Another Black Eye for IndyCar?

geothumbnail

In the past, I have been accused of being a shill for IndyCar. I certainly don’t feel that way, but when something good happens with the NTT IndyCar Series – I tend to celebrate it. Part of that is because the series takes a lot of knocks, so when I see something good to write about, I do it. That’s not always the case. Just go back to what I wrote about on Monday regarding the massive price increases at Iowa, if you don’t believe me. Unfortunately, today is not very rosy either.

IndyCar took another black eye yesterday, in my opinion.

The series sent out a press release touting their efforts in “Sustainable Leadership in Motorsports”. They mentioned their new partnership with Shell, to use 100% renewable resources in their fuel starting at St. Petersburg next March – while also requiring that all team transporters be powered by 100% Renewable Diesel. The new guayule Firestone tire that was run at Nashville was also mentioned in the release. The fourth paragraph started off discussing the plans to introduce a hybrid engine platform in 2024. It was in the last of the fourth paragraph where they causally mentioned that the new 2.4-liter engine that was announced in 2018 (originally for 2023) has been paused. It’s funny how that was sort of buried deep into the release.

It was with much fanfare that this new engine was announced over four years ago, as “fast and loud”. 2023 would begin a new era of bigger and more powerful engines to be mated with a new car at some point to replace the aging DW12. Later on, it was announced that a hybrid component would be added with the capability of producing close to 1,000 hp, while showing off the newest hybrid technology. The 2020s sounded promising for IndyCar.

Supply chain issues pushed the engine back to 2024. New IndyCar owner, Roger Penske, decided that the current car was just fine for several more years. Then there were multiple issues with the hybrid unit being developed by German manufacturer MAHLE. Finally, Honda and Chevrolet convinced IndyCar to allow them to take over the hybrid component development together.

The once celebrated and then delayed 2.4-liter engine went away very quietly yesterday. According to an outstanding article by Marshall Pruett of Racer.com, the culprit was ultimately the lack of a third engine manufacturer. Honda and Chevy had already poured millions into the development of the new engine, but that was a drop in the bucket for what it was going to take to develop, build and service these new engines. They simply weren’t willing to take on half of the burden with the other – they needed a third manufacturer to come in and absorb all the cost.

According to the Pruett article, Honda Performance Development (HPD) President David Salter put it best saying “We’re not here to make a racing series, we’re here to promote through a racing series. But we’re not here to make the racing series. That’s not our job. That’s somebody else’s job. We’re here to support it, but only if it gives us something back. And we have to also show a return on investment, and that needs to be people watching.”

We fans sometimes forget that the main partners of IndyCar are there to ultimately turn a profit. It may not be through the direct sales of tires or engines to teams, but it is to enhance their brands that are for sale to the general public. If the partners don’t sense they are getting a good return on their sometimes sizeable investment, they are under obligation to continue past their contract.

In this case, the development costs of the engine were much higher than originally anticipated. Without a third engine manufacturer, a lot of those costs were going to be passed along to the teams. That could have resulted in a significant decrease in car count.

So the call was made to apply the hybrid technology now being developed by Ilmor, Chevy and HPD, to the old 2.2-liter engines that have been powering cars in the series since 2012 and have those engines ready (hopefully) by 2024. Was it the right call? It was probably the fiscally responsible call, but one that will not go over well with fans.

While Formula One is experiencing the biggest surge of popularity in the US in decades and NASCAR (for better or worse) has their Next Gen car – IndyCar is electing to stand pat on their cars and now their engines for the foreseeable future. The hybrid technology may resonate with a few fans, but the promise of Fast and Loud seems long gone for now.

While it may be the prudent decision, this will not excite the fan base. In fact, from what I saw on social media – it has infuriated the fan base. If you listened to Trackside last night, you heard Kevin Lee downplay this and say that most fans won’t care about this. I disagree.

Fans are already starting to get restless with the new regime (Penske Entertainment) that officially took over in January of 2020. While fans should be eternally grateful that IMS and the series were in the hands of Penske to be sustained during the economic woes of the pandemic; fans now want to see the improvements they envisioned when the purchase was first announced in November 2019. Pushing back the engine development before finally shelving it, and squashing any hopes for a new car for several years is not the way to rally the fan base.

