Thursday, December 27, 2012

Does Formula 1 racing have a chance to succeed in America?

(by Tim Tuttle si.com 12-26-12)

Watkins Glen International owns the distinction of the longest running home to Formula One in the United States, hosting 20 races from 1961 to 1980. The Long Beach Grand Prix, hosting eight from 1976 to 1983, ranks second. Even the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, on a road course carved out of the infield and incorporating part of the oval, only held seven races. Six other tracks have tried making a go of F1 in the USA, but they all ended because of the high price of doing business with the world's most popular racing series.

With all that history against it, does the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, really have a chance to successfully fulfill its 10-year contract with F1?

Yes and, perhaps, beyond. COTA has some things going for it that other promoters and tracks have not. The inaugural event -- the U.S. Grad Prix held Nov. 16-18 -- was a smashing success; but so was the first USGP held at Indianapolis in 2000. Prior to that first race in Indy, F1 had not raced in the U.S. since 1992. Indy had an estimated 200,000 spectators that initial race day, 150,000 the second and third and was down to 125,000 after that. According to sources, Indy made money for the first three years, lost in the last four. There's clearly a novelty effect that wears off.

It should be noted that Indy had some bad luck on the track. In 2002, Michael Schumacher pulled over nearing the finish line on the front straight on the last lap and allowed Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello to win, damaging the race's credibility with ticket buyers. Sources say it did more harm than the tire fiasco in 2005 (Michelin's teams withdrew following the warm-up laps and only six cars ran the race).

COTA had a capacity crowd 117,429 on race day, 82,710 for qualifying and 65,360 for practice, bringing in substantial revenue from suite, hospitality and sponsorship sales. All good, but what delivers the difference between profitability and loss is funds from the Texas Event Trust Fund. Essentially, COTA has to earn the money each year based upon the economic impact created. COTA received a check for $29.3 million for this year's event.

"The government relationship is the most critical to keeping the race long term," Zak Brown, the Just Marketing International CEO and an F1 expert, said. "The difference in making money and not making money is the state funding. Any F1 race requires in a government subsidy."

NFL, NBA and MLB teams have frequently received funding from cities for new stadiums and other sweetheart deals. It has happened rarely in auto racing and never at the level of support for COTA's F1 event.

"The major difference between arenas and stadiums is that we're only rewarded by incremental increases in sales tax," COT President Steve Sexton explained. "It's generated by whatever is brought in is paid back to offset costs.

"The state's participation through the Major Events Trust Fund is very, very important. F1 is very expensive. The state of Texas has established the fund and it enables entities to apply for major events. It's the reason the Super Bowl was in Dallas and why the Final Four has been in Houston. It's an incentive rewarded by economic impact."

COTA doesn't disclose the amount it pays for its F1 race, but industry sources put the fee at about $25 million per year. However COTA has to consistently bring in a substantial crowd that can create an economic impact that will keep state funding at a high level. There are no guarantees from the trust fund. But Brown expects the event to grow in popularity after an impressive inaugural.

"It exceeded my expectations, exceeded everyone's expectations," Brown said. "Absolutely thumbs up. I can't think of a single thing they did wrong. They pulled it off. People were nervous about traffic, congestion. They executed the logistics of the event extremely well. [...] It was a major home run, exactly what F1 in America needed, to get a strong start to building for a great year two, which I think they'll have."

Sexton says he's building a happening rather than a race. It's an approach typically used for street races rather than permanent circuits. COTA is unique, that it's the first facility purposely built for F1 in America: a glistening, beautiful track designed by the famed Herman Tilke. It has the amenities of a street circuit to appeal to the casual fan and a track with the visibility and technical racing aspects for the aficionado.

"We had a fantastic launch and it's a great springboard for the future," Sexton said. "First, we realize this is a springboard we define as an experience like fans have at the Kentucky Derby or the Super Bowl. One of our major goals is to have a spectacular event, one that is about glamour and style where they can see celebrities and famous athletes. We want to attract the casual fan who wants to be part of something special, to be part of a major international event."

Brown says there are elements in place to attract racing fans, too. NBC becomes the F1 broadcaster in the USA next season and it has plans to put at least four events on the over-air network. It also will provide programming to the NBC Sports Network.

"They're going to do more network and more programming," Brown said. "Formula One and IndyCar are on the same [cable] channel and that's a good thing, too."

Sexton added, "NBC has an active interest in elevating F1 and our event. It's not unlike what they've done with the Olympics and Kentucky Derby. It will help sustain our event from a marketing standpoint."

