Operations having been liquidated.

But series boss Tony Teixeira said that the new funding deal would resolve all A1GP's financial concerns and allow the series to begin as planned in Surfers Paradise next month. No specific details of the financial package were released by A1GP, although AUTOSPORT understands that the championship had been in talks with Credit Suisse.

"I wanted to announce this re-financing a long time ago, but the reason it has taken longer than I planned was the size of the package," said Teixeira.

"I could see no reason to look for a one year deal, it had to be for at least three to four years until such a time as the series is independent. This way we can make sure everyone involved in the series has the necessary security and the series is totally creditable."

He added that he was now keen to reassure A1GP's suppliers and partners that the series had a solid future.

"I shall be meeting all of them personally in the next couple of days," said Teixeira. "I want them to understand this is a series that is here to stay on the motorsport scene, and they need to know their involvement is with a series that is going from strength to strength.

"I have seen all the stories written over the past few weeks doubting the future of the series, and these are not new to me as I have seen them at the start of every one of our four seasons. These are not things I like to read and I feel frustrated that I cannot always come out and explain exactly what we are doing, but, as you know, we have always delivered every season and race we have committed to.

"Our intention is to settle all our outstanding creditors prior to the administration hearing, and would like to thank them for their patience and support.

"We at A1GP have been so lucky to have such loyal support from all our stake holders - management and staff, race promoters, team owners, partners, suppliers, TV rights holders, sponsors and last but not least our fans."

Focusing On The Future

(by Bruce Martin 9-24-09)

While the IndyCar Series teams were preparing for last Saturday’s Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi, IndyCar president of competition Brian Barnhart and Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation CEO Jeff Belskus talked about the future.

A highly entertaining fight for the series championship will conclude at Homestead-Miami Speedway on October 10 but the work continues for the men who are charged with plotting the course for the future and the first major decision coming up is the announcement of the new engine/car combination for the 2012 season.

Originally, that package was supposed to be announced this past April but with economic uncertainties regarding the international automotive industry that has delayed the decision.

Barnhart, however, said he expects a decision to be announced by the Thanksgiving holiday in November.

“We continue to develop a couple of parallel paths on the chassis with two different designs we are looking at,” Barnhart said. “We have four manufacturers who have expressed interest in participating in the series beginning in 2012. In this environment we feel very good about that. We are proud that with the automotive manufacturers going through what they are going through and four of them expressing interest to run. We are maintaining dialogue with them and hope to hear from them by Thanksgiving.”

The four interested parties include current engine supplier Honda as well as the German triumvirate that includes Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche. All of the German nameplates are owned by the same company so it is likely that just one of those brands will join the series, most likely Volkswagen, which has shown the most interest out of that group.

“The manufacturers are in agreement in terms with engine specifications and the direction they want to go,” Barnhart said. “We have two significantly different chassis packages in terms of appearance and how different and radical they are from what we are running. What we need to do is make a decision on what direction that is going. The one is so radically different it will entail a lot more in terms of R&D, costs and time. We need to be careful not to jump ahead too much but at the same time be consistent with what the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League have been about and that is evolution.”

Volkswagen wants an inline 4-cylinder turbocharged engine because it replicates the technology used for its passenger cars in Europe. Honda Performance Development favors a 6-cylinder turbocharged formula for the series engine specification.

“We’re not ready to announce that yet but the groups we have talked to are all pretty consistent with what spec they want to go with,” Barnhart said. “We haven’t narrowed it down to the devil in the details but the general specs have been agreed upon.”

Erik Berkman, the president of Honda Performance Development, continues to push for a V-6 engine and is hopeful that the decision on the new engine/car design will come soon.

“I think we are on track for 2012 still,” Berkman said. “I hope that as the season winds down and we go into the offseason that some things speed up that allows us to get the League’s clear direction on what that should be. If we can go into our Christmas break with some clarity to the future plan that we are still on track.

“We’ve been proposing the V-6 all along so I’m hoping we can go that route.”

Honda has stressed its desire for manufacturer completion, which would mean a new company getting involved with the IndyCar Series.

“I’m hopeful we will have some competition in the future,” Berkman reiterated. “This has been an unusual year. I’ve tried to not panic this year and each month this year my optimism is coming back.”

As for the design of the new car, it could look radically different from the current generation IndyCar that has been on the track since 2003. But while it may look different, it is more a subject of evolution, not revolution.

“The car we proposed is relatively feasible,” Berkman said. “It’s an evolutionary design. Honda will stay out of directing the chassis as much as we might have done in the past. We’re going to let the League do their job there. We can make an engine that can fit in the existing car or in a new chassis. We can do whatever.

