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.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Making of a U.S. Formula One Team

(by Peter Windsor nytimes.com 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 autosport.com 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 versus.com 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.”

AND THE WINNER IN BRAZIL IS?

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.”

A FAN OF THE TWO-DAY FORMAT

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 CLOSING IN ON A SERIES TITLE SPONSOR

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.”

JOB PERFORMANCE REVIEW

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 indycar.com 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

(a1gp.com 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

(si.com 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

(si.com 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 autosport.com 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.

06/25/09
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

07/17/09
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.

08/25/09

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

(espn.go.com 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 speedtv.com 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.

What will happen to the IRL if Danica leaves?

(by Chris Estrada foxsports.com 9-8-09)

It looks like the Danica Patrick saga is finally coming to an end.

Labor Day weekend is usually meant for relaxation, but when NASCAR Sprint Cup Series star Tony Stewart said Saturday that he could "pretty much guarantee" that Patrick would make the jump to stock cars, the racing world predictably exploded in a tizzy. Another report had a source saying that she would run both IndyCar and a mixture of NASCAR Nationwide, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and ARCA events in 2010.

So what does this mean for the IRL IndyCar Series? It's time to start laying down a plan for 2011, which is now being pegged as the year that Patrick could flip to NASCAR full-time. There's going to be a major void left behind when she leaves and it will take somebody with a lot of star power to fill it.

Unfortunately, star power isn't plentiful in the IRL, making it imperative that the league start working on raising the profile of a new batch of drivers that will replace the brand name that is Danica Patrick.

Who could step in? Here's a look at five drivers ready for their time in the limelight.

Helio Castroneves
The obvious choice, of course, would be the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion. On the racing side, Castroneves is a contender at almost every racetrack and although he's never won a series championship, his perch at Team Penske means he's never too far away from that goal either. But really, it's about the story: Race car driver comes to America and wins two Indianapolis 500s, then nearly loses everything in a tax evasion case. He ends up beating the Feds and then goes on to triumph a third time at the Brickyard. On top of that, his magnetic personality and dancing prowess on television has helped him gain a solid fan base. As long as he continues to perform at a strong level, he can definitely become the standard-bearer for the series.

Graham Rahal
For those that have clamored for another American star, Rahal appears to be their guy. The 20-year-old's second season in IndyCar has netted him improved results, especially on the ovals. If he and his Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing team continue their upward trend, Rahal will be a force in the future and that's incredibly important for the series as it tries to build up its fan count stateside. He's a bit more down-to-earth than Castroneves, but since his last name still carries some weight in the racing world (his father Bobby won the 1986 Indy 500), that humility is going to be a positive rather than a negative. You won't count on Rahal for flash, but that's okay; as long as he eventually becomes a regular winner in the next few seasons, he'll be something for the IRL to crow about.

Marco Andretti
The son of Michael and grandson of Mario can still do big things for the IndyCar Series, but his progress has been hampered by Andretti Green Racing's descent over the last two seasons. His team hasn't been able to stand up to Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing lately and as such, the Big Three is now the Big Two. Andretti also hasn't come up with another win to follow up his first one back in 2006 at Infineon Raceway. But with his dad taking sole control of the current AGR in 2010 — team co-owners Kim Green and Kevin Savoree will go run the promotions side of the organization — he might benefit from a more streamlined operation in later years. Perhaps that will be the key in having his obvious talent make him a regular threat for wins and top-fives. In any case, he's risen to sixth in the standings, so he's getting some momentum built up for next year.

Tony Kanaan
Staying with AGR, we have to bring up that team's de facto leader. Despite AGR's problems, Kanaan is still regarded as one of the best in the paddock and like his Brazilian compatriot Castroneves, he's also got a good personality on him. Beyond Danica, you're also most likely to see him on advertisements since he's backed by 7-Eleven, so visibility wouldn't be a problem for him. Kanaan's been part of the league's nucleus for a while now, so most race fans know him and what he's all about — which makes him a good choice for the league to push if they want to bust out of obscurity. Of course, AGR getting back up to snuff will only help his cause, as he'll likely be battling for a championship with that scenario.

J.R. Hildebrand
How can you miss with a guy that goes by the handle of "Captain America" and kicks butt in a race car? Hildebrand has already clinched the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights crown, the IRL's developmental series, with one race to go in a year that has seen him win four times. All of those wins were on road and street courses, which make him even more valuable as the IndyCar Series goes towards those styles of tracks in 2010. If Patrick leaves, could Hildebrand slide in at AGR? Or will another team try to go after him? He truly proved himself as the class of the FIL field this season and deserves a shot in the pro level.

IRL can't survive a Danica defection

(by Bob Kravitz indystar.com 9-9-09)

When Danica Patrick makes the full-time leap to NASCAR -- and she will be a stock-car regular no later than 2012 -- where will that leave the IndyCar Series?

Nowhere.

As opposed to next to nowhere, which is where it currently resides in the American sports consciousness.

Patrick's eventual defection to NASCAR won't kill the sport, but it will deal the open-wheel types a painful and possibly even fatal blow. The folks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway don't want to hear this, but without Patrick -- their one and only marquee talent and celebrity -- IndyCar is as insignificant as celebrity billiards.

Even now, with Patrick competing full time and producing her best season in this series, almost nobody is paying attention. There are three drivers vying for the points title with two races remaining (Motegi and Homestead), and America couldn't care a whit about any of the three.

Nothing personal against three nice guys and accomplished drivers, but outside of the gearhead population, who can tell the difference between Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon? Which one's the Aussie and which one's the Kiwi? Scotsman Dario Franchitti, the third driver in the mix, is married to Ashley Judd, which is interesting for about 10 minutes -- unless, of course, you're married to Ashley Judd, and then it's interesting for far longer.