Currently, there are no American drivers in F1, but Alexander Rossi of Nevada City, Calif., has well up the development ladder. He was a F1 test driver for Caterham and drove for the team World Series by Renault this season, his second year in the series. Rossi won't be in F1 in 2013, but he could be by 2014.

"I think it's important to have an American in F1, but it's not critical, "Brown said. "All the sports these days are pretty international and diverse, but it would be nice to have an American in F1."

Sexton says an Amercan driver "would be very, very positive" for Americans following F1. Both he and Brown agree that Mexico's Sergio Perez, who drove for Sauber in 2012 and is moving to McLaren next season, has appeal to Hispanics in North America.

"Without question, Sergio had a very positive impact on this year's race," Sexton said. "Fifteen percent of our ticket sales were form Mexico. The fact he call us is home track is beneficial."

"Sergio Perez will be higher profile with McLaren and the Hispanic market is something very attractive in sponsors," Brown said.

Brown also believes the parity in F1 will keep fans coming back.

"When F1 was at Indy, the racing was boring," Brown said. "There were only two or maybe three teams who could win. There were eight drivers from five teams who won this season. You've got great racing now. That's a big difference."

Can F1 thrive rather than just survive at COTA?

"There's as much going for Formula One in America as there has been in recent memory," Brown said. "How big will it get, I don't know, but the race at Austin this year started building a bigger following in America than it has ever had."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Time for Formula One, Texas style


(by Terry Blount espn.go.com 11-16-12)

Country music, beef brisket, cowboy boots, Tex-Mex, the Lone Star flag and Longhorns football.

Meet skinny jeans, caviar, French fries with mayo, funny accents (that don't speak Texan), fascinators and Ferrari flags.

Oh my. Austin never will be the same.

Formula One, the highfalutin auto racing sport of the world, comes to Texas this weekend, the state of big egos, big football (the kind with helmets and a funny-shaped ball), big hair and big, well, almost everything.

As a Texas boy myself, I can tell you this is a convergence zone of cultures and lifestyles that could rock old Sam Houston right out of his coffin. It's the Monaco elite taking a ride on Bevo; Willie Nelson hugging Sir Jackie Stewart.

Austin has gone ostentatious. Lord, help us.

An event three years in the making, one I didn't believe would actually happen, will take place Sunday at the Circuit of the Americas, a 3.4-mile road course and state-of-the-art racing facility about 15 miles southwest of downtown Austin.

A reported $300 million has been invested in building the place, most of it coming from Texas billionaire Red McCombs, the founder of Clear Channel Communications and a former owner of the San Antonio Spurs and the Minnesota Vikings.

The state of Texas also is contributing $25 million a year to the F1 coffers, a sore point to some Texans, who feel it's a big waste of taxpayer money.

We'll see. I can almost guarantee more than $25 million will pour into the Austin area hotels, restaurants and 6th Street nightclubs. Some hotels in Austin are charging more than $600 a night.

Race officials are expecting a crowd of 115,000 on Sunday. By comparison, Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial stadium, a virtual state shrine, has 100,119 seats.

More than 70 percent of the F1 ticket holders are coming from outside of Texas, including more than 20,000 from other countries.

Steve Sexton, president of the Circuit of the Americas, believes those numbers prove it's well worth the investment.

"This is like having a Super Bowl here," Sexton told the Austin American-Statesman. "It's like having a Super Bowl here every year for the next 10 years."

Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Only once in its history has Formula One spent 10 years at one U.S. location, and that was more than 30 years ago. F1 raced at Watkins Glen, NY, from 1961 to 1980. None of the other eight U.S. locations where F1 has raced lasted 10 years, including Indianapolis, the most recent U.S. venue for the series.

F1 raced on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for eight years (2000-07), so this is the first event in the U.S. for F1 in five years.

The Indy event was a clear success early on, when more than 150,000 people attended the first two races. But the interest waned, and any chance of long-term viability was destroyed when only six cars raced in 2005. Tire problems caused the Michelin teams to withdraw. Fans were furious, and the Indy event never recovered.

Now F1 is trying again at the most unlikely of places. Maybe opposites will attract and Texans will fall in love with this style of open-wheel racing.

"My wife and I have been big fans of the USA, and also of Texas, for many years," said seven-time F1 champ Michael Schumacher, who once visited Texas Motor Speedway and drove on the track incognito. "I'm particularly looking forward to the race in Austin. I'm excited to see if the American fans will embrace our sport. I think we'll put on a good show.''

It helps that F1 has a close points battle for the 2012 championship with two races remaining. Germany's Sebastian Vettel is trying to win his third consecutive F1 title. He leads Spaniard Fernando Alonso by only 10 points.

This is F1's second time in Texas. It raced in Dallas in 1984, but that was a poorly conceived street course without the support and infrastructure needed to become successful.