“The engine we envision is smaller than the current package. If we raise the peak output then we have more heat rejection that we will have to manage. A new car will have room to grow and evolve from there.”

While the IndyCar Series wants to see better performance and innovation from the new design, safety remains the No. 1 objective of the new car.

And that is where the “Laws of Unintended Consequences” arise. Despite computer simulations and data research, the only way to find out how a car holds up under a crash is to actually crash it.

Any volunteers to serve as a test driver for that?

“We’ve had an interesting process in the last 18 months with the design project initiated by Honda with what the next chassis and iconic look should look like,” Barnhart said. “It’s a really delicate balance of form following function and the evolution of what we’ve had for the last 30 years. We have to be comfortable in how to race that car but more important how to crash that car.

“With the Will Power and Nelson Philippe crash at Infineon, to look at the level of that accident, the cars behaved exactly what they were designed to and you compare that to what has happened in previous years in similar accidents the level of injuries the driver sustained were considerably less than what was experienced previously. Those cars did what we needed them to do.

“If you make radical changes from the evolution of what this car has been for 30 years you’re going to have to go through a lot of work to make sure that whether it’s Tony Kanaan’s crash at Indianapolis or Vitor Meira’s crash at Indianapolis or what happened at Infineon all of those cars behaved as we thought they would and designed them to.

“Kanaan’s car down the backstretch sheered the right side off on the first impact and the second impact was one of the most violent impacts with nothing left on the right side. It did what we wanted them to do especially with the anti-intrusion panels we put on several years back.

“That is the kind of stuff you have to be careful with. If you are going to go out in terms of design and evolution you have to do your due diligence to not only race them but crash them to make sure they are safe.”

And then there is the economy.

By introducing a new engine/chassis package for 2012, that means every team in the series will have to pay for new cars and that could lead to a smaller field as some of the lesser-funded teams struggle to find the money for new equipment.

“The economy is a huge part and with this kind of R&D it isn’t cheap. It’s a very important aspect of that from a lot of different angles. When you package all of that together it’s a very important aspect from a lot of different angles. The teams ability to pay for it, the fact we have manufacturers interested in what we are doing, what the cost is going to be for R&D, it’s not much different for other businesses because money drives a huge part of it.”


IndyCar Series officials hope to announce the location for the 2010 season-opening race in Brazil imminently.

“We hope to know about Brazil within the next 10 days or so which location it will be,” Barnhart said. “They are all in the running over there. Terry and Tony Cottman have spent a week down there so we are working out the details.”

Terry Angstadt, the president, commercial division, of the IndyCar Series spent time in Brazil working out the details before departing for Japan last week.

“We are between Salvador and Rio,” Angstadt confirmed. “Both communities are still very engaged and we hope to make that opportunity any day. The desire is mutual because it appears all the funding is in place. It’s six weeks later than we would have liked for it to be.”

Belskus, who holds the overall responsibility for both the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League in his role as IMS Corporation CEO, believes the IndyCar Series should pursue international races only if they make sense; that otherwise IndyCar should focus on building its domestic product.

“These international events are important to us,” Belskus said. “We need a compelling reason to do the international events and it is important from that perspective. For Japan, it’s because of Honda. To the extent we have those associations it’s important but we will still be looking at three or four international events as the most. I don’t see it as a significant portion of our schedule.

“We’re still talking to a group in China to bring an IndyCar race to that country. It’s still on the table and still an opportunity. It is a work in progress for us. That’s a 2011 or 2012 sort of conversation.”


Barnhart contended that the two-day format has worked well for most of its events this season. That calls for practice and qualifications one day with the race the following day.

“The two day shows work really well on the ovals,” Barnhart said. “The challenging ones are the shows where there is expense setting up the race track like St. Pete and Toronto and Edmonton and Long Beach. Theexpenses the promoter has in setting up those events certainly justify making that a three-day show. But we are so familiar with the cars we are running that we get a lot of laps in practice so the two-day show works really well on the ovals. You balance it out from that aspect.

“When we go to a three-day show it seems like we are there forever.”


IndyCar Series officials are hopeful of announcing a title sponsor for the series at the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“Terry Angstadt and his guys are working real hard at that and we are optimistic we can put something together,” Belskus said. “It’s a work in progress. We want the right sponsor. We spend time talking about fair value and what we think it’s worth we’re far more excited about being associated with a brand we should be associated with. Hopefully, we can find a situation that is fair value for that and brings a brand to the table that we want to be associated with.”

Angstadt remains optimistic after recent meetings with the potential sponsor.

“We’ve had the sixth meeting with a potential sponsor,” Angstadt said. “We had the VERSUS folks with them last week and the ABC people with them this week. If they make the decision it will be good for us and will be very well supported. It’s a consumer product.”