Making a prudent decision is not sexy, and it’s easy for us to tell people how to spend their money. Most of these owners became wealthy by making sound business decisions. But IndyCar fans have been watching these same cars and engines circle tracks for eleven seasons. Fans want something to look forward to without having to cheer abut another sound financial decision.

George Phillips

Please Note: There will be no post here on Friday December 9 or Monday December 12. Susan and I are flying out on Thursday morning to Boise, Idaho to go meet my new grandson. To be honest, he’s not that new anymore. He was born in June, the weekend we were at Road America. With Susan spending July and August in the hospital, we were not able to go until now. I will return here on Wednesday December 14. – GP

19 Responses to “Another Black Eye for IndyCar?”

  1. With regard to the Penske stewardship of the series I noticed a comment saying that the total marketing budget is less than $1m per annum. Mmmmmmmmmm

    I would like to give a shout out to the Australian website ( where I saw the above mentioned comment )

    Speedcafe.com

    For obvious reasons they cover INDYCAR and I find that quite often the coverage is better than the usual destinations. On that note I do find autoracing1 incredibly brash, rude and aggressive about INDYCAR but maybe that’s just me.

    For INDYCAR I read oilpressure, speedcafe, racer, the-race, David Land and formulascout for the NXT and the other two junior series whatever their name is today.

    Sorry, rather off topic. Re Penske Entertainment. I think they are trying to balance the books in 2023. We shall see if they then decide to invest in the series or not. Maybe they sell it.

  2. If Penske isn’t ready to promote and spend money on the series they need to sell it. Other than IMS all we’ve seen so far is Penske saving money and cutting things from the series. Personally I’m ready for Penske to move on. What they did to Indy Lights (NXT) was to cut the winners share from 1.25 million to .5 million and no team will even talk to him. Penske please keep IMS and sell the series, F1, NASCAR and IMSA are going forward. INDYCAR is moving backward.

    • Hard to imagine anyone buying it that wouldn’t either make Indycar a development series of some form or would turn the Speedway into a real estate development.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Technically, the Indy Lights scholarship cut did not come from Indycar’s budget, it was Andersen Promotions that no longer contributed the remainder of the scholarship as they once did. Indycar also claims that they did spend some $735K (comparable to what Andersen used to contribute to the scholarship) on race-by-race purses for the Lights field. The Racer article implies that this money had not been spent in previous seasons.

      Functionally, of course, it is Indycar that made that cut as they retook control of the Lights/NXT from Andersen’s group in 2022, eliminating Andersen’s contribution to the scholarship prize. Andersen paid for their portion of the scholarship with sponsor money, especially from Cooper Tires. Indycar should find a way to do something similar.

  3. James T Suel Says:

    George you are right. This is a blow to the fans and the series. I am not sure what the answer is ,but Penske Corp has to take a different look at racing than their other businesses. This will not help Indycar grow. I fully understand that everyone has to make a profit. We need a Tony Hulman, who didn’t look for a profit when he took over in 1945. Maybe we need to open up the engine formula? My fear is for racing in general, we have priced it out of sight.

  4. The thing that worries me about this (and Champweb hits on it on twitter) is not the 2.4 v. 2.2 question but the tone of the engine manufacturers. For them to be sayng what they’re saing in a press release reeks of one manufacturer saying “don’t you dare do this to us again” and the other hinting at “we’ll pay our bills but we’re close to done on this.”

    The only relation Indycar has with GM’s new direction is Penske. That’s a fragile relationship. Honda cut the cord on Red Bull during a championship season after orders. That’s another fragile relationship.

    The financial bath that RP took in 2020 gets properly named in the article, but I think too many people (including Land) handwave it as “it was bad but I want nice things and I want them now” without naming who could otherwise dump hundreds of millions in the series while keeping it as it is. The series is dead or a few races + the 500 without RP.

  5. Juan Lamb Says:

    I was really excited when Penske bought the series and IMS. I thought someone with not only love for the series and IMS but the financial acumen to make things happen would be just the shot in the arm the series and IMS needed. I am hoping it is just a delay from what they had to do to keep the doors open due to Covid, but right now, all I see is same as it ever was.

  6. Bruce Waine Says:

    So from our discussions are we viewing the Indy Car world taking one step forward and two back due to Penske Entertainment?

    Are we disappointed that we aniticpated Roger & Company to wave their magic wand and immediately everything Indy Car would be perfect (Penske perfect) ?