It doesn't matter if the IndyCar Series does ovals, road courses, street courses or competes on the moon, without personalities, without compelling stories that engage fans, it is doomed to eternal status as a micro-niche sport. They could put push-to-pass buttons or rocket boosters on the backs of those cars, but without personalities like Patrick, casual fans won't pay attention.

Patrick's exit will put the brakes on all the momentum the series gained when unification with Champ Car finally happened. This is even worse than the PGA Tour losing Tiger Woods, or Roger Federer retiring from tennis. Those sports have other marketable commodities; the IndyCar Series has, um, well . . . never mind.

Without Danica, the IndyCar Series has nothing, and nobody, to sell. Marco Andretti has a great name and pedigree, but he hasn't won much of anything. Graham Rahal also has the name and pedigree and is an unquestioned talent, but to this point, he hasn't been a podium regular. If the series is fortunate, one of those two young men will emerge by the time Patrick departs. But even then, they can't begin to demand the attention Patrick brings to the sport.

The word of Danica's eventual exit comes at a time when the series' leadership is in flux and the economy is in tatters. How do you sell a Patrick-less IndyCar Series?

There is still no title sponsor.

They are wedded for nine more years to a network, Versus, that does a great job artistically but isn't seen in nearly enough homes. And now there is a fight between Versus and DirecTV, which could mean the loss of tens of millions more homes.

As Patrick's very public courtship of NASCAR plays out before the cameras, where's IndyCar's leadership? Where is Jeff Belskus, wining and dining Patrick while subtly (and rhetorically) twisting her arm? Would this happen if Tony George were still in charge?

If Woods were making noise about leaving the PGA Tour to play pro baseball, I can promise you tour commissioner Tim Finchem, a cadre of sponsors and several golfers would be camped out on the porch of Tiger's Florida estate.

In the end, there might not be anything anybody can do to stop Patrick from going the good-old-boys route, but somebody at least has to try -- or make a good show of trying.

The question of whether Patrick can make it in NASCAR is immaterial to the point of the column, but we'll address it anyway.

The answer is, yes.

At the very least, she will be given every opportunity to succeed and there's no question she's tough and single-minded enough to push her way through any early adversity.

True, the stock cars are bigger, heavier and more unwieldy than Indy cars. And the 36-race schedule stretches over nearly 10 months, which is double the IndyCar Series race schedule.

But Tony Stewart did it. Juan Pablo Montoya did it. Sam Hornish Jr. is slowly improving. People make it sound like she's wrestling alligators. She's fitter than most of the men out there. This just in: Stewart is not exactly a beacon of fitness.

True, it takes time to get up to speed, but Patrick is willing to run the Nationwide Series, drive the trucks, play NASCAR's minor leagues while preparing for the big leagues.

This is a very tough-minded young woman. She isn't simply doing this for the acclaim or the money, although those don't hurt. She's doing this because it's another challenge.

Anyway, can you blame her?

More and more, the IndyCar Series feels like a Triple-A affiliate to NASCAR's major league. Who can blame Stewart for bolting in the late 1990s? Or Hornish? Or Montoya, who went from CART to Formula One to NASCAR?

Basically, the IndyCar Series has two years to wean itself off Danica-mania and establish a presence and personality independent of its biggest star.

Right.

Good luck with that.

Car Lease Ending For Transition Teams

(by Robin Miller speedtv.com 9-9-09)

The surviving owners from Champ Car who joined the Indy Racing League got free cars and engines in 2008 as part of the unification agreement. They all had to pay Honda for leases this season but there was still no bill for their Dallara chassis.

Until now.

Eric Bachelart, Dale Coyne, Carl Haas, Kevin Kalkhoven, Mike Lanigan and Keith Wiggins received an email from IRL president of competition Brian Barnhart on Tuesday requesting a payment of $100,000 per car.

The teams were given the option of having that money taken out of their next TEAM check (all teams who run the full schedule are given $1.2 million per car by the league) or possibly working out a payment plan.

If IndyCar doesn't have its money by Jan. 14, the cars could be repossessed.

"We had a free car in '08 and we got an extension for this year so I've been expecting this for some time and I have no complaint with it, it's fair," said Bachelart, whose Conquest Racing team has competed in seven races this year and intends to contest the final two at Japan and Homestead.

"My understanding is that we will own the cars so that means we can run the next two years for $50,000 a car and that is more than reasonable."

Wiggins, whose HVM team has gone from one to two cars in the past couple races with Robert Doornbos joining E.J. Viso, had a few questions about his bill.

"I was the only team that didn't get a new car, I got a 2003 and 2004, so should I have to pay the same amount?," he said. "In the original agreement we were told we had the option to buy and I guess the only surprise is that we didn't have a number.

"Any number is scary right now but it seems reasonable."

Longtime owner Derrick Walker said the IRL didn't do anything sinister.

"It wasn't a deal that changed," said Walker, who originally had possession of an IRL car but lost his partner and was not able to compete. "The original agreement wasn't a forever free deal and, in fairness to the league, it gave the teams free cars for two years.

"It may be a bit naughty to ask for it at the end of the year instead of the beginning but, obviously, with the economy and new management, the IRL is saying 'Hey boys, we can't afford to carry this debt any longer.'"

Saturday, September 5, 2009

IndyCar would be in better shape if it embraced ovals

(by Pete Pistone cbssports.com 9-2-09)

Last week's IndyCar stop at Chicagoland Speedway resulted in Ryan Briscoe somehow edging Scott Dixon by an amazing 0.0077 seconds, the fourth-closest finish in series history.

That came on the heels of the last speedway thriller the series turned in, when Briscoe nosed ahead of Ed Carpenter at Kentucky Speedway's finish line by .0162 seconds on Aug. 1.

But rather than building up IndyCar racing around this fantastic and heart-pounding kind of competition, series officials inexplicably are moving away from oval tracks in favor of adding more street circuits and road courses.

It's maddening, confusing and downright stupid.