Circuit of the Americas is the first purpose-built facility for F1 in the U.S. It appears to have the things it needs to succeed -- big-money backers, a luxurious facility, and the city in Texas best-known for its diversity and progressive ideals. Austinites tend to be open-minded folks.

However, there are plenty of doubters who think this is a passing fancy that has little chance of working over the long haul.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith is one of them. Two weeks ago, during the NASCAR weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Smith made his feelings clear.

"Formula One never has done anything in this country,'' Smith said. "It never has worked."

That's an overstatement, which isn't anything new for Smith. But it's true that Formula One has had nothing more than mercenary status in the U.S. for a long time. F1 -- and its longtime boss, Bernie Ecclestone -- gets its money up front, rides the wave and moves on when things die out.

"I have no doubt that the event will be very successful in its first year,'' said TMS president Eddie Gossage. "But the key point is whether it can sustain that success. That's a much more difficult thing to do."

First-time events of this magnitude often have logistical issues. The Circuit of the Americas venue has rural road access and limited parking space. More than 400 shuttle buses will be used across Austin to get fans to and from the race.

A running event on the track two weeks ago had major traffic problems, with some runners waiting in gridlock for more than 90 minutes to get to the track. That was only 5,000 people. How will that work Sunday with more than 100,000 showing up?

And first impressions are important. Everyone involved, from city and track officials to F1 sponsors and teams, has done everything possible to build interest and make the entire week one big Austin party.

Austin is known for its live music scene, and free concerts are planned on Congress Street every night this weekend.

Sir Peter Westmacott, the British ambassador to the U.S., and his wife, Lady Westmacott, are hosting a reception for dignitaries and the media.

Stewart, a three-time F1 champ, will attend. I wonder whether Sir Jackie, known as the Flying Scot, owns any cowboy boots?

Austin is in the international spotlight this weekend. The capital of the Lone Star State dances with Formula One. Now that's what I call a Texas two-step.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Question for INDYCAR: Now what?

(by John Oreovicz espn.go.com 10-29-12)

Indy car racing's 30-year reign as America's most dysfunctional sport continues unabated.

After decades of angering or alienating just about every one of its key constituency groups, what was left of INDYCAR's already dubious credibility took another big hit Sunday when CEO Randy Bernard was forced out by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp. board.

Bernard had been on shaky ground since early June, when he drew attention to his plight following a spectacular Indianapolis 500 by taking to Twitter to announce that a group of Izod IndyCar Series team owners was out to get him fired.

Since then, rumors of Bernard's fate dominated Indy car news. And even though those team owners didn't orchestrate his departure, he was essentially a dead man walking for the past few weeks after news leaked that Tony George -- the man who founded INDYCAR in 1994 and stepped away from it in 2009 as the result of a power struggle within the Hulman-George family -- was trying to buy "his" series back.

When George was compelled to resign from the board of directors of Hulman & Co. on Oct. 19, it became apparent that his attempts to acquire INDYCAR and Bernard's tenuous employment status were, in fact, completely separate issues.

But when Hulman and Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp. management failed to provide Bernard with a public vote of confidence, it was obvious that his days were numbered.

IMSC CEO Jeff Belskus, who is taking over Bernard's responsibilities on an interim basis until a new leader for INDYCAR can be found, made that point in the statement that was issued Sunday after the board's second emergency meeting in the last 10 days:

"Once again, INDYCAR is not for sale, and the [IMSC] organization remains completely committed to owning and operating INDYCAR."

Crisis? What crisis?

Have no doubt, this is indeed a sport in crisis. It has been for the past 30 years.

And if it is now obvious that the Hulman board isn't about to put Tony George back in charge of INDYCAR, the sport's future leadership and direction is anything but clear.

Bernard joined INDYCAR in March 2010, nine months after George's ouster and two years after the so-called unification that was supposed to restore the sport's luster and popularity.

Formerly the CEO of the Professional Bull Riders tour, Bernard tried hard to recreate USAC racing's relevance to the IndyCar Series and to regrow the sport's oval-racing roots, but he recognized that street races brought in bigger crowds and international events had the potential for bigger profits.

He managed to finally introduce a new chassis to Indy car racing for the first time since 2003; he convinced Chevrolet and Lotus to join Honda as engine manufacturers; and he supervised a housecleaning of the race management and technical departments that was respected by competitors and fans alike.

His lack of racing knowledge hurt him when dealing with the sharks within the IndyCar paddock, but his accessibility endeared him to the people paying for tickets. Bernard connected with racing fans on all sides of the Indy car racing spectrum better than any of the sport's past leaders.

He took a lot of heat after Dan Wheldon was killed at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the 2011 season finale because of an expanded 34-car field and a $5 million promotion that was his brainchild. But that criticism was unjustified.

The real damage to Bernard's credibility within the INDYCAR community came in the ensuing four months, when he essentially disappeared from sight. And the quality of racing that resulted during the 2012 season from the implementation of the DW12 chassis and turbo engine formula -- Bernard's real contribution to the legacy of IndyCar racing -- basically didn't matter.

Because despite making the most of the circumstances he inherited, Indy car racing remained resolutely stuck in neutral. And with Bernard now out of the picture, moving backward is probably a more accurate assessment.

The IndyCar Series is coming off its most competitive and compelling season of racing in many years, yet the focus down the stretch, as the championship was decided in thrilling fashion on the track, was instead thrust upon controversy over the management of the sport.

A form of motorsport that should be celebrating its first American champion (Ryan Hunter-Reay) in a unified series since 1994 is instead dwelling on the latest change in leadership.

And make no mistake, fans are upset. Cutting ties with the guy who has appealed to the fans and expended more energy and effort in running the show than anyone else in the past 30 years emphatically sends the wrong message.

Tony George resigns from board

(espn.go.com 10-22-12)

IndyCar founder Tony George resigned Friday from the Hulman & Co. board of directors, citing a conflict of interest in his recent attempt to reacquire the series.

"I realize that my recent efforts to explore the possibility of acquiring IndyCar represent the appearance of a conflict, and it is in everyone's best interest that I resign," George said in a statement. "It goes without saying that I want to do what is best for this organization."

IndyCar is owned by the Hulman-George family, which has owned Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1945. The series is governed by the Hulman & Co. board of directors, which is at 10 members after George's resignation.

Among those still on the board are his mother, Mari Hulman George, and his sisters, Nancy L. George, M. Josephine George and Katherine M. George-Conforti. Hulman & Co., through president and CEO Jeff Belskus, reiterated Friday that IndyCar is not for sale.

George had been rumored for months to be trying to take back control of the series he founded in 1996 and oust current CEO Randy Bernard, and he reportedly submitted a purchase proposal last week.

"Tony George has made the difficult decision to resign from the board because of his involvement with a group that has recently expressed an interest in purchasing the Hulman & Co.-owned IndyCar organization," Belskus said. "While the business is not for sale and no offers to sell it have been considered or are being considered, we applaud Tony's efforts to resolve the appearance of a conflict and appreciate the gravity of this decision."

George was ousted as CEO of IndyCar by his mother and sisters in 2009. He also resigned his spot on the board of directors, but rejoined in 2011. He was president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 1990-2004, and was CEO of IMS from 1990-2009.

Belskus said there is no immediate plan to fill George's vacancy on the board. George is a co-owner with his stepson, driver Ed Carpenter, of IndyCar team Ed Carpenter Racing.

"Tony has been involved with our businesses for many years and has contributed significantly through his leadership role with IMS and IndyCar and as a member of this board," Belskus said. "We wish Tony much success in the future."

Tony George leads offer for IndyCar Series

(by Tripp Mickle sportsbusinessdaily.com 10-1-12)

The board of Hulman & Co., owners of the IndyCar Series, is weighing an acquisition proposal for the open-wheel-racing operation, according to people familiar with the matter.

Former IndyCar Series CEO Tony George has put together an investor group that includes some of the sport’s top team owners — Chip Ganassi, Roger Penske, Michael Andretti and Kevin Kalkhoven — as well as motorsports marketer Zak Brown that recently proposed the board sell them the IndyCar Series. The group has hired the Midwest-based law firm Faegre Baker Daniels and begun a financial due diligence evaluation of the series.

It’s unclear what the George-led group offered the board, but sources said that the group would take over management of IndyCar, which operated at a loss this year, and assume any debt on its books.

Hulman & Co. would retain its majority ownership of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and continue to run IndyCar’s Indy 500 and NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 races. It also could opt to take a minority stake in the IndyCar Series during the negotiations.

George declined to confirm or deny that he had engaged Faegre Baker Daniels or put together a group of investors. He described the “premise” as “inaccurate.”

Ganassi, Penske, Andretti, Kalkhoven and Brown did not return calls seeking comment. Hulman & Co. CEO Jeff Belskus was out of the country last week and could not be reached for comment. An IMS spokesman said the board has a policy of not commenting on board meetings.

It is the second time in less than four years that George, who ran the IndyCar Series when it was called Indy Racing League and is a member of the Hulman & Co. board, has put together a group to take over the series. The first time reportedly was in 2010.

The board was told that Brown, who founded the Indianapolis-based motorsports agency Just Marketing International, would lead the series’ management team if George’s group is successful. It’s unclear how that would work. Brown is still the CEO of JMI, which has built an international operation around Formula One in recent years and continues to work domestically with sponsors of NASCAR and IndyCar. The agency’s investors include Spire Capital and WPP.

If Brown didn’t take the job, sources said the Hulman board discussed the possibility that the group could
hire John Lopes, Andretti Autosport’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. Another logical candidate would be Joie Chitwood III, Daytona International Speedway’s president who was the chief operating officer at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for seven years at a time when George was the speedway’s CEO.
 
Sources familiar with the Hulman & Co. board said the final decision on selling the IndyCar Series will be made by Mari Hulman George, 77, the board’s chairwoman. She controls the majority of the voting interest in the company. The 11-member board also includes her four children — Nancy L. George, M. Josephine George, Katherine M. George-Conforti and Tony George — and six local businessmen, who serve in an advisory role.

The takeover proposal comes four years after the Indy Racing League and Champ Car merged, ending 12 years of a split among the two American open-wheel racing series. George brokered that deal in 2008 and paid $40 million to create a unified IndyCar Series. He resigned a year later after the series fell under financial pressure in the wake of the recession. Randy Bernard, the former head of Professional Bull Riders, replaced him in 2010.

IndyCar is coming off a difficult season. The series experienced double-digit decreases in TV viewership, had a race in China canceled and began searching for a presenting sponsor that potentially could replace its title sponsor, Izod, before the apparel brand’s deal ends after the 2015 season. That came on the heels of popular driver Dan Wheldon being killed in the 2011 season finale and Danica Patrick moving full time to NASCAR this year.

Bernard met with the Hulman & Co. board on the same day that the George-led group’s takeover proposal was presented. He was scheduled to announce the series’ 2013 schedule Sunday and is trying to expand its number of races from 15 to 19 next season.

 

CEO Randy Bernard steps down


INDYCAR is still not for sale, but it is moving into the future with a new leader.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation announced that a special board meeting convened Sunday resulted in the removal of Randy Bernard as INDYCAR CEO.

Bernard is believed to have resigned under pressure after the company that operates the IZOD IndyCar Series failed to post a profit for the third consecutive year of his tenure.

Bernard did help attract two new engine manufacturers to the IndyCar Series and fast tracked a new car design for 2012 that produced one of the best seasons of open-wheel racing in recent memory.

But despite a generally satisfactory performance since he took over in March 2010, Bernard's power base weakened over the past six months as a group of IndyCar Series team owners waged a behind the scenes campaign for his ouster.

A conflict over the cost of spare parts for the new car served as the focal point for the unhappiness between the competitors and INDYCAR management. Under Bernard's leadership, the IndyCar Series also struggled with decreasing television ratings and some promoters grew unhappy with sweetheart deals Bernard cut to convince some oval tracks to join the schedule.

The cancellation of the August race in China, which resulted in the non-receipt of a $4 million sanction fee, was another key factor in Bernard's rapid downfall.

More recently, when former INDYCAR CEO Tony George explored the possibility of re-acquiring the series he founded in the mid-1990s, the IMS board stressed that INDYCAR was not for sale. But the board also failed to provide Bernard with a vote of confidence, a clear signal that his tenure was near its end despite having two years remaining on his contract.

Jeff Belskus, CEO of IMS Corporation, will assume Bernard's duties on an interim basis. The Boston Consulting Group has been retained to help INDYCAR identify a new leader and develop a revised business plan.

"We are very grateful for the tireless effort that Randy has invested into learning, understanding and working to grow the IndyCar Series over the last three racing seasons," Belskus stated. "As both Randy and our organization have reflected on the past season and as we look toward the opportunities ahead and how to best take advantage of them, we agreed that the timing was right to pursue separate paths.

"The organization is full of talented professionals, and we will continue to prepare for what will be a very exciting 2013 racing season. Once again, INDYCAR is not for sale, and the (IMSC) organization remains completely committed to owning and operating INDYCAR."

Bernard joined INDYCAR in March 2010 after a successful career as the head of the Professional Bull Riders series. Although he had no auto racing experience, it was hoped that Bernard's marketing skills would be an asset to the struggling form of motorsports.

The IndyCar Series demonstrated growth during Bernard's first two seasons on the job. But he never seemed to escape the fallout from Dan Wheldon's fatal accident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the 2011 season finale. In fact, much of Bernard's final year was marked by controversy and dissent.

Although his time with INDYCAR was comparatively brief, Bernard was IndyCar racing's most visible front man in decades and he was particularly adept at connecting with race fans. News of his departure was met with shock and disbelief on social media platforms.

"I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with the entire INDYCAR community, its teams, drivers, loyal partners and fans," Bernard said. "The last three years have produced some exciting, and some difficult, times. But we have created a foundation for INDYCAR that positions it to grow over the next several years, and I am proud of what everyone at INDYCAR has been able to accomplish since I came on board."

He added: "With the (Hulman-George) family's firm commitment to the betterment of the sport and the dedication of our teams, drivers, partners and fans, INDYCAR is better poised for success than it has been in many years."

(by John Oreovicz espn.go.com 10-29-12)

IndyCar loses Edmonton race for 2013

(autosport.com 9-22-12)

IndyCar will not return to Edmonton in 2013 after the Canadian event's promoter pulled out of the final year of its deal.

City of Edmonton chief financial officer Lorna Rosen said Octane Motorsports felt the race could not be financially viable.

"It was a fabulous event to go to and it created a lot of buzz and excitement, but it is an eight-year run whose time is up," Rosen was quoted as saying by the Edmonton Journal.

"We tried everything we can think of to make it a success, and the races were good, but the profitability as a business venture just wasn't there [for the promoter]."

Edmonton held a Champ Car event from 2005 to '07, then became a fixture on the merged IndyCar Series calendar.

IndyCar chief Randy Bernard said: "When we finalised our schedule for the upcoming 2013 season, it unfortunately did not include Edmonton.

"We thank the city of Edmonton and all the fans for their support of the event over the last eight years."

Bernard insisted that the loss of Edmonton did not dent IndyCar's plan for calendar expansion in 2013. He intimated that Toronto would be the sole Canadian round next season but was sure that would be rectified for 2014.

"More importantly this has not affected our plans for a minimum of 19 races next season, and we remain optimistic that we will return to having two races in Canada as early as 2014," said Bernard.

"We anticipate announcing our full 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule [in] the first week of October."

F1 hoping to catch American attention with new track



(si.com 11-14-12)

Formula One, the world's most popular motorsport, is trying once again to conquer its final frontier: the United States. This time, the Europeans aim to make it stick.

The glitzy sport with ultra-fast cars and a flair for the exotic has landed deep in the heart of Texas, of all places, with a gleaming new track, a down-to-the-wire championship race and hope that it can grab the attention of American race fans who rarely look up from the NASCAR standings.

The U.S. Grand Prix makes its grand return after a five-year absence on Sunday at the $400 million Circuit of the Americas, a course built expressly for F1 on rolling scrub land just a few miles southeast of downtown Austin.

"This is what was needed," said Mario Andretti, the Formula One champion in 1978. "Now we can compete with the rest of the world and some of those new venues that have gone up in the last few years in the Middle East and Asia. That's the ingredient that was missing here in the United States."

Austin is the 10th American city to host F1 since the first U.S. Grand Prix in Sebring, Fla., in 1959. Watkins Glen, N.Y., hosted a Grand Prix from 1961-80 and other F1 races have been held in Long Beach, Las Vegas, Detroit, Dallas, Phoenix and other cities on street courses.

As NASCAR grew into the dominant motorsport in the U.S., demand and interest for open-wheel racing took a hit and F1 didn't even race in the U.S. from 1992-1999 before making its return at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the cradle of American racing. Even there, it couldn't last and track officials and Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone parted ways.

Formula One stuck to its global circuit and had seemingly abandoned U.S. until Ecclestone made the surprise announcement in May 2010 that it would return with a 10-year deal to race at a track that hadn't even been built yet. With billionaire businessman Red McCombs one of the key investors in the project, organizers began a mad dash to build the track.

Austin seemed an odd choice. A trendy city of about 1.5 million, Austin bills itself as the "Live Music Capital of the World" and is the capital of Texas. But it hardly fits in with the other cosmopolitan F1 hosts like Melbourne, Shanghai or Singapore. Earlier this month, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell joked that Austin hosting F1 was "sort of like Mayberry having the Super Bowl."

The U.S. Grand Prix achieved its mandatory goal of getting the track built, but the challenge will be how to succeed and keep drawing fans beyond the initial excitement of the inaugural race.

"It looks like they have got a beautiful circuit down there. The challenge is going to be maintaining that in year two, three that kind of thing, because that's where Formula One in the States has struggled," said Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway, which hosts NASCAR and IndyCar races about three hours north of Austin. "They had great crowds in Indianapolis, for instance, to start with and just couldn't sustain that."

Bruton Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc. which owns and operates eight tracks, was dismissive of Formula One's future in the U.S. and the possibility of it picking off fans from NASCAR. There's already head-to-head competition. The NASCAR season finale in Homestead, Fla., is on the same day the U.S. Grand Prix makes its debut.

"Formula One has never been anything in this country. Go back and check it. Go back as far as you want to and Formula One has never worked in this country," Smith said. "We've checked and about 10 people that we know are going to it, so we're not really concerned."

Zak Brown, chief executive and founder of the Just Marketing International firm that caters to auto racing, sees a different scenario. The return of F1 to the U.S. at the Circuit of the Americas is the footprint the sport needs in the American landscape.

"It's massively important," Brown said. "North America has been the one market where they've really struggled."

Brown noted Formula One recently signed a new, four-year broadcast deal with NBC Sports Group. The exclusive rights deal, which begins next season, will provide more than 100 hours of programming across NBC and cable channel NBC Sports Network.

"You need a great home base, they have that. You need a good TV package, they've got an enhanced TV package," Brown said. "Ideally, all they need now is an American driver."

That hasn't happened yet. This season's championship chase is down to two drivers, Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who are separated by 10 points with two races left.

Andretti said he hopes F1's return to the U.S. will nurture a homegrown driver of the future.

"I always say F1 is like the Olympics. There's a lot of national pride and to have an American representing his country would be fabulous," Andretti said.

Several F1 drivers said this week they are excited about the return the U.S.

Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus, who won the 2007 Formula One championship and sits a distant third in the current standings, raced seven U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis and drove twice in NASCAR Trucks and Nationwide events in 2011.

"I like the American atmosphere. It's just a relaxed environment, they know how to have fun, and most of all, they love racing," Raikkonen said. "After seeing the excitement of the American NASCAR fans, I hope Formula One gets people as eager to enjoy our racing in Texas, too."

Saturday, September 15, 2012

On the lack of IndyCar fans

(crapwagon.com 9-15-12)

-rotorooter

At an IRL autograph session, the fans sit at a table and the drivers form a line.

Friday, September 14, 2012

On the state of IndyCar

(crapwagon.com 9-13-12)

-Brake L8

They're competing against a series called "staying home and not watching Spindycar". And they're losing...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Leave it to IndyCar



What idiot with IndyCar thought it would be a good idea to stick Dan Wheldon's name on a fence? Really. On the fence? Right by a fence post?

Didn't anybody speak up and say that this may be a bad idea?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

DeltaWing car hits track for first test



(by Mark Vaughn autoweek.com 3-2-12)

Sometime around 11 a.m. on Thursday, March 1, the twin-cowled, triangulated DeltaWing race car took its first lap around a race track. The car that could either revolutionize open-wheel racing across the globe or become an historical oddity akin to the six-wheeled Tyrrell Formula One car drove onto the Cal Club's track at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in California, at about half speed for its first shakedown runs.

And? The car some thought would flop over on its side because of its seemingly unstable needle nose, actually took corners at what appeared to be normal speeds.

“They weren't going fast, but they went around the track a few times,” said one race fan who watched the test.

The car was back out after lunch, and this time opened up a little more, hitting what sounded like a rev limiter on the engine--the supplier of which remains unknown--before it went back into the garage for the day.

The main thing is it worked, turning corners with remarkable stability. So far, so good.

Two days before the test, Autoweek visited All American Racers, Dan Gurney's engineering and speed emporium in Santa Ana, Calif., where the car was built. We got some background on the project, or as much as the team could reveal before a couple of sponsorship deals go through and all is made public. First up, how exactly does this thing go around corners?

“Well, it is counterintuitive,” said chief designer Ben Bowlby, formerly of Lola Cars. “For a long time, we all believed that the world was flat, because it's counterintuitive to think that it's round, or spheroid or whatever.”

Before he described how the DeltaWing turns, Bowlby started out describing the basic concept and the physics behind it. The craft is both simple and at the same time somewhat delicate.

“In this case, the tire capacity, the mass distribution and the aero distribution are all in harmony,” Bowlby explained. “The result is that the car is actually balanced.”

Given that it's a rear-wheel-drive configuration, Bowlby said the DeltaWing is extremely well-balanced, with the optimum distribution for traction and braking.

“With a two-wheel-drive car, you put the majority of the tractive capacity at the end that's going to have the weight transfer and acceleration,” he explained. “But equally interesting is braking stability, which is also a function of trying to have more than 50 percent of the braking behind the center of gravity. This is perhaps one of the most unique aspects of the DeltaWing, that from a racing-car perspective it does have more than 50 percent of the braking behind the center of gravity.”

So no matter how much force you apply, there's a self-correcting stability. Like an arrow, sort of.

