IndyCar – Three Up, Three Down: Sonoma

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The 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix, at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, CA was by all accounts a great race. There were all the elements for great television. There was pre-race drama, decent on-track racing, some drivers making poor decisions, controversy, and a surprise ending. Obviously, many other people thought so too as the ratings for this last race of the season shattered the previous record for an IndyCar race on NBCSN. The race wasn’t without it’s downsides, of course, and the fact that this is the last IndyCar race of the season is chief among them. So let’s take a look at the good and the bad from this race at what I’ll forever think of as Sears Point.

Three Up:

Championship Drama
Disregard the double-points controversy for a moment and think of the championship battle as it had taken shape prior to the Sonoma race. Juan Pablo Montoya had lead championship the entire season and was still in the lead going into the final round. Right behind him, however, was Graham Rahal who was having a career season in spite of being in a Honda. Lurking in third, in very quiet fashion, was Scott Dixon followed by Montoya’s teammate at Penske Racing and the defending series champion Will Power. Everything was set, although most people knew that all Montoya needed to do was keep his nose clean and have a decent race. That story suddenly changed as first Montoya and then Rahal were involved in on-track incidents. Are double-points races gimmicky? Absolutely they are, but even without the artificiality of the double points, we still would have been looking at a series championship that wouldn’t be decided until the final race. The lesson that INDYCAR needs to take from this is that the parity among teams and drivers is pretty darn good and that you don’t need contrivances to create a dramatic championship. All you need to do is step back and let the racers race. The excitement will happen all on its own.

Huge TV Ratings
The GoPro Grand Prix drew the largest TV audience ever on NBCSN, although the numbers still do not match what is typically seen when the series airs on the broadcast ABC network. Regardless, this is still a good sign and a positive step forward for the series as the series, the teams, and the drivers all struggle to find sponsorship. Having growth in the series viewership will make those boardroom sales pitches a little bit easier. Not easy, but easier.

Gabby Chaves wins Rookie of the Year
Gabby Chaves, rookie driver for Bryan Herta Autosport, secured the Rookie of the Year honors with a P14 finish at Sonoma. The BHA squad doesn’t have the abundant resources that the larger teams enjoy and as result it’s been difficult for Chaves to put up any kind of consistently strong results. What he did do was to bring the car home nearly every race and in a position better than he qualified, and at Pocono, he lead 31 laps before suffering a mechanical DNF, his only DNF of the season. Chaves is the reigning Indy Lights champion and made the move to IndyCar this year, and spoke to us about his goals for the season as part of our Cambered Corner interview series. I think Chaves met those goals showed that he does have the talent not only to be present in the IndyCar Series, but to be a contender in the right equipment.

Three Down:

Rule #1 of Motorsport
Anyone who follows motor car racing, even loosely, understands Rule #1 of Motorsport: “Don’t take out your teammate.” Someone forgot to remind Power and Montoya. After the restart for the full-course caution induced by Luca Phillili’s slowing car, Montoya attempted to dive inside of his teammate Will Power as Power moved to defend/block the inside line. The result was that both championship contenders would find themselves in the sand watching the rest of the field, and their championship homes go flying by. Don’t hit your teammate!

Race “Control”
This has been a recurring theme all year long. Race Control, if they claim to have actually seen a potential incident, would issue a statement during the race that they’ll investigate the incident post-race. Typically that meant that they’d issue a meaningless fine of some paltry amount the following Wednesday. This race was no different as we had several on-track incidents that should have been handled immediately. The aforementioned Power/Montoya incident is one of those that should have received an immediate ruling from Race Control. The most egregious example of Race Control’s procrastination was their inaction for the gamesmanship executed by Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud. Simon’s teammate, Will Power, and CHF Racing’s top talent Josef Newgarden had been running 1-2 since the beginning of the race and had both pitted on the same lap in adjacent pit stalls. Pagenaud also came in to pit that lap and having the pit stall in front of Power, he paused to allow Power to exit first. Doing so, however, trapped Newgarden in his pit stall. No action was taken against Pagenaud and Team Penske during the race.

Done Too Soon
So here we are not even at Labor Day Weekend, and the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series Championship is at an end with the 2016 season not scheduled to start until mid-March, six and a half months from now. In this age of rapid media cycles, IndyCar has shot themselves in the foot by going from a great championship and amazing season-finale (double-points notwithstanding) to turning the lights off and shrinking back to obscurity and irrelevance for half a year. This is no way to build momentum for a product that is already on the ropes.

So that’s my take on the all-to-early IndyCar season finale. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments section below.


IndyCar – Yes, people are watching! …from home.

TV ratings and track attendance for Indy car racing, be it under the guise of CART/CCWS or the IRL, over the past couple of decades has had it’s ups and downs. Mainly downs. The TV ratings on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN), a cable-only network typically found on the premier packages, have surged. While still looking to break into the 1M+ viewers, the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway, drew a record 841,000 viewers. This is the highest rating ever for the series on NBCSN. In fact, this has been a banner year for the growing cable network. Five of the top ten rated races since NBCSN assumed the broadcasting rights from Versus have been from this season, including the top two. The previous record of 666,000 viewers was set earlier in the month for the tape-delayed airing of the Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sportscar Course in Lexington, OH. That’s the good news, and as fans of Formula 1 know, television numbers are everything! …well, almost everything.