But it's only one of several issues the IRL needs to address if American-based open-wheel racing is to ever mount a comeback in popularity:

More ovals, not fewer

The crown jewel of IndyCar racing is the Indianapolis 500, an event that transcends the sport and reaches a mainstream population around the world. The IndyCar Series should be built around that foundation and support its showcase event with a strong base of oval-track dates.

A finish like this one -- Ryan Briscoe edging Scott Dixon at Chicagoland by 0.0077 seconds -- is reason to have more ovals. (Getty Images)

When the IRL-CART split first happened nearly 15 years ago, a positive offshoot was a new series created around the concept of oval-track competition. The IRL started out as an American-based open-wheel series created to run primarily on oval tracks.

The result was a tantalizing new form of IndyCar racing that provided fantastic racing and mesmerizing finishes at places like Texas, Michigan, Las Vegas, Kansas, Nashville and Kentucky.

Slowly but surely, the series strayed away from that idea in favor of adding road races to the calendar. Before long, New Hampshire, Phoenix, Milwaukee, Vegas, Michigan and Nashville were left by the wayside.

A sprinkling of road races and street circuits is fine, but IndyCar racing should always be weighed in favor of oval tracks. Emphasizing and broadening, not abandoning the kind of racing on display last Saturday night at Chicagoland would enhance the IRL tremendously
.


Obi-wan

Where’s Pete “The Pistol” Pistone been the last fourteen years?

Evidently, no where near American IndyCar racing.

Haven't we heard all this before? If memory serves, I think it was just before the Idiot Grandson dreamed up his misbegotten league. Or perhaps it was just minutes after the league was proved to be one of the most colossally bad ideas in the history of American motor sports.

Pete forgot a few. The league left the Walt Disney World, Dover, Charlotte, Pikes Peak, Atlanta, Richmond, Nazareth, Gateway, and California speedways by the wayside, too. Unless I missed one, that’s fifteen American speedways the ICS has abandoned in all.

Why would the league do that? Pete thinks it is because the league’s leaders are “downright stupid.” While that is probably true, that’s not the reason that the ICS abandoned all but a handful of the speedways that were available to it.

The IRL dropped fifteen speedways because the races held at them didn’t make a profit; not for the track owners and promoters, and not for the IRL. It’s that simple.

Most of the abandoned speedways are theoretically available to the ICS today; if the league is willing to rent them. The problem is, after losing an estimated $600 million on the IRL, the league’s backers are no longer willing to take the chance.

It is this reality that makes a fool of Pistone. Because if micro-close finishes in speedway races mattered, the IRL’s races wouldn’t have gone broke. The same holds true for the league’s “fantastic and heart-pounding kind of competition.” Pistone may like it but the paying customers at the track and the television viewers at home obviously do not.

Here’s where the few remaining IndyCar journalists like Pistone have a big problem: they find it impossible to put themselves into the mindset of their intended audience, or they fail to empathize with them, or they simply are too dumb to read the handwriting on the wall.

It is an article of faith with the Gomers that the league’s salvation lies in exposing its “fantasic and heart-pounding kind of competition” to the masses. This parochial view was summed up years ago in song lyrics which asked: “How can you keep them down on the farm, once they’ve seen Paris (pa’ri)?” In the context of this pipe dream, the ICS is a stand-in for Pa’ri.

Well, practically from the league’s inception it has been carpet bombing a wide area around its speedway races with free tickets and other inducements to the casual motorsports audience in an attempt to get it to sample the IRL's wares. Additionally, its deep-pocket “partners” like Marlboro and the league’s auto manufacturers have been buying up huge blocks of tickets and conducting national direct mail and advertising campaigns in attempts to do the same thing. As a consequence, at some of the IRL’s past speedway races the at-track audience has included large numbers of guests dubbed the “Red-Hat Brigade,” because of their distinctive scarlet giveaway hats (which accompanied their free tickets).

The result of all this sampling of the league’s product is that the majority of people who answered the league’s siren call never came back. They came, they saw, they left … and stayed away.

If any one event should have proved this notion a fallacy, it was the Indianapolis 500; the league’s centerpiece event. At its height after the formation of Tony George’s breakaway league, perhaps as many as 300,000 spectators attended the race and millions of people watched it on television. Yet, every year since the league’s founding attendance at the big race has declined; as has the television audience at home.

During this same period, attendance and TV ratings for NASCAR’s rival speedway racing series has skyrocketed. Thus, in a head-to-head “taste test” of oval racing brands, the paying customers prefer NASCAR’s brand by a landslide.

Still, desperate fans of the league are deluded enough to think that if they can only expose current NASCAR fans to one of their millisecond photo finishes, it will instantly convert the redneck heathens to the true path. It ain’t gonna happen. I dare say the majority of NASCAR fans across a broad demographic have viewed an IndyCar race or two or three … and decided to stick with their choice of the stock car series.

There is also a problem with Pistone’s contention that:

”The fact is, exposing more NASCAR fans to the heart-stopping brand of oval-track racing the IRL has created will in turn bring more of those full-fender fans back to the sport for more.”

The problem is that it is a wish, a hope, but not a “fact.”

Pete Pistone
Embrace NASCAR

There's certain smugness around the IRL, in terms of how it views the stock car world. Rather than recognizing NASCAR's potential benefit to the sport, the IndyCar seems hell-bent on thumbing its nose at the stock car crowd.

The fact is, exposing more NASCAR fans to the heart-stopping brand of oval-track racing the IRL has created will in turn bring more of those full-fender fans back to the sport for more.

The IRL should pair up with NASCAR at a handful of dates and run in conjunction with the Nationwide or Sprint Cup Series. There are currently a few IndyCar-Camping World Truck Series weekends on the calendar, but aligning with one of NASCAR's top two divisions would put the IRL in front of thousands more fans.