It’s been 12 weeks since Jeff Belskus took over the leadership role of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation after Tony George was ousted from the family-controlled board of directors. Each week, Belskus has been more comfortable in his role as CEO.

“I think it has gone as well as anyone could expect it to go,” Belskus said. “I’m pleased with the way it has gone. Tony George and I have a good working relationship and I’m happy about that. I’m still spending a lot of time learning the lay of the land in some respects. I’ve visited the folks at Honda and on the racing teams. It’s been a great learning experience in 10 weeks and I feel good about the way it has gone.”

Belskus prefers a three-week “Month of May” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the annual Indianapolis 500 while some have considered cutting one week out of the schedule.

“I do see value in keeping it the way it is, “Belskus said. “In a lot of ways it’s a tradeoff between tradition and value. We need to do what we can to keep as many traditions alive as we can and sort out the ones that are critically important to us and our mission. We continue to have those conversations every year.”

Belskus has also become a big fan of the IndyCar Series 10-year contract with VERSUS because it gives more television time exposure to the sport.

“The VERSUS telecasts have been outstanding,” Belskus said. “Everyone seems to have enjoyed them and there is a lot of energy in them. We are prepared to go through a transition because VERSUS doesn’t have the distribution that ESPN may have but we can be patient while that grows. We have a lot of resources available to us.

“I negotiated the television contract with ABC and ESPN in 2000 and I remember in 1999 it was such a patchwork between FOX SportsNet and ABC and CBS. What we have today is so much better than where we were at that point in time. It’s a huge improvement. VERSUS is a good partner and will be a good partner for us.

“It’s about exposure and to the way we can maximize exposure is very important to the teams. That is reflected in ratings but coverage times as well. The beauty of the VERSUS telecast is it is a longer telecast than what we’ve had before. We continue to look for ways to provide as much coverage as we can to every competitor.”

“Danica Patrick is great for our series and an important part of our series. I’m optimistic about that. We hope to see

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Boldly into the future

(by Dave Lewandowski 9-22-09)

Indy Racing League president of competition and operations Brian Barnhart is not unlike the man who sees two cars in a showroom - one perfectly practical for the foreseeable future while the eyes wander to that "Wow" machine with the matching price tag.
Parallel paths. One decision.

During the Indy Japan 300 race weekend at Twin Ring Motegi, Barnhart said he expects specifications for a new engine and chassis package to be announced in the fourth quarter.

"My anticipation continues to be for the package to roll out in the 2012 season," he said. "We have four manufacturers that have expressed interest in participation in the series beginning in 2012, which in this (economic) environment we feel very good about. So we're continuing dialogue with them and hope to have final word from them in the next couple of months."

Prospective engine manufacturers from around the globe, who initially met at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in June 2008, are in agreement on a specification, while the league continues to explore parallel paths in terms of chassis design.
"We have two significantly different chassis packages in terms of appearance and how different and radical they are from our current car," Barnhart said. "The one is so radically different it will entail significantly more in terms of R&D, cost and time. It's kind of out there.

"We need to be careful about jumping ahead of ourselves too much, but at the same time doing something that is consistent with what the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League have been about - evolution.

"It's a really delicate balance between form following function and the evolution of what (open-wheel racing in North America) has had for the last 30 years."

Honda, which began participation in the IndyCar Series in 2003, has been the sole supplier of the 3.5-liter, normally aspirated, fuel-injected Indy V-8 engine since 2006. A year later, the IndyCar Series became the first and only motorsports property to use 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol. The Dallara chassis - developed for ovals -- has been in use since 2003, with alterations in 2005 as the IndyCar Series added streets and road courses to its schedule. By their longevity, reliability never has been an issue with either product.

Economics will be a factor in which path the league and its manufacturing partners follow, while from a competition standpoint safety is the highest priority.

"The economy affects everybody in every way, and especially doing this type of R&D isn't cheap," Barnhart said. "It's not much different than many other business decisions; money drives a huge portion of it.

"If you make a radical change from the evolution of what this car has been for 30 years, you're going to have to do a lot of work to make sure they respond (to at least the current cars) in similar situations."

The league continues to explore, test and implement safety features, such as side intrusion panels that surpass FIA thickness standards. Currently, crash tests and computer modeling of seat designs and harness packages are being conducted with the likelihood of a new generation being included in the 2012 chassis launch.

"You have to not only be comfortable knowing how to race that car, equally important is you have to know how to crash that car," Barnhart said.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

2009/10 A1GP calendar announced

( 9-21-09)

A1GP World Cup of Motorsport has announced its Season Five calendar and a long term deal with IMG Sports Media to market its worldwide media rights for the next three seasons.

