Archive for the IndyCar Category

Will the Ovals Ever Come Back?

Posted in IndyCar on October 21, 2020 by Oilpressure

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You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realize that oval track racing is becoming an endangered species in the NTT IndyCar Series. Just a quick glance at next year’s schedule compared to the schedule as recent as 2015 shows a shocking decline in just a few years. The 2015 scheduled featured six oval races; the Indianapolis 500, as well as races at Texas, Fontana, Milwaukee, Iowa and Pocono. The 2021 schedule has the Indianapolis 500, a double-header at Texas and Gateway – four races at three oval tracks.

IndyCar has come under fire amid accusations that Roger Penske hates ovals. Seriously? The man once had a portfolio of race tracks that included Nazareth, Michigan, Rockingham and Fontana. I doubt that selling those tracks suddenly turned him against oval racing.

The truth is that IndyCar was headed this way long before The Captain ever thought about buying IMS – which is an oval, by the way – and the series.

Let me get this out of the way. I am a fan of IndyCar on oval tracks. I grew up in an age when Indy cars ran primarily on ovals and road courses were the exception, not the norm. I found the races to be more exciting and it defined what racing was supposed to be, in my opinion. As an added bonus; at most tracks you could see the entire track if you sat up high enough.

If given the choice between a road course and an oval, I would take an oval ten times out of ten. The 40 mph hairpin at Long Beach did little to excite me. Yes I understood and appreciated the art of braking, but it was racing at high speed against another car for the same piece of real estate that got my blood pumping.

That was then, this is now.

Somewhere along the way, oval racing changed. The IRL was formed as an all-oval series designed to bring back the oval. To say it worked would be a falsehood. For ten years, they campaigned races on tracks either designed for stock cars, or venues they stole away from CART; but attendance was waning dramatically and TV ratings were plummeting. When cars started turning right at St. Petersburg in 2005 that was a sign of things to come. Five years later, there were more non-ovals than ovals. Next season, the series will visit only three oval tracks.

How did this happen? Even as a fan who still prefers an oval to a non-oval, I’ll admit that the racing has become dull and boring on many of the ovals. Is it due to all cars being the same and they are too evenly matched? Is it because of the current package that makes passing extremely difficult? I don’t know the answer.

IndyCar fans are a tough bunch to please. For the last ten years, fans have complained about Texas being way too boring and processional; or they’re upset that Texas encourages pack-racing and we are certain to have another Dan Wheldon situation on our hands. I cannot remember the last time the two extreme sides came away from watching a race at Texas applauding what a safe and exciting race they just witnessed. It’s usually one complaint after the other.

I went to three of the past four races at Pocono. While I enjoyed every trip there, the racing there was lacking in excitement – and that’s actually being kind. And let’s be honest, Gateway hasn’t really been a barn-burner either. There have been a few moments over the last four seasons at the egg-shaped oval across the river in St. Louis, and we’ve had a blast every time we’ve gone – but the racing there was just a little bland.

And let’s not pretend that the non-ovals have made up in excitement for what the ovals have been lacking. While I love going to Barber and Road America each season, there is sometimes more excitement in qualifying than for the actual race on road and street courses. Once again, however, the destination and all the other happenings at the track make up for what might be lacking on the track.

How else can you explain the turnout at Long Beach each year? I’ve never been to that event, but those fans aren’t pouring through those gates to get a good seat to watch great racing. They are there for the event. I’d say it’s a safe bet that many of those in attendance wouldn’t mind if they went all weekend without seeing a race car. They are there because it’s a fun thing to do.

Unfortunately, it’s not the same story for most ovals. The odd thing is, Gateway has made it work when their on-track product is not that great. It’s because they have created a carnival-like atmosphere for Friday night and all-day Saturday, even when the Cardinals are in town. So you can’t just make a blanket statement like “No one goes to ovals anymore”; because they do at some places.

Gateway is not the norm, however. Michael Andretti did everything within reason a few years ago to make Milwaukee work, but a bad starting time and lack of support racing worked against him. I don’t care how great your fan village is in the infield, you need cars on-track too. Michigan, Fontana, Pocono, Iowa all fell off due to low attendance.

Perhaps the secret is to have oval races that are in or very near large metropolitan areas. Pocono is about as remote as it gets. I’ve heard stories about a single road that leads to Iowa Speedway. Michigan appears to be in a fairly secluded area as well. People think that Fontana is in Los Angeles, but we went there in 2013. We stayed in a hotel on the far east side of LA, but we were still forty miles from the track. Chicagoland wasn’t in Chicago, it was near Joliet. People in Chicago don’t want to go to Joliet. I still maintain the major reason why Nashville Superspeedway has yet to succeed is because it’s a forty-mile drive from downtown Nashville with absolutely nothing around it.

As I type this out, I’m finding myself contradicting things I’ve already said. The Milwaukee Mile is in what I would consider the Milwaukee metropolitan area, yet it has failed in every recent attempt to revive hat traditional stop on the IndyCar circuit.

I certainly don’t know the answer to how to make ovals popular again. People who have spent their professional careers in racing that are far smarter than I am don’t know how to, so why would I pretend to know the secret. I don’t.

Maybe it’s just changing times. I grew up in a time when My Three Sons, The Munsters and Gilligan’s Island were all must-see TV shows. That was when ovals were popular. People’s tastes have changed. Today’s forty year-old was just becoming a teenager when CART was in its heyday. Today’s forty year-old essentially grew up in an era when road and street courses were king and ovals were the occasional novelty. You tend to prefer what you grew up on. I still prefer ovals, but that doesn’t make it right. My time has come and gone. The forty year-old is who sponsors are targeting. Right is what sells in today’s climate, not what we think should sell. It pains me to say it, but in today’s climate – the ovals are dying.

Some predict that in another five or ten years, the only oval on the IndyCar schedule will be the Indianapolis 500. When I first heard that suggestion, I scoffed at it. I thought it was an absurd overreaction. Nowadays, I’m not so sure. I’d like to think that ovals will make up some part of the schedule, but with NASCAR controlling more of the available tracks, I’m not so sure.

I don’t think Roger Penske hates ovals. But he knows that fewer and fewer oval tracks are available for IndyCar to compete on. He is going to tracks that want IndyCar; like Barber, Road America, Long Beach, St. Petersburg and the new street race in Nashville coming next season. I just hope he will continue to pursue the few ovals remaining that are not controlled by NASCAR. That’s the only way they might ever come back.

George Phillips

The Short and Chaotic Reign of Joe Heitzler

Posted in IndyCar on October 19, 2020 by Oilpressure

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There was a loss in the IndyCar world late last week that probably went unnoticed by many. Some may have seen the name and it didn’t ring a bell. Others may have callously smirked and silently thought “Good riddance!” to themselves.

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The Grass is Not Always Greener

Posted in IndyCar on October 16, 2020 by Oilpressure

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Although it has yet to be officially announced, it looks pretty certain that Felix Rosenqvist will be leaving Chip Ganassi Racing to replace the recently fired Oliver Askew at Arrow McLaren SP for 2021. This leaves Ganassi in somewhat of a pickle. Word has it that he had every intention of extending the second-year IndyCar driver for 2021 and beyond.

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A Disturbing Pattern That Has Been Emerging

Posted in IndyCar on October 14, 2020 by Oilpressure

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If you are a fan of the show Curb Your Enthusiasm, you may have seen the episode of Larry David and Richard Lewis encountering a blind man on the street, who needed some help moving some furniture into his apartment. Giving the fact that he was blind, of course they agreed to help. When they got in there, they found him to be extremely rude, nasty and demanding; as he guilt-tripped them into helping him. As it turned out, he was simply a rotten person who treated people poorly. The point of the episode was that just because someone has a disability, does not automatically make them a saint.

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The Good and the Bad of the 2021 Schedule

Posted in IndyCar on October 7, 2020 by Oilpressure

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The NTT IndyCar Series did a smart thing last week, when it released to 2021 schedule just hours before the first practice for the Harvest Grand Prix. They knew it wouldn’t be completely overlooked, but that fans had a race to pay attention to and they would mentally place the schedule on the back burner.

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Random Thoughts on The Harvest Grand Prix

Posted in IndyCar on October 5, 2020 by Oilpressure

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For years, I have been as skeptical as anyone about the IMS road course. Although we’ve been seeing cars run “backwards” down the front straightaway at IMS for twenty years now, it still seems like a crime against nature when I see cars going “the wrong way”. But that hasn’t been my complaint about the course. I just thought it wasn’t very racy. It didn’t seem that way in Formula One, nor did it with Indy cars – until this past weekend.

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Harvest Grand Prix Preview

Posted in IndyCar on October 2, 2020 by Oilpressure

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I’ve been following the sport of IndyCar racing for a long time. The last time I can remember a race taking place on a Friday was the 1969 Indianapolis 500, win by Mario Andretti. More than fifty-one years later, we are looking at our next Friday IndyCar race later today, when the green flag flies for the first of two races at the Harvest Grand Prix – also at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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