Mr. Ecclestone, of course, is famous for saying that he doesn’t care if his show races in front of empty grandstands, so long as the TV numbers are good. That, of course, is a bit of bravado, and as the Turkish Grand Prix has demonstrated, it’s not entirely true. Television ratings are important. In fact, they’re extremely important! They are what allows you to recruit new sponsors and their money to the sport. It’s the at-the-track experience, though, that allows you to keep those sponsors. Attendance at many of the road and street circuits this year has been healthy, but some venues such as Fontana and Sonoma have had less than desirable turnouts forcing some to terminate their relationship with the series. In 2016, we will not see IndyCar race at Fontana, and likely not at Milwaukee or Pocono. The challenging question facing Mr. Miles, CEO Hulman & Company which owns INDYCAR, is how to get fans to not only watch at home, but also to buy tickets and venture out to the race tracks. It’s not an easy problem to solve as many series are discovering, including some of the traditional juggernauts of the sport such as NASCAR. It’s a problem that INDYCAR needs to solve and right soon. The up-tick in TV ratings is great, but now the series also needs to see an up-tick in race attendance.

Thanks Formula1blog

IndyCar – JPM says Dixon had a [crap] season, but did he?

The Verizon IndyCar Series finale at Sonoma Raceway, home track of The International, was certainly drama-filled. The biggest story of the race was the surge of Scott Dixon from third in the points at the waiving of the green flag to being the 2015 champion at the checkered flag. Juan Pablo Montoya, who had lead the championship the entire season until the end of the final race, was understandably bitter. Running into his teammate and primary championship rival certainly didn’t do his championship aspirations any favours and is likely the event that permitted Dixon to make the leap from third to first. Rather than recognizing this enormous mistake as the primary reason for the championship slipping away, Montoya instead chose to lash out at Dixon and the double-points races this season, which included the season finale at Sonoma.

“Dixon had a shit season all year and had one good race, and we paid the penalty.” — Juan Pablo Montoya, #2 Penske Racing

While I agree with Montoya’s disdain for double-points races, I disagree that Dixon had a poor season singularly salvaged by his win this past Sunday. Double-points races have always seemed gimmicky, and without the double-points races this season, Montoya would have edged out Dixon by six points, 470 to 476 with all bonus points included. He also had a higher average finishing position than Dixon, 6.9 to 7.7. What are not included in this hypothetical, though, are the points from qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. INDYCAR elected to disregard points for qualifying after the regulations were changed literally at the 11th hour. Include the 500 qualification points, and suddenly, you have a very different picture; Dixon wins 520 to 491.


All this playing about with points and what-ifs is, of course, merely speculation and Monday morning quarterbacking, but it does illustrate a point. A driver who earned no pole positions during active qualifying, only won two races, and took out his own teammate during the season finale has no business saying that a driver who won three pole positions and won three races, including the season finale, and led the most laps in four races had a “shit season.” We can discuss the pros and cons of double-points races and other championship-spicing gimmicks, if you wish, but Dixon earned his championship under the rules that were in place at the beginning of the season, and looked classy doing it.

Continue Reading…

Justin Wilson in coma after suffering severe head injury

Racing fans are holding out hope and remaining vigilant with prayers and well-wishes for Indycar driver Justin Wilson. The former Formula 1 driver and Andretti Autosport driver was hit by flying debris from a crash ahead of him on track suffering a head injury.

Wilson remain in a coma and in critical condition as fans wait for further updates from Indycar and the Wilson family. Regardless of what series drivers race in, the outpouring of support has been tremendous across NASCAR, F1 and Indycar. NASCAR driver Tony Stewart marshaled his private plane to fly Wilson’s family to Pennsylvania after the accident at the Pocono ABC 500.

I’ve had the honor of meeting Justin and I can say that the overwhelming majority of tweets from his peers about the “nicest guy in the paddock” certainly ring true.

Justin is a 7-time winner in Indycar and started his career back in 2004 after leaving Formula 1. Our deepest hope is that he can recover and his current situation is weighing heavy on the heels of the Jules Bianchi tragedy earlier this season.

From all of us at FBC:



IndyCar – Andretti vs Andretti: and all the lawyers rejoiced

IndyCar just can’t seem to maintain any kind of forward momentum. Not even a week has gone by since we learned that IndyCar was returning to the magnificent Road America circuit in 2016 and we hear of some of the most bizarre example of infighting we’ve seen in a long while. The internet rumor mill has been hinting that Andretti Sports Marketing will be closing its doors, although it remains open for business right now. Two of the three owners of ASM, John Lopes and Starke Taylor, have filed suit against the third owner Michael Andretti and Andretti Autosport claiming that mismanagement led to the companies current financial woes after losing the IndyCar events at Baltimore, NOLA, and Milwaukee, and the Formula E event in Miami. They also claim that Andretti Autosport is insolvent. Michael Andretti, for his part, wasn’t standing any of it.

“This lawsuit is a disingenuous and self-serving attempt to benefit John Lopes and Starke Taylor at the expense of Andretti Autosport and its 120 employees. The allegations by Lopes and Taylor will not be supported by the evidence and we will aggressively respond with the truth.

“My family has strived to earn an exemplary reputation in all facets of our personal and professional lives. We will not allow this reckless attempt at grabbing leverage to impact our family name.” — Michael Andretti, CEO of Andretti Autosport and CEO of Andretti Sports Marketing

This infighting is certainly not healthy for Andretti’s IndyCar, GRC, and Formula E race teams, but it’s also not great news for the Verizon IndyCar Series. The open-wheel racing series recently scored it’s highest ever TV rating on NBCSN for the reairing of it’s race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and announced that it would be returning to Road America, a circuit long-demanded by the fandom. This litigation definitely detracts from these positives at a time when the beleaguered series is struggling for on-track attendance and TV viewership. It seem like we’re always taking two steps forward and one step back.

[h/t Tony DiZinno at MotorSportsTalk]