The deal with IMG Sports Media will represent all exclusive TV broadcast, VOD, In-flight and Ship-at-Sea rights and non exclusive mobile rights for the live races and event highlights packages.

This news for the series was greeted enthusiastically by A1GP Chairman, Tony Teixeira, who said: “I have always had a long wish list of deals we wanted to make our series one of the most well known on the sporting calendar.

"A deal such as this was at the top of it, and to be associated with IMG Sports Media is just what we needed to ensure we have the best possible representation in this highly competitive market. The plans they have for us are exciting and innovative.”

Adam Kelly, Marketing Director, IMG Sports Media said: “We are delighted to be representing A1GP within the IMG Sports Media portfolio. IMG hope to bring the A1GP Powered by Ferrari cars, fans and viewers closer to the action of this truly global sport – a very attractive property for broadcasters worldwide.

"In such a challenging world of motorsport, IMG will utilise its experience in this field and unrivalled network of global contacts to bring A1GP to a wider audience than ever before.”

The nine event Season Five calendar, subject to FIA approval, includes four new race meetings in Australia, Brazil, Germany and The Netherlands.

It also has three that have been on an A1GP calendar once before, in China, South Africa and Portugal, and one twice before, in Mexico.

Meanwhile the series has raced in Malaysia in all four seasons to date. Teixeira’s comments on this were: “It is easy to put out a calendar too soon and then have to make changes. I wanted to make sure we avoided that and so give our broadcasters, teams and fans something realistic. I also wanted to make sure the racing was good and varied. I am confident this calendar, that may still include at least one more event, will achieve our criteria for the series.”

The season kicks off in six weeks with the Nikon Super GP in Surfers Paradise on the Australian Gold Coast.

1- 25 October 2009 Australia
2- 15 November 2009 China
3- 06 December 2009 Malaysia
4- 28 February 2010 South Africa
5- 14 March 2010 Brazil
6- 21 March 2010 Mexico
7- 11 April 2010 Portugal
8- 02 May 2010 Germany
9- 16 May 2010 The Netherlands

Renault receives suspended ban

( 9-21-09)

PARIS (AP) -- Renault escaped severe punishment Monday for ordering former driver Nelson Piquet Jr. to deliberately crash, receiving only a suspended ban from Formula One.

The team would be permanently disqualified from the sport if it were to again break the FIA's rules within the next two years.

Flavio Briatore, who quit as team principal last week, was banned indefinitely from any F1 activities by the World Motor Sport Council. Engineering executive director Pat Symonds, who also left the French team last week, was banned for five years after expressing his "eternal regret and shame" that he participated in the conspiracy.

"We gave them a suspended sentence because Renault demonstrated that the team had no responsibility and the company even less," FIA president Max Mosley said. "The penalty for Briatore is that he is no longer associated with the FIA series."

FIA described the scandal as being of "unparalleled severity," but the departure of Renault's top two men meant the team avoided being thrown out of F1 or handed a heavy fine, although it will pay for the investigation. By comparison, McLaren Mercedes was handed a record $100 million fine two years ago after being found guilty of using Ferrari secret data to enhance its own cars' performances.

"Renault F1's breaches not only compromised the integrity of the sport but also endangered the lives of spectators, officials, other competitors and Nelson Piquet Jr. himself," FIA said.

Renault team president Bernard Rey gave no response to a question about whether Renault would stay in the sport next season, but Mosley said that the French team's representatives "gave us the impression that they will stay in the sport."

"We informed the FIA last week that we would not defend the charges and we accepted our responsibilities in relation to the incident in Singapore and we immediately took appropriate action inside the team," Rey said. "Today, we fully accept the decision of the council. We apologize unreservedly to the F1 community in relation to this unacceptable behavior.

"We sincerely hope that we can soon put this matter behind us and focus constructively on the future. We will issue further information in the next few days."

Piquet, who was given immunity by FIA, was ordered to crash at last year's Singapore Grand Prix to help teammate Fernando Alonso win.

Alonso, who attended the hearing in Paris, was cleared of any wrongdoing.

"He answered all the questions and demonstrated that he had no responsibility in the case," Mosley said.

The scandal is the latest in a series of controversies in F1. The year began with challenges over the legality of several cars, including pacesetting Brawn GP, under new technical regulations.

Soon after, defending F1 champion Lewis Hamilton of McLaren admitted to deliberately misleading a steward's inquiry. That prompted the departure of the team's sporting director, Dave Ryan, while team boss Ron Dennis also stepped aside.