There was some hesitance a year or so ago when this idea came up, reportedly because the IRL did not want to play the role of support division. Get over it. The chance to showcase your product on a high-profile weekend far outweighs any perceived notion of playing second fiddle.


Start your engines ... earlier

Pushing back the start time of the Indianapolis 500 a few years ago killed the chance for any driver to try what had become known as "The Double," running both Indy and the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte later that day. Robby Gordon, John Andretti and Tony Stewart had all pulled off the amazing feat in the past, with Stewart nearly winning both events.

But when the green flag at Indy went to 1 p.m. in an attempt to attract the West Coast television audience, the possibility of pulling off the twin bill went out the window. It's now logistically impossible to finish at the Brickyard and jet down to Charlotte in time to compete in the stock car nightcap.

That needs to be fixed immediately.

Any opportunity to draw NASCAR participation to the Indianapolis 500 should be pursued. Just having Richard Petty at the track last May as a car owner created incredible buzz and awareness of the race.

Imagine what having the likes of Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sam Hornish Jr. or even Kyle Busch participating in the Memorial Day classic would have on the sport. Every media outlet in the country -- and maybe the world -- would no doubt follow the exploits of this group of drivers competing in 1,100 miles at two of the most famous tracks in racing.

And should someone pull off the feat of actually winning both races, it would go down as one of the greatest accomplishments in sports history. The IRL and the speedway should pull out all the stops to make it happen as soon as 2010.

There are other things that need attention in the IndyCar world to elevate the sport back to a more prominent position in American motorsports. More American drivers, a better television package rather than being buried on Versus (which also resulted in a ridiculous 10 p.m. ET start at Chicago last week), a series title sponsor and, of course, ensuring Danica Patrick doesn't bolt for NASCAR are imperative for the Indy Racing League to have any chance to prosper in the coming years.

We know the league is capable of generating exciting racing. More people need to find out about it
.


Obi-wan

Besides the delusional thinking – specifically the magnetic attraction of the ICS’s brand of racing – there is an assumption on Pistone’s part that the oval-racing fraternity is just one big, happy family. These two ideas are so incompatible that it’s a wonder they don’t spontaneously explode on the screen, like mixing sodium and water.

A moment’s thought should have clued The Pistol into a realization that if the same company doesn’t own both motor sports, they are by definition, rivals. Resources diverted to the IRL are not available to NASCAR, and vice versa. So, what CEO of a competing company is going to expose his/her customers to a rival product if there is truth to the belief that: ” The fact is, exposing more NASCAR fans to the heart-stopping brand of oval-track racing the IRL has created will in turn bring more of those full-fender fans back to the sport for more?” The answer is: none.

This fairly begs the question: Why on earth would NASCAR help the ICS steal its customers?

Perhaps Pistone might answer: Because NASCAR needs more races to increase the profitability of its speedways. There may have been a time when misguided souls thought this was true, but no more. At the height of their sport’s popularity, NASCAR’s oval cartel was working a dodge involving the IRL: they were combining a demand for their motor sport which exceeded its supply with the availability of cheap (or even free) IndyCar races to create their infamous Track Packs. In this scheme, NASCAR Cup fans were forced to buy tickets to a speedway’s ICS race in order to be permitted the privilege of buying tickets to the speedway’s desired Cup races. Through this creation of artificial demand, the oval cartel was able to effectively double the price of Cup tickets by including cheap, filler ICS races.

Now, though, the global recession has cut deeply into the demand for NASCAR’s products and their most immediate response has been to cut prices across the board. At speedways using the Track Pack scheme, the price reductions have been relatively painless because the management has trimmed the “fat” – i.e., the ICS – out of the mix. By dropping the ICS from Track Packs, the oval cartel can simply return Cup ticket prices to the level that they were before they were artificially inflated by the addition of the IndyCars. Assuming the recession lasts for more than a couple of years, look for the oval cartel to either drop the ICS from its speedway schedules or put the league on a “pay as you go” basis (meaning either track rentals or profit-sharing with guarantees).

In the world of the NASCAR oval cartel, the France’s ISC has always had an insurmountable advantage over the other cartel members: they literally own the motor sport (through ownership of its sanctioning body). Consequently, all oval cartel members have to pay a sanction fee to the Frances, while the Frances simply transfer money from one of their pockets to another. However, their ownership of the sport confers much greater power than this; in any dispute between cartel members involving the sport, the Frances are always capable of legislating a win for themselves (see Kentucky Speedway). Thus, no matter how hard they tried, speedway owners like O. Bruton Smith and Roger Penske never had a chance of besting the Frances; as soon as they got close to it, the Frances quickly changed the rules of the game to ensure their advantage.

The reason I raise this point here is to point out the advantage held by the NASCAR oval cartel over the ICS. The cartel owns all but two of the major speedways in the United States. The two speedways not in the cartel are Milwaukee, teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Consequently, if any dispute should arise between the ICS and the NASCAR oval cartel involving speedways – say, the scheduling of races – the oval cartel will always win. The structure of American speedway ownership allows no other possibility.

During the years of anti-war protest against America’s involvement in Viet Nam, there arose a rule of thumb regarding free speech: “In order to have a free press, one needs to first own a [printing] press.” That was just a fact of life. If one had an anti-Establishment point of view and wanted it expressed in a newspaper or magazine, one needed first to own or control a newspaper or magazine.

Basically, the same reality applies to Pistone’s speedway races. If one owns a motor sport and wants it to race at speedways, one needs to first own speedways if one wants to guarantee it a place on their calendar. Not to belabor the obvious, but NASCAR is an oval-centric motor sport and its owners and principals own perhaps two dozen speedways; essentially all the major ones. Pistone’s ICS aspires to be an oval-centric motor sport and its owners possess one speedway (IMS); so the series is guaranteed a place on the schedule at only one speedway. Ergo, the moment that the ICS began to encroach on the popularity and/or profitability of NASCAR, the oval cartel would immediately move against the ICS and it would win; at least where speedways were concerned.

The bottom line is that American speedway racing isn’t one big, happy family. NASCAR may be one and its members may or may not share, but that generosity does not extend to rival motor sports (be they open-wheel or sports cars). If an oval-centric ICS had anywhere near the potential that Pistone believes it does, the oval cartel would likely move to either destroy it or buy it. In fact, rumor has it that the IRL is for sale now; but the oval cartel has no interest in buying it.

The foregoing reality also explains why the current ICS has such an “outlaw” schedule, filled with an odd mix of eclectic races. The ICS has been forced (as CART before it) to tap into the disorganized mix of venues that exist outside the formal network of oval cartel speedways. The league must exploit temporary venues and the few permanent road-racing courses than remained after sports car racing ceased to be a prominent motor sport in the U.S.

Tony George wanted to break away from the established IndyCar in 1992 and form an oval-centric series but he was forced to wait until 1996 to take to the track in part because he faced a de facto speedway blockade on all sides. On the one hand he faced a lockout by the NASCAR oval cartel (ISC, SMI and Dover Downs) and on the other hand a wall of resistance from PMI (i.e. Penske’s CART-allied speedways). He was finally able to move when he bartered with the Frances, giving a NASCAR race at IMS in return for an accommodation from the oval cartel to open some of its speedways. Also, there existed at the time a small group of independent speedways (Milwaukee, Phoenix, NHIS, etc.) and brand-new speedways built expressly for NASCAR but without its support (e.g. LVMS). Even so, there weren’t enough available speedways to support a potential open-wheel rival to NASCAR. So, George came up with a plan to build a string of temporary speedways in prime urban markets across the U.S. and beat NASCAR to the punch. The Walt Disney World Speedway was his pilot project but it quickly showed the flaws in his scheme which would make it unworkable.

At that point, George could have moved in several directions to secure a base of operations for his oval-centric motor sport. He could have bought some of the new speedways that had yet to become part of the oval cartel and/or he could have begun to build speedways in the conventional manner. He made a tentative step by joining in a limited partnership to build Chicagoland (which he recently sold back to ISC); but other than that, he made no moves to secure speedways for the IRL. Gradually, the oval cartel gobbled them up one by one or in a group (as with PMI). Also, the oval cartel moved to weed out the small, independent tracks which might pose a threat to their NASCAR hegemony (e.g. Pikes Peak, Nazareth).

Today, the IRL is more vulnerable than at any other time in its history with respect to its choice of venues. Even if the league wanted to reverse course and morph back into an oval-centric motor sport, it would have to rely on the kindness of ISC, SMI, and Dover to do it. Here the oval cartel would probably allow the league to start off by renting speedways to it; but always under the threat that if it succeeds, it can be cut off at the knees at a later date.

Thomas Wolfe once noted, “You Can’t Go Home, Again;” the same also probably applies to abandoned speedways.

JM2c

George looking for sponsor

(by Curt Cavin indystar.com 9-4-09)

Trouble finding a sponsor is reaching the heart of Indy-car racing.

Vision Racing owner Tony George, who founded the Indy Racing League, said Thursday his family's team is not yet funded for 2010 and needs to be before the end of this season "or it will be decision time."

Ed Carpenter, who drives the team's Indy car, said his stepfather began taking a more fiscally sound approach when the series went to its TEAM program, which guarantees the same amount of financial support to each full-time team.

"Basically, we're always drawing (funding) out and keeping the team together, acting on faith too much," Carpenter said. "Now we have to stick to our budget."

Vision fielded two cars at the start of the season but let Ryan Hunter-Reay go to A.J. Foyt Racing after the Indianapolis 500.



Obi-Wan

About the only positive things which have been said about Tony George in the press the past few years were praise for his “passion” for the sport and for his determination (some say stubbornness) to “stay the course.”

Now, when push comes to shove, and the Idiot Grandson is required to spend his own money for the first time, the world discovers that he has neither passion nor perseverance and his motor sport and team are left slowly twisting in the wind.

I’ll bet that this is news to his mother and sisters; who didn’t realize that little Tony was only bullish about spending their money, but not his own. They should have taken the hint when he suddenly decided to cut himself free of the IRL millstone instead of accepting its leadership; some might say that he “owed” it to his motor sport not to abandon it in its time of need. I guess Toe-knee has been taking lessons from the Pimp.

In any event anyone want to bet that Lord Sagamore is about to take a powder on the Indy faithful. With bossman Belskus assuming his throne in the Pagoda and Tony no longer present in the pits and garages as a team owner, I don’t expect him to accept a red cap and a free ticket to sit with his Gomers in the stands. After all, he’s been telling them for years that he finds the ICS events “boring;” but they refused to believe him. If TrackForum is smart, it will start a "Tony Sightings" stickie or a “Whatever Happened to Boss Gomer?” permanent thread.

Moving beyond the immediate I figure that there is no way that Tony is going to let his lieutenants succeed where he failed. If he’s bailing on the league, he will no doubt also remove his support of Angstadt and Barnhart. Without the IG to protect them, those two are toast. Which will leave Toe-knee’s former school chum and toadie, Belskus, in complete command of a disintegrating league; look for him to find a way to put it (and the family) out of its misery.

JM2c

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Obi-wan wisdom - Read Between the Lines

Team Owners Get Some Answers
(by Bruce Martin versus.com 8-30-09)

JOLIET, Ill. – Team owners had a chance to quiz IndyCar Series officials on Saturday afternoon at a regularly scheduled owners meeting on a variety of topics, including next season’s race at Brazil and the latest on new equipment expected to be implemented in 2012.