    It appears easier for us to armchair manage without being in Penske Entertainments shoes……

  7. billytheskink Says:

    This is hugely frustrating for us die hard fans, but Kevin Lee is correct, this probably isn’t going to matter to most folks who follow Indycar. And it may not wind up mattering that much to us either once green flags start flying. Unlike with chassis designs, engine formulas often have long lives in racing series, especially in recent history.

    That said, we were promised new engines and we aren’t getting them. There is no positive way to spin that. This decision definitely reinforces an increasingly held perception that Indycar is stuck in a rut. Nevertheless, it is hard for me to stay too upset at the powers that be for their frugality once I’ve looked at my most recent 401K statement. Indycar definitely needs to do better, but no one should undersell how big of a challenge that actually is in this day and age.

  8. Everyone wants new, expensive engines. Everyone wants new, expensive chassis’. Everyone wants cutting edge tech across the board. Who do people think pays for this? If you want to see all that right now, then I hope you’ll be happy seeing IndyCar turn into a country club sport where Penske, Andretti, McLaren, and maybe Ganassi get together 4 times a year on the Indy road course and contest 10 cars if we’re lucky.

    Yes, I’d prefer seeing newer cars in IndyCar too. That said, I still enjoy watching a competitve series with 10 full time owners and upwards of 27 full time drivers. The racing and competition is still better (even with the ancient cars) than anything F1 or Nascar has to offer.

    This thought that people are “done” with Penske? My Goodness. Hell, I better stop before I engage the crazies…..if I haven’t already. Geeez.

  9. The aspect of this that most concerns me isn’t that they’re continuing with the 2.2L formula. It’s that they buried it in the fourth paragraph of the press release.

    Burying the bad news in the press release doesn’t make it go away, any more than renaming the Indy Lights series will have any substantive effect on that series. In each case, IndyCar management seems to care more about appearances.

    The current management team was inherited from TG, who I’ll say wasn’t exactly known for his management acumen. When RP bought the operation, I assumed that there would be some turnover once he had been in charge for a few months, as he figured out which of the holdovers were on board with his objectives and approach and which were not. But there wasn’t, even in the wake of the horrid bungling of the handling of whether spectators would be allowed at the 2020 500, which again I think was an example of management being disconnected from reality.

    In the past, I’ve written here about how I wasn’t really expecting much from Jimmie Johnson, because we weren’t getting the version that was regularly winning the NASCAR title. We were getting the mid-40s version, and it’s not the same. Similarly, it’s becoming more and more apparent to me that while RP may own the joint, RP in his early 80s is not at all the same as RP from years ago (which also may explain why his team has been able to maintain its performance level even though he has stepped away from active management of it).

    People who are willing to call a spade a spade need to be placed in positions of responsibility, replacing people who think that an issue can be flushed down the memory hole by burying it deep in a press release. But that doesn’t seem to be in the offing.

  10. This current Indycar news isn’t leaving a good taste in my mouth.

  11. Brent Blaine Says:

    SVRA Vintage racing will soon be racing cars newer than INDYCAR 🤷‍♂️

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      Had a thought that the SVRA Vintage Series may then be an excellent source for all parts needs by Indy Car……………………..

  12. BUT let’s remember we have 24 declared firm full time entries for 2023 to date plus one road & street course entry. Probably two more full time entries ( Coyne & Juncos – hopefully one with Lundqvist ) plus the oval seat for the Armstrong car making 27 minimum cars on the grid for 16 races. That’s healthy. For the 500 we have 4 more cleared entries already so 33 will happen I’m sure. I know I’m a doom monger too but it’s not all gloom. Let’s just hope Penske get the marketing guru they need to hire and quick. Oh, and a bigger budget. The racing is the number one. Then engine, chassis etc. because we will all enjoy the racing in 2023. Just looking at the drivers on the grid and I’m salivating!

  13. Everyone here has already talked about all the negative aspects of whats happening with the Series, I am totally with all of you. With all this said, the whole reason why I started watching Indycar since 80s is due to the innovation the series brought, Indy500 was where most of it came out and then it got carried on into other races. Now that there is no innovation of any kind, Indycar is stuck. But how about the series open two or three areas in the car and have the teams do unique things to improve performance like front nose, and maybe other areas but with limited spending (Spending cap like in F1) and I feel that is a nice way of spurring some innovation, albeit very limited innovation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: