Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Contest Winners & Wednesday INDYCAR Notes

-First off, congratulations to our Milwaukee IndyFest ticket giveaway winner! Paul Stackpole wins two grandstand tickets to the Milwaukeee IndyFest 225. Readers Jason Winston and Katie Digby also won, and will be sent IndyCar prize packs, full of whatever goodies I could put my hands on.

Thanks to everyone for reading, and I hope to have another contest for May!

-Jean Alesi to Newman-Haas for the Indianapolis 500? It sounds far-fetched, perhaps, but that's exactly what one French outlet is reporting today. We'll see if this bears fruit, but it does, that would be the sixth Lotus expected for Indy...

-If you’re attempting to glean any and all info on today’s test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (I should be out there for a bit this afternoon), here’s something to remember: these cars will be running in race configuration. So if the top speed is nowhere near last year’s Indy 500 qualification speeds, don’t freak out. Qualification speeds should be well north of what we see run today. Of course, that won’t stop the mass hysteria when it happens, but that doesn’t mean you need to be a part of it. As famed IndyCar fan Thomas Hobbes wrote, "knowledge is power".

-While we’re discussing IMS and the Indy 500, there’s been a lot of talk about whether or not we’ll have 33 cars at Indy. It seems like every year this comes up, and every year people needlessly worry about it. Hey, we made 33 cars several years ago when the car count was way short of where it is now. We’re close to 33 already, with additional entries such as Bryan Clauson, Sebastian Saavedra, and Luca de Filippi jumping in for Indy. Randy Bernard says we’ll see at least 34, and that seems reasonable, though I wouldn’t put it past anyone to make a last-second deal to add to it (my prediction was 35). Basically, in terms of things to worry about, this is somewhere below fans booing Sarah Fisher or John Andretti at Indy--in other words, I wouldn’t sweat it.

-OK...let's tackle this whole INDYCAR ratings thing. By now, I'm sure you have read approximately 14,000 doom and gloom postings about how horrible yesterday's announced rating for the Barber race on NBC Sports Network is for the Series (never mind the fact that those are initial numbers; last year's ratings were lower and ended up higher). But we're talking about a rebranded network. When NBC Sports Network changed their name from Versus, they also shook up and changed out 40% of their programming lineup. Between the name change, rebranding efforts, and attempting to re-establish the audience, their ratings for all shows are down 22% across the board. It's going to take time--it's not an overnight thing.

This is not something we can control, so why should we worry about it? NBC Sports will continue to establish their new position, and with programming like the Olympics coming up, their audience will return. In the mean time, INDYCAR has shown it can offer great racing, and NBCSN's broadcast coverage is excellent. (Word-of-mouth alone should mean an increase for Long Beach). This is not something where Randy Bernard and company can decide to just "push harder". But that's not what we want in an era where stories are presented, dissected, and pronounced final within a micro-cycle of news. The only "magic bullets" here are patience and commitment, two things the world seems in short supply of at times.

My advice (not that you asked for it)? Enjoy what you have, take a friend to a race, thank the sponsors, and remember that you only get to so many racing seasons on this Earth. If you really want to help INDYCAR, just be a fan that shares what they enjoy with others. Anyhow, that's probably more than enough on that topic. Moving on...

-If you haven’t been watching Firestone Indy Lights, it’s a bit interesting to see how the points have broken down over the first two races. Many expected Lights veterans such Esteban Guerrieri, Gustavo Yacaman, and Sebastian Saavedra to be fighting for the championship. While Saavedra has won a race and is ensconced in second place, the favorite of many, Esteban Guerrieri, is P3 in the standings right now. Yacaman is P4, but they’re all trailing last year’s Star Mazda champ Tristan Vautier, who has been extremely sharp early on. There’s a long season to go, and the fight will probably come down to consistency, and which driver can effectively limit the sort of mistakes we usually see from Lights drivers. If Vautier keeps this up (and granted, that’s still a big if this early in the season), it will have to be considered an upset.

Hawksworth has ruled the first two Star Mazda weekends.
(Copyright Eric Schwarzkopf. Used with permission.

-If we’re going to discuss Lights, we also have to discuss the Star Mazda Championship. What was anticipated to be a close battle is indeed just that, with positions 2 through 5 in the standings separated by all of 12 points. Right now, however, it’s young British racer (and Star Mazda rookie) Jack Hawksworth that’s the class of the field. Through four races, he’s won twice, been runner-up twice, and has captured the bonus point for fastest lap in all 4 races. He leads his closest competitor right now, American Connor De Phillippi, by 29 points. Now, that’s easily made up in a race or two, and we’re coming to the oval section of the schedule, where CDP should have a nice advantage. However it plays out, it seems certain Indy Lights will have welcome a very good scholarship rookie next season.

-I was asked the other day whom I thought was the most surprising driver of the year so far. On the negative side, I’ve been surprised Dario hasn’t been in contention at all—that’s probably the biggest surprise overall for a lot of us. Tony Kanaan last in points so far is also a surprise, but there’s nothing to be done regarding to mechanical issues. On the positive side of things, we knew Josef Newgarden was a very poised young driver, but he’s looked very smooth out on the track, and the Sarah Fisher Hartman crew is showing they’re at least game on the road and street courses. That’s not something you could say even just a year ago. Now if Walgreens or another sponsor would like to step up, I’ve got a rabid host of INDYCAR fans ready to thank their business with their words and wallet.

-If you missed Robin Miller’s interesting Q&A on the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule, it’s definitely worth a read. You get the sense that INDYCAR and Randy Bernard are working to go where events work, not just where they’d like to go. That unfortunately means ovals won’t likely be on par with the twisties anytime soon, but the important thing has to be getting events where there’s an opportunity for stability and profit. Honestly, I’m ok with slow, measured progression. Let’s make sure events like Milwaukee and Iowa succeed or continue to succeed, then figure out if ovals such as Phoenix, Pocono, or Kentucky can be made viable. And yes, INDYCAR, hear my plea: figure out a way to bring back Road America. There’s got to be something that can work with the scheduling. These cars deserve to run on the best road course in America. Look what they did at Barber; just think what they could do at Elkhart Lake!


  1. I'm sorry, but I missed any of fhe tweets or blogs or posts about the acfual tv ratings, your blog is the first mention I've seen anywhere so I was hoping to see that mumber in your article.
    Other than that, great read.

    1. Oh, sorry about that, tom. It was a .25 initial, apparently. Last year's overnight was a .22, which settled on a .3 or .34 final, depending on who you ask. :)

      No one seems quite sure what to expect for a final ratings # on Thurs. or Fri.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. ...remember that you only get to so many racing seasons on this Earth.

    Great post overall Zack but this one line sums it up perfectly. Why not just enjoy what we have (which is pretty darn good) instead of pining for what we don't?

    1. I think that sums up life pretty perfectly, too, Mike--not to get all philosophical on you or anything. :)

  3. ThesmartestguyintheroomApril 5, 2012 at 2:22 PM

    Careful, Zachary. You keep writing like this and the INDYCAR bloggers associaton will disbar you. You're supposed to whine and complain and bitch and moan about everything INDYCAR does the way everyone else does.

    Thank you for writing something fianlly pragmatic and realistic. Sadly, not everyone is as realistic and thoughtful as you are.

    1. Zachary HoughtonApril 6, 2012 at 7:51 AM

      Thanks for your kind words!