“It was a good general update,” said Terry Angstadt, president, commercial division of the IndyCar Series. “We talked about the schedule – some of the tweaks we made to that, some of the things we still have to do to that. We talked about how we ended up at the schedule that we have and what our goals are for future schedules. We talked about sponsorship updates – some of the official categories we are filling in and our progress for a title sponsor. We talked about TV, which was a separate subject and an update on engine/chassis package and when we plan on announcing the rules for 2012.”

Angstadt spoke to the team owners along with IndyCar Series president, competition division, Brian Barnhart and outgoing president of broadcasting Charlie Morgan, who is leaving the series to work for Emmis Communications in Indianapolis.

Here is a capsule summary of the topics:


* Raising the value of the series:

“That is through big investments by key partners,” Angstadt said. “Just like every other sports property raises their value it is a combination of efforts through team sponsors, our sponsors and our direct investment.”


RBTL:
Same-o, same-o. Yes, the value of a sports property is arguably raised through big investments by key partners including team sponsors and league sponsors. However, the past year has seen virtually no investment (big or otherwise) in the league by its “key partners” and new team sponsorship is close to non-existent. The $4 million broadcast rights fee that the league received from Versus might be considered an investment by a key partner in the league but it went straight into the pockets of the Hulman-George family in order to offset the expense of the TEAM program (which is a reallocation of existing prize monies masquerading as team subsidies). Moreover, the $4 million Versus payment only serves to partially compensate for the more-than-$4 million reduction in broadcast rights fees received from ABC/ESPN (for zero net gain). Hence, any increase in the value of the series must come, by Angstadt’s definition, from “our direct investment.” Here, no increases have been announced; in fact, Angstadt’s later comment that the TEAM program is being restricted to cover only 22 to 24 cars probably amounts to a decrease in the family’s direct investment in the league.

* The current television package that includes 12 races on VERSUS and five on ABC:

“Interestingly, it is dead-on the number forecasted by VERSUS before the season ever started so that shows you they tend to know their business,” Angstadt said. “We had a meeting in Chicago on Thursday and they have good plans to grow the ratings. They have grown every property they have ever been affiliated with and they continue to grow as an entity and we have all the confidence they will deliver on that.”


RBTL:
The idea of the league working to give Versus a better entertainment product to sell is out of the realm of possibility. The league’s owners (i.e. the Hulman-Georges] have no plans for increased investment in their motorsports property, so all forward steps are being left to their new media partner. Before this, the league waited for a dozen years for The House of Mouse to grow their business, without success. Message to Versus: You are on your own (and we expect the world from you).

* Late-starting times, such as Saturday night’s 9:10 p.m. local start at Chicagoland Speedway:

“Our television partner at VERSUS wanted the start for this one because of a lead-in program they have that draws very good numbers for them,” Angstadt said. “It’s a very good lead-in for us and the last time they had that drew a 1.2 rating. It is what it is – you have to cooperate and you don’t win 100 percent of your battles. If there is a time-slot issue we have to work together. It is a late start but I hope it doesn’t have a negative impact on the on-site crowd.”


RBTL:
The big lead-in was cage fighting. Bottom line: when cage fighting gets better ratings than your races, you’ve got to take a back seat to the brawlers. Moreover, when the league is totally dependent on its new media partner to somehow increase its popularity, it has no say in the matter. Hoping (aka wishing) that a late start wouldn’t have a negative impact on the on-site “crowd,” when he knew better, highlights that false hopes are all the initiative(s) the league leaders have left to them. As Angstadt said: “It is what it is.”

* Status of the season-opening race in Brazil.

“Tony Cotman (IndyCar Series director of competition) leaves Monday night and I leave Tuesday night,” Angstadt said. “We’ll be back down there this week and have lots of good letters and communication back and forth. All of the business fundamentals are out in the open for a race in Salvador and don’t think there are issues there. We hoped to get it signed while we are there and we will be there most of the week.”


RBTL:
The league has everything riding on a fairy-tale outcome for the Brazilian race negotiations. When it was first reported, the Brazilian promoters were supposedly offering the league ten times its usual sanction fee – itself a fairy tale – plus the equivalent of a year’s TEAM subsidy for every team. Angstadt has so much riding on this that he will later comment that the hoped-for profits from the Brazilian race will enable the league to redeploy itself in failed markets (specifically Phoenix).

How real is this? Assuming midnight comes and the race doesn’t turn into a pumpkin, the Brazilian event(s) as imagined by Angstadt et al would be so profitable that almost any team in the league should immediately consider entering only the South American race and the Indy 500 because they would be the only two IRL events with a pay out. Really. Why risk the wear and tear of a full season in the wrecking league when the Brazilian race would cover a team’s entire expenses at Indy? Additionally, such a plan would greatly increase a team’s chances in the 500 and a shot at its multi-million dollar purse because the team would be participating with brand-new equipment (or as near to it as the league can come). Plus, there are savings beyond wear and tear to be had. For instance, Honda-Ilmor has an “Indy only” engine lease available that is about a third cheaper than their full-season lease.

Would the league allow this to happen? Of course not. Should this pipe dream prove to have some substance, look for the IRL to impound all the money and replace their TEAM payments with the South Americans' cash. The Hulman-Georges are nothing if not greedy and this plum would be too tempting to pass up.

Before that happens, though, the Brazilians have to contract a big case of the stupids. There were originally three cities supposedly vying for this event: Rio de Janeiro, Campinas – a city about an hour from Sao Paulo – and Tony Kanaan’s hometown of Ribeirao Preto, a city about two hours north of Sao Paulo. Now, all but Kanose’s homies have decided to take a wait-and-see attitude; so Tony has to convince his former neighbors – he now lives in Florida – to take a financial bath in support of his employer.

No doubt George and Angstadt were counting on the league’s fuel supplier, APEX-Brasil, to dig deep to come up with the necessary reals to showcase its adopted motor sport. However, the global economic downturn has decimated the alternate fuels industry in the U.S. and severely impacted worldwide consumption; which likely means the APEX-Brasil pockets are no longer as full as before. Not to mention the fact that the Brazilian drivers in the IRL aren’t exactly household names back home. I think all this would add up to some serious back-peddling on the part of the Brazilians; IF the race comes off, look for it to provide less than the pot of gold envisioned by the desperate Gomers.