The Formula One Teams Association also threatened to quit F1 and launch its own series, the culmination of a power struggle that characterized the often antagonistic relationship between the teams and the sport's officials.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Briatore, Symonds out at F1 team Renault

( 9-16-09)

LONDON (AP) -Renault managing director Flavio Briatore and engineering executive director Pat Symonds left the Formula One team, which said Wednesday it will not contest a charge that Nelson Piquet Jr. was ordered to crash in a race.

Renault has been summoned to Paris by governing body FIA to answer allegations that Piquet Jr. was told to crash at last year's Singapore Grand Prix to improve teammate Fernando Alonso's chances of victory. The Spaniard went on to win the race.

The team could be thrown out of Formula One by the World Motor Sport Council, which is expected to meet with Renault in Paris on Monday.

"The ING Renault F1 team will not dispute the recent allegations made by the FIA concerning the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix,'' Renault said in a statement.

Piquet Jr. crashed on the 13th lap and Alonso's gamble of running a short 12-lap strategy before pitting paid off. The Spanish driver secured an unlikely victory as other cars came in to refuel while Alonso had enough fuel to move ahead of the field.

The departure of Briatore and Symonds appears to be a move aimed at reducing the expected penalty.

"(Renault) also wishes to state that its managing director, Flavio Briatore, and its executive director of engineering, Pat Symonds, have left the team,'' Renault said. "Before attending the hearing before the FIA World Motor Sport Council ... the team will not make any further comment.''

Piquet Jr. was fired by Renault last month after 1 1/2 seasons with the team. The Brazilian driver had complained about unequal treatment by Briatore compared to Alonso, his two-time world champion teammate.

Briatore, a 58-year-old Italian, started out at the Benetton F1 team in 1988, overseeing Michael Schumacher's world title triumphs in 1994 and 1995 as team principal. He left Benetton in 1997 but helped Renault buy the team in 2000 and he was appointed managing director.

In 2005 and '06, Briatore helped the French manufacturer and Alonso become world champions.

Race-day meeting key to Renault case

(by Jonathan Noble and Michele Lostia 9-9-09)

A meeting between Nelson Piquet, Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds hours before last year's Singapore Grand Prix is central to the race fixing allegations surrounding the Renault team, AUTOSPORT has learned.

With the FIA's World Motor Sport Council due to meet on September 21 for Renault to answer charges that the team caused a deliberate crash in Singapore last year to help Fernando Alonso win, sources have confirmed for the first time background details of the case.

AUTOSPORT understands that key to what happened in the race is the discussion that took place in one of Renault's offices at the Singapore track on the Sunday, where race tactics were discussed between Piquet, team principal Briatore and director of engineering Symonds.

Sources claim that in evidence submitted to the FIA by Nelson Piquet, the Brazilian driver says he was asked by Briatore and Symonds to crash deliberately early in the race so as to help Alonso win.

Piquet says that he agreed to do so because he felt uncomfortable about his situation at the team, with Renault having not renewed his contract for 2009 at that time - and Briatore was stalling on making a firm commitment. Piquet suggests that he only went ahead and caused the accident because he felt he would be rewarded for his actions.

In his evidence, Piquet claims that he was taken aside by Symonds after the first meeting and instructured that he should crash on lap 13 or 14, shortly after Alonso's scheduled first stop, at Turn 17.

The reason this part of the track was singled out was because there were no cranes present there to lift the car away, so any accident would virtually guarantee a safety car.

Piquet's claims have, however, been denied by both Briatore and Symonds in documents that are believed to have been submitted with the FIA. Although they confirm that the meeting between the three of them took place, both suggest that it was Piquet's own suggestion to cause an accident.

Sources claim that the Singapore race-fix matter came to light on July 26 - the day of Piquet's last race for Renault in Hungary - when his father Nelson contacted FIA president Max Mosley to make him aware of what had happened.

Piquet Jr. then visited the FIA's headquarters in Paris on July 30 to present a statement to FIA representatives, believed to be stewards' advisor Alan Donnelly, and external investigators from the Quest agency.

Following Piquet's testimony, the three stewards from the Singapore Grand Prix, plus two external investigators from Quest, were flown to the Belgian Grand Prix to conduct interviews with Renault representatives.

A report in Italian magazine Autosprint also suggests that telemetry data from Piquet's car has emerged as another reason why the matter has gone to the WMSC.

At Turn 17 where Piquet crashed, normally the rear wheels of the Renault would lose grip on the exit - requiring the driver to ease off the throttle briefly. However, on the lap he crashed, Piquet kept accelerating even though the rear wheels had lost grip.

Briatore is reported to have claimed that he was: "a victim of extortion by the Piquet family.