“It's a combination of factors, and really it's a result of throwing away the rule book,” Bowlby continued. “Racers have become constrained by regulations, and so by throwing away the rule book and saying, ‘Hey let's do something that is in line with our times, which is to get more for less, right?' That's what we did.”

The idea is that with less aerodynamic drag, less car and less weight, you can drive the same race distance as everyone else, using less fuel.

But that still doesn't explain how the car turns.

“Well, obviously, the front wheels steer, and the front wheels have a very long lever arm to the center of gravity and the amount of mass, the amount of weight, on those tires means that the contact-patch pressure load, per square inch if you like, is the same at the front as it is at the rear,” he said. “So it's all in tune. So the result is that the front has the ability to cause the car to change direction very quickly. But then, somewhat unique to here, the majority of weight transfer, like 97 percent, occurs across the widely-spaced rear tires.

“Obviously, the center of gravity has to be between the widely spaced rear tires, otherwise you have a completely unstable device that will fall over. Essentially a delta-plan-form car, otherwise known as a tricycle gear, has to have the weight distribution very carefully observed. There isn't a huge latitude to where you put it. In a conventional rectangular layout, you have the ability to put the center of gravity in a lot of places, and it stays stable. In a delta-wing form you have to observe it very carefully. So you don't want the weight distribution 5 percent further forward, and you don't want it 5 percent further back. You have one spot. In racing, you can control that and end up with a very optimum tire utilization and light weight.”

Bowlby said that there is almost no torsional loading on the chassis, because there is not a pair of axles with their own stiffness.

“Three points makes a plane no matter where you put them. So the result is the chassis is under a very small amount of load. And there isn't a balance effect of different roll stiffness distributions. The car always has an intrinsic balance as a function of its mass, tire capacity and aerodynamic distribution.”

The differential has capacity for vectoring torque to either wheel (or for remaining open), but the car is stable without that torque vectoring.

“Our intention is to make the tuning of the car's balance driver-adjustable,” Bowlby said. “That's a slightly lofty goal at the moment, but all of our simulations have been done without torque vectoring.”

The DeltaWing is a collaborative effort between American Le Mans Series founder Don Panoz, Highcroft Racing, Ganassi Racing and Gurney's All American Racers. The Automobile Club de l'Ouest, the Le Mans organizer, has agreed to let the DeltaWing run as part of its Garage 56, the 56th entry in the field at the June race this summer. The idea is to promote innovation.

The car was, of course, offered up originally as an alternate to the traditional Izod IndyCar Series chassis but rejected by IndyCar in favor of a more conventional design from Dallara. Where it goes after Le Mans is anyone's guess. But just seeing it run laps around a track was a big step.

“It's more than three years that we've been waiting,” said Bowlby. “I have to say that without Dan, it would not have been possible. He knows the process of idea to race track and realized that if we don't start now, it ain't gonna happen, so let's get going.”

Monday, January 16, 2012

Taking a break

Well, I've made a decision to kind of take a break from motor sports for awhile.

Actually since Champ Car went away I've been taking a break but I'm not even going to follow IndyCar in hopes of an implosion anymore. I've wasted too much time following that lame series in hopes that it would either implode or morph into an actually racing series. The death of Dan Wheldon last year just made me sick to the point that I can't even follow IndyCar for any reason anymore.

I'll probably pay attention to the Le Mans 24, I'd like to see if the Delta Wing becomes a reality and races there. And I might pay attention to F1 when it comes to the US, I might care a little more towards the end of the year.

Anyway, I'll be back, sometime.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Chip Ganassi full of praise for job done by IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard

(by Mark Glendenning autosport.com 1-2-12)

Champion IndyCar team owner Chip Ganassi has praised the job done by series CEO Randy Bernard during a testing 2011 season.

Bernard, had no previous motorsport experience when he was appointed to the role in early 2010, and was faced with challenges including Dan Wheldon's death at Las Vegas, the introduction of a new car, engine and rules package, poor TV figures and near-constant criticism of former race director Brian Barnhart during the past 12 months.

But Ganassi, who has won the past four series titles with Dario Franchitti (2009-2011) and Scott Dixon (2008), said that Bernard has learned to navigate motorsport politics quickly.

"There are a lot of facets of this sport that someone coming in from the outside have to learn, and no-one has been a more willing learner than Randy Bernard," Ganassi said.

"Look at the things that have gone on since he came into the sport. We've got a new car, a new engine formula, a new rules package, a new way of buying and distributing the cars and the way we go testing, there was obviously the Las Vegas tragedy ... just about every time the guy comes up for air, he gets pushed back under again.

"The good news is that I think Randy has shown great ability to breathe underwater. He's doing fine, I think."