* Getting financial relief for the team owners from engine and chassis manufacturers:

“We talked a lot about that and we did point out there was relief this year from Dallara, Honda and Xtrac (gearbox supplier) and we said we anticipate for some of that relief to get better next year,” Angstadt said. “We do have that commitment from Honda. Our goal for 2012 is to have a more competitive package. If you compare our costs from a number of years ago to where we think we’ll end up in 2012 it is tremendous progress.”


RBTL:
Well, there you have it. If “progress” in 2012 is going to be measured in terms of comparative costs – which Angstadt implies will be much lower – it precludes the deployment of new equipment. This is underscored by the fact that the hoped-for 2012 savings are coming from Honda, Dallara, and Xtrac; which means that they are the anticipated suppliers three years from now. Are any of these manufacturers going to tool up for brand-new, clean-sheet components and charge less for them? Not in this world.

* A title sponsor:

“I’ve made this comment before that we are 90 percent sure we will have one and that’s where we are at right now but that is a very schizophrenic subject,” Angstadt said. “It appears that things are stabilizing with the economy. We are very close to having one and there is another sponsor right behind that if that doesn’t work out. Hopefully we’ll have one for 2010.”


RBTL:
Here’s Angastadt doing his Lucy and the football improv for the Gomers. He’s 90% sure that he used to be 90% sure but now he’s 90% not so sure.

* CEO Jeff Belskus handing the Indy Racing League in a more businesslike manner:

“I feel very good; Jeff is a very smart guy and knows the business well,” Angstadt said. “He has a lot of institutional knowledge within IMS (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) and the IRL. I like everything I see. I think we work very well together. He is very engaged in our company.”


RBTL:
That’s awfully nice (and condescending) of Terry to say that about his boss and a guy who had a hand in founding the IRL (long before Angst came stumbling along). He better hope they work very well together. First, I see Barnhart biting the dust and not long after, Terry A.

* New management at the Milwaukee Mile:

“We’ve had a couple of good conversations and I read that they have been making tremendous progress on their negotiations with NASCAR and we remain neutral to that,” Angstadt said. “We’ll see where that goes. It’s not their obligation to settle up on the debt owed to us by the previous promoter but it is part of what needs to be discussed for us to go back there in the future.”


RBTL:
Angstadt better not be “neutral” in private about Milwaukee’s progress in their negotiations with NASCAR, because the stock car series is the only thing between the venerable racetrack and the wrecking ball and the only hope the IRL has for getting paid and/or scheduling an event in the only remaining independent speedway. Problem is, Milwaukee is talking to NASCAR about their trucks and they are an endangered species.

* Texas Motor Speedway taking over the week after the Indianapolis 500 date:

“We’ve had a very good re-engagement with Eddie Gossage and SMI (Speedway Motorsports, Inc) and Texas Motor Speedway so we feel good about where that is,” Angstadt said. “We feel good about where that is and frankly it’s hard to hang onto a date at Milwaukee after what we have gone through. We’d love to be back there but it doesn’t have to be the week after Indy (at Milwaukee).”


RBTL:
Loving this. So, Angstadt et al have “re-engaged” with Eddie G and the Smiths? When was the divorce? Let me guess: it came when Tony G & Co gave away Texas’ traditional date – the best attended IRL event outside of Indianapolis – to play footsie with the Frances at their Watkins Glen ghost town. Eddie is probably still wondering what the attraction was? In Texas you leave the dance with the girl you brung, not waltz off with some wall flower and later come groveling back. Expect for Eddie G and Bruton to look for some serious payback; maybe when the league is dissolved and Belskus wants their contract to go away.

* Any chance to reconsider New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the future?

“No,” Angstadt said. “Would you like me to expand on that? I really do feel that a good part of the conversation is when there are two Cup dates at a venue without a long racing season we struggle. SMI doesn’t agree with that and we completely respect their opinion on that but we are not going to agree on every business issue between the two companies. That is a tough market to go into with that challenge. “I don’t let the comments they made impact our relationship, though.”


RBTL:
Think about this. If Bruton Smith and the NHIS brass are willing to pay top dollar (or pay at all) to host an IRL race they think will be profitable, what possible gripe could Angstadt et al have? I mean, the Brazilian ethanol producers start throwing reals at the league and they can have a race in the Amazon jungle for all the league cares; but not American speedway owners who are in the biz? It doesn’t make sense. And, as Judge Judy says, if it doesn’t make sense, it isn’t true. Which means the probably reality, especially given past SMI practice, is that NHIS wants a track rental (like Atlanta and LVMS) or a free race. In either event, Terry A doesn’t have the authority to schedule another race that costs the Hulman-George family more money; especially one where the league is going to come off looking bad.

* Car count staying constant despite a poor economy:

“We’re very encouraged and that is not to be confused with not having a long way to go,” Angstadt said. “We are thrilled with the growth in sponsorship in the most challenging economic times in our lifetimes. If we secure the title sponsor like I think we will and when we get Brazil secured that goes a long way to stabilizing the League side. And we are helping teams secure sponsorship and that is always a top priority.”


RBTL:
Excuse me? “Growth in sponsorship in the most challenging economic times in our lifetimes?” When did that happen? Are we perhaps talking about the measly few sponsors the IRL has rustled up in the past five years before we knew we were experiencing the most challenging economic times in our lifetimes but now realize we were in trouble way back then? If so, the same state of unconsciousness applies to the sponsors as well. Who were the new sponsors to the league after the news media was proclaiming the financial times were dire? Or, are we maybe counting our Brazilian and title-sponsor chickens before they hatch?