"I confirm the meeting with Piquet on Sunday morning, but nothing like that was ever talked about. I also remember that Piquet at Singapore was in a very fragile state of mind. Besides that, there are the audio recordings where I express disappointment when I see on the screens that Piquet had crashed."

Symonds is also reported as saying: "It's true, during the Sunday meeting with Piquet the issue of deliberately causing a SC deployment came up, but it was proposed by Piquet himself. It was just a conversation."

Renault has said it will not comment on the matter officially before the WMSC hearing later this month.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Tony George kicked in the nuts list

Since the end of the 2008 season Tony George and his IndyCar series have been kicked in the nuts time and time again with bad news. Granted, economic times are not making things easy but with the series now unified things should be looking up instead of down.

1. Helio Castroneves, 2 time Indy 500 winner and Dancing with the Stars champ is hauled into Federal court to face tax evasion charges. He in turn looses his seat with Penske Racing and could spend significant time in jail.

2. After their television contract with the IRL ends ABC decides to no longer air any races on ESPN and only signs to air 5 races on ABC.

3. The IRL is forced to take whatever they can get in terms of television coverage for their remaining races, they then sign a deal with the little known Versus channel.

4. The IRL looses their "presented by" sponsorship with Direct TV due to their deal with Versus since VS is owned by Comcast, Direct TV's biggest competitor.

5. Citing economic reasons the Grand Prix of Detroit is cancelled.

6. After the price of oil falls dramatically and gas becomes cheaper than Ethanol the American company that produced the ethanol the IRL used to fuel their cars goes out of business.

7. The IRL is forced to get their fuel through APEX-Brasil, a company that makes ethanol from Brasilian sugarcane, angering the IRL's corn growing midwestern fanbase.

8. Rahal Letterman Racing looses their Ethanol sponsorship and cannot find a replacement. They announce unless they can find a last minute sponsor they will not compete in 2009.

9. KV racing (the K stands for Kevin Kalkhoven, the man that engineered the sale of ChampCar to TG) announces they most likely will cut down to a one car effort due to lack of sponsorship dollars.

10. It is announced that IndyCar magazine is going out of print due to lack of interest.

A "Kicked in the Nuts" Update

* Helio Castroneves beat the rap. Lucky for him and lucky for Tony.

* The coverage on the Versus channel has been excellent, it was something IndyCar needed, the only problem is nobody is watching.

* IndyCar's tv ratings have been absolutely horrible this season.

0.3 - St. Pete - VS
0.5 - Long Beach - VS
0.15 - Kansas - VS
3.9 - Indy 500 - ABC
0.6 - Milwaukee - ABC
0.36 - Texas - VS
0.8 - Iowa - ABC
0.22 - Richmond - VS
0.9 - Watkins Glen - ABC
1.0 - Toronto - ABC
0.23 - Edmonton - VS
0.14 - Kentucky - VS
0.2 - Mid Ohio - VS
0.25 - Sonoma - VS
0.24 - Chicago - VS
0.14 - Motegi - VS

(On the same weekend as the Milwaukee race more people watched women's college softball on ESPN than watched IndyCar, oh my.)

Now this is really getting kicked in the nuts, Tony has resigned as IRL CEO after being removed as IMS CEO by his mother and sisters. Ouch.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Where did the Brazil money go?

(posted by Boomerblaste 9-11-09)

The big money the gomers were being promised for going to brazil came from the promoters in the original location.

The rumor is that the promoters in Ribeirao Preto, a very wealthy city of 650,000 that’s also the home of three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, are going to shell out the largest sanction fee ever – maybe as much as $6-7 million.

And, in addition to receiving free airfare, rooms and meals, the IndyCar teams will all collect a six figure paycheck – in the vicinity of $125,000-150,000 – to make this arduous journey more palatable.

“We’ve said all along that any foreign races must be lucrative for the league and for our teams and this model in Brazil includes both,” said Terry Angstadt, president of IndyCar’s commercial division.

“We’re very excited about getting this deal done.”

Talking Terry heads down to Brazil to sign the papers

Indy Racing League officials figure to take a big step forward this weekend in anchoring the 2010 schedule. Terry Angstadt, the president of the league's commercial division, will be in Brazil, hoping to sign a contract to stage a March street course race in Helio Castroneves' hometown, Ribeirao Preto. Angstadt will be joined on the trip by Tony Cotman, the IRL's vice president of competition, to review a circuit planned for Campinas, a city about an hour from Sao Paulo. Ribeirao Preto is two hours north of Sao Paulo. Also under consideration for one of what would be two Brazilian races to start the season is a street course race in Rio de Janeiro.

So they are talking about three locations: Ribeirao Preto two hours north of Sao Paulo, Campinas, a city about an hour from Sao Paulo, and a street course race in Rio de Janeiro.

Jump ahead a month and those three have mysteriously disappeared along with the mention of the megamillion payday.


Rumor has it, according to AutoWeek, that the city likely to land the opening Brazil IndyCar race in 2010 is Salvador, Brazil.

So instead of big bucks they are relegated to telling you what a great city Salvador is:
The city of Salvador is notable in Brazil for its cuisine, music and architecture, and its metropolitan area is the wealthiest in the northeastern region of the country.

Move ahead to the signing and all you have are some feel good notes and letters
August 30th 2009, 02:55 GMT

The IndyCar Series to set to finalise a deal this week to hold a street race in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil as its season opener in March 2010, according to the Indy Racing League's commercial boss Terry Angstadt.

Angstadt and Tony Cotman, the vice president of competition, will visit city and commercial leaders in Salvador this week in meetings Angstadt says should lead to a signatures on contracts.

"We've lots of good letters and communications back and forth," Angstadt said. "All the basic business fundamentals are out in the open. I don't think there are any issues there. We hope to get something signed while we're there."

Although the leeg has announced the Brazil race on its schedule, I'm having trouble finding a story saying the deal has been signed. Not a mention of it on the leeg website.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Renault claims 'blackmail' attempt

( 9-11-09)

MONZA, Italy -- Renault took Nelson Piquet Jr. to court on Friday over race-fixing allegations that the French team said were used in an attempt to "blackmail" it into renewing the Formula One driver's contract.

Renault team principal Flavio Briatore started criminal proceedings in Paris against the team's former driver and his father Nelson, a three-time world champion, for making allegations that it ordered the Brazilian driver to crash into a wall to help the team secure a victory.

Briatore labeled Renault a "victim" after investigation documents were leaked to the media ahead of the Sept. 21 hearing date, which could see the team thrown out of F1.

"Things came out that should have not been said. We can't defend ourselves and our position after such a leak," Briatore said from the Italian Grand Prix. "It's not right to call a team guilty before it is judged."

Renault, which has also referred the matter to the police in Britain, has been summoned by governing body FIA to answer the claims that Piquet Jr. was asked to crash at last year's Singapore Grand Prix to improve teammate Fernando Alonso's chances of victory. The Spanish driver went on to win the race.

"I can't answer that," Briatore said when asked if he had ordered Piquet Jr. to crash.

In a deposition given to FIA investigators on July 30, Piquet Jr. said that Briatore and director of engineering Pat Symonds ordered him to crash into the wall at turn 14 where it would take the most time to clear the damaged car and result in the longest possible delay.

Piquet Jr. said that Symonds took him aside after the meeting to pinpoint the exact spot where the "accident strategy" should take place and on which lap he should do so. Piquet Jr. said he radioed into the pits several times to confirm the lap number.

Symonds refused to directly answer any of the claims, according to documents from the FIA investigation.

FIA president Max Mosley said that he hadn't seen "anything that is a forgery" when asked about the validity of the documents. The FIA has promised immunity to Piquet Jr. in return for his testimony, and on Friday the driver issued a statement confirming that he had spoken with the body's investigators.

"Regarding the current FIA investigation, I confirm that I have cooperated fully and honestly with the sport's governing body," Piquet Jr. said. "Because I am telling the truth I have nothing to fear, whether from the ING Renault Team or Mr. Briatore and whilst I am well aware of the power and influence of those being investigated, and the vast resources at their disposal, I will not be bullied again into making a decision I regret."

Piquet Jr.'s contract for 2009 had not been renewed at the time of the Singapore GP. Briatore fired the Brazilian driver following this season's Hungarian Grand Prix after 1½ seasons with the French team.

Piquet Jr. said he was in an "emotional" and "fragile" state of mind because his contract had not yet been renewed.

"Piquet attacked me from day one," Briatore said. "I tried everything to bring out the best Piquet for the team. He did everything but perform for the team -- [with] no results."

The Formula One Teams Association expressed "concern" at the leaking of the document.

"All parties to the dispute should have the right to a fair hearing carried out in private and not in the public arena, which is producing adverse publicity damaging to the corporate image and credibility of Formula One," FOTA said in a statement.

Piquet Jr.'s crash after 14 laps at F1's inaugural night race brought out the safety car shortly after Alonso had pitted. The two-time world champion was then able to position himself for victory by moving up the grid behind the safety car, which lapped the track seven times before coming into the pit lane.

"I'm not losing even one second in this matter," said Alonso, who denies having any knowledge of the alleged plans. "I support the team and hopefully next week everything goes well. Whatever happens, happens."