Anyway, how long have we been hearing about the league helping teams secure sponsorship being a “top priority;” only to have Tony grab them off for IMS with the rationale that it was the league rainmakers doing all the heavy lifting?

* How many cars can the TEAMS program maintain before it becomes a financial issue?

“That’s a 22- to 24-car number,” Angstadt said. “We would need to make decisions beyond that on some kind of criteria on how you get one of those spots because that is a huge commitment from the League. If we have 28 cars not all of them are going to be able to share in this program.”


RBTL:
Okay, there’s the limit put on the H-G family’s “support:” 22 cars. Next year. After that, all bet’s are off. Remember here that the TEAM program was put in place in lieu of guaranteed prize purses for races; basically, the league collected all the purses and then meted them out along socialist lines. One overlooked implication of the TEAM program is that speedway owners and/or promoters weren’t required to put up any prize money. Otherwise, they’d never have allowed the league to siphon it off. There is a firm belief among the oval cartel that a race’s prize purse is integral to it’s success. Therefore, the league’s race purses were a hidden form of subsidy.

* Danica Patrick staying in the IndyCar Series:

“We think it is very important,” Angstadt said. “We have worked hard and closely with IMG to give them confidence in our series and her role in the future of our series. We are looking pretty good and we feel good about it all coming together. I really respect the magnitude of this decision for her and we have respected that from Day One. That is why we are respecting that as best we can with IMG. It is sales, marketing, PR, venue selection, where she feels most competitive at so it is really across the board. IMG challenges us and we respond accordingly. Those are good conversations to have.”


RBTL:
Brother, it sounds like Angstadt is about to offer Danican’t an ownership position in the league, doesn't it? How about the part about giving IMG [i.e. Danican’t] a say in venue selection (“where she feels most competitive”)!!! I wonder if she gets to pre-approve Brazil’s street circuit? [“Sorry, boys, the Princess of Pout doesn’t like the hairpin around the fountain in the plaza, so the race is off.”] In any case, it’s unbelievable (if I hadn’t just read it). What other driver in the history of the National Championship was allowed input into venue selection?

It makes me wonder what Penske and Ganassi think about this. If push came to shove, which defection(s) do you think would more likely sound the league's death knell: Danican't or the ex-CART duo? My money is on the Pimp and F@t@$$i.

Anyway, when thinking about this Gomer article of faith -- quick, cue the Joan d'Arc improv -- pathetic and desperate also come to mind as apt descriptions. Obviously, here is a motor sport held hostage to a woman. Boss Gomer and the little Gomers believe their fate and that of their sport rests in Danican’t “iron” grip. Hey, I’ve got an idea. If Danican’t is the sport’s end all, be all, why not sell it to her (meaning Motorola)? $21 million (Danican’t current sponsorship deal) is way more than the IRL is worth, so there’s a profit and everybody goes home happy. Then Danican’t becomes a Danican and wins every race (under orders from the boss) and the whole exhibition should be a huge success (if one believes the Gomers).

* Other drivers sharing in the attention that Patrick gets:

“We have our three points leaders going to Miami on Tuesday because they have earned it,” Angstadt said. “We have had stability in our name drivers and it is up to PR to shed the light on those that deserve it. Ryan Briscoe is a really fair guy and a phenomenal race car driver. He is really unbelievable.”


RBTL:
After the question about Danican’t and its response, this one was inevitable. Who’s Angstadt think he’s kidding? No one but Danican’t matters to Angstadt. Can you blame him? He thinks he is a marketing guy and without Danican’t he would be like a Madison Avenue hustler trying to sell Frosted Flakes without Tony the Tiger. The IRL and its mascot are now inseparable; and there isn’t room for another.

At least Terry A is being honest when he (perhaps unwittingly) says on the one hand that the league’s top three points leaders (notice no names) have earned their positions and then on the other hand says it is up to Public Relations to get them noticed; i.e. forgetaboutit. That’s a near to impossible task when the IRL’s PR folk spend about 75% of every league broadcast pushing Danican’t in everyone’s face. Maybe he means that the points leaders’ PR guys ought to have lunch with Danican’t’s PR guys (meaning the league) and convince them to shed “light on those that deserve it.” Don't hold your breath waiting for it, though; "don't call us, we'll call you, big guy."

I love how Angstadt describes Ryan Briscoe as “a really fair guy and a phenomenal race car driver” but stops just short of saying it doesn’t matter. Maybe with a sex-change operation, things might have been different.

* Getting Phoenix back on the schedule at some point:

“That has been one of the bigger challenges for us,” Angstadt said. “We might have even used Phoenix as an example that if we can secure other markets that pay us a good value for our series then we can afford to go to another market or two that is good for the business, although not financially. We offered Phoenix a compelling package to go there but it was not embraced by the promoter. We cannot go there for free, although free is an exaggeration.”


RBTL:
How this for double talk? What he’s saying is that if the suckers in Brazil pay way too much for their race (i.e. “good value for our series”), there will be an unwarranted surplus which could then be used to rent the Phoenix track from ISC. Why would the league want to do this? Because he thinks Phoenix would be “good for the business, although not financially(!)” When have you ever heard of something being good for business, but not financially? Between the lines what Terry A is saying is that (in his view) a return to a ‘prime’ market like Phoenix will give him some credibility in selling other suckers on sponsoring the IRL. Despite the fact that the league would undoubtedly pay ISC for the privilege of appearing at PIR, that part could be kept confidential and the mere fact of a return to a failed market can be touted as a “turning point” in league fortunes and as a sign of growth. Thus, the Phoenix event itself wouldn’t be profitable but the false image it created might enable Angstadt to sell the league to others, which would hopefully be profitable in the long run; hence, Phoenix would be “good for business, but not financially [by itself]”

He's right about one thing, though, a free race at PIR is an exaggeration; the Frances would want a non-refundable deposit up front.