Mosley stressed that the accusations were unproven but said the Renault case was potentially more serious than the McLaren espionage case in 2007. He added that Renault had asked for more time to submit documents and had been given until the middle of next week.

Mosley said race fixing was "one degree worse than cheating."

"If you're a cyclist and you take dope, that's cheating. If you bribe the other cyclists, or you get somebody to have a crash in the peloton so the yellow jersey guy crashes, that's more serious," he added.

"Then if it puts human life at risk, whether it's the spectators, the marshals or the drivers, then it's more serious again."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Nobody is watching

(by Robin Miller 9-9-09)

Let’s get the positive stuff out of the way. VERSUS coverage of IndyCar racing is top notch, certainly a vast improvement over the past several years on ABC/ESPN.

The races are heavily promoted throughout the week and treated like a major sporting event from start to finish. Viewers always get to hear from the winner and there’s a healthy pre-race show.

Terry Lingner remains one of the premier motorsports producers in the business and the chemistry in the booth between Bob Jenkins, Robbie Buhl and Jon Beekhuis has been a pleasant surprise (especially Buhl).

But all that doesn’t matter because IndyCar is dying on VERSUS. It’s not a theory or an assumption, it’s a fact.

The ratings are abysmal, almost infomercial level. So far in its 11 races on VERSUS, the IRL’s average rating of 0.32 figures out to less than 240,000 people per race. The official numbers say that the VERSUS telecasts have reached 2,552,000 households and that represents roughly 3,310,000 viewers. And those aren’t average numbers, that’s the TOTAL for all 11 events.

By contrast, this year’s Indy 500 on ABC reached 4.5 million homes and was watched by 6.3 million. The other four ABC races in ’09 made it into 3,710,000 homes and totaled 4,619,000 eyeballs for an average of just over 1.1 million per telecast.

Without even figuring in Indy, there are five times more viewers watching IndyCar on ABC instead of VERSUS.

These numbers aren't shocking to IRL management since they claim they expected it. It’s also not the first time an open wheel racing series has been AWOL this decade (Champ Car vanished in 2004 when it ventured onto SPIKE).

The company line has been that it’s going to take time for IndyCar and VERSUS to grow together and that’s why they signed a 10-year deal. But the cold reality is that IndyCar doesn’t have the luxury of patiently waiting for VERSUS to try and establish itself as a player in the sports network world.

A series bereft of sponsorship at every level cannot hope to survive on a cable network that’s virtually unknown unless you’re into cage fighting. Whether it’s fair or not, the first thing potential sponsors want to see is the exposure they’ll receive on television.

“The issue is one of sponsorship. We’re seeing it now and we did back then,” said Kevin Kalkhoven, the co-owner of KV Racing who was referring to the disastrous decision to go with SPIKE when he co-owned Champ Car. “It’s quite simple. You need to be on national television in order to get proper sponsorship.”

Paul Tracy recently met with GEICO, which sponsored him at Indianapolis and Watkins Glen this season. The insurance company said it was happy with PT’s efforts and wanted to help him again in 2010.

“But they’re only interested in the races on ABC,” said Tracy.

The pressing problem is that IndyCar budgets are so unbelievably unreasonable compared to the value of the series. It costs $4-6 million per car to get near the front and $8-10 million to monopolize like Ganassi and Penske. Tracy went to Monster energy drink a couple years ago (when IndyCar was still all on ABC/ESPN) looking for $4 million and was told IRL was only worth $1.2 million.

So what in the name of Bob Reif would that number be today?

It’s an inverted financial pyramid because right now the series isn’t worth a fifth of what it takes to run up front.

The latest bit of news that DIRECTV has pitched VERSUS and its 16 million homes might seem like more doom and gloom. Yet it’s really good timing because it could be the out in the contract that IndyCar needs.

There appears to be a couple of options. Maybe IndyCar could re-negotiate its deal with ABC and, instead of getting big money for Indy, take less and get more races than the five that are currently promised for 2010.

If that’s not feasible, then simply go buy time on NBC and CBS (like ChampCar did in its final years), or call Fox or SPEED. Because IMS has its own in-house production company, a time buy wouldn’t be nearly as costly as it was for Gerald Forsythe and Kalkhoven (rumored to be $800,000 per race).

Of course there is one major obstacle in this plan.

VERSUS is supposedly paying IndyCar $6 million a year and it might be tough to convince the new IMS management to quit receiving money and start spending it.

But it needs to happen ASAP. Keep Lingner, the talent and the VERSUS attitude, just dump the channel and reconnect with the mainstream. Network television may not be IndyCar’s allies, but they damn sure can come to the rescue.

It matters not that VERSUS puts on a good show because nobody is watching.