IndyCar Continues To Impress

Features, Racing I By Tom Martin I April 11, 2018

We're two races in to the 2018 IndyCar season and if you are not watching these races, we'd encourage you to check them out. IndyCar is at the point where the post-IRL era (11 years) is about as long as the IRL era was (12 years), so we think it is safe to start drawing some conclusions about IndyCar management, their ability to make progress and the show they're able to produce.

Here's what we notice most about IndyCar that makes us hopeful:

  1. IndyCar has developed a formula that allows teams to run at a budget level which works for enough sponsors and team owners to create a field of about 24 cars at every race (more for IMS of course). This is one of the trickiest balancing acts in racing.
  1. IndyCar has developed a formula that has team budgets large enough and a ladder system strong enough to attract some excellent drivers who can run the series over a long period of time. Dixon, Pagenaud, Kanaan, Power, Hunter-Reay, Andretti, Hinchcliffe and Rahal have been doing this for many years, which helps fans connect with the sport. At the same time, newcomers like Newgarden, Rossi and Wickens are arriving and finding some success, which keeps things fresh.
  1. IndyCar has developed a formula that yields close racing on track. This year, the series has moved away from the high aero package used previously, and we will see if this separates the cars more as it does in F1. But early indications are that what is lost in close running is made up for with passing and in intriguing instability in attempted passes.
  1. IndyCar has done a pretty good job of listening to fan complaints and addressing them. The most recent example is the 2018 spec chassis, which looks more traditional by dispensing with the 126 wing aero system of the past years. The fans aren't always right, but they aren't always wrong either, so listening is a good thing.
  1. IndyCar is now about 2/3 road courses and 1/3 ovals. That seems like a rather reasonable balance and does a nice job of entertaining road racing fans and oval lovers. To grow the sport, IndyCar will have to draw on both groups.

There are two areas IndyCar has yet to address. The first is technological innovation. Fans say they want different cars, that look different and are based on different technologies (different aero systems, different power units concepts, different tires etc). Unfortunately, this usually leads to a money war and uncompetitive racing. We think IndyCar is almost certainly smart enough not to go down this path.

The second is format innovations. IndyCar has moved slightly in this direction by having two races on some weekends. We think there is more room for experimentation here. Frankly, F1, WEC, NASCAR and IMSA seem pretty stuck in formats that were inherited from the pre-war (i.e. pre-WWII) period when fans had fewer and completely different entertainment alternatives. 2 hour or 6 hour or 24 hour races don't make sense as spectator growth platforms. MotoGP and Stadium Supertrucks and BTCC are pioneering formats that fit better with modern life. Among mainstream US race series, IndyCar could become the leader in formatting for a better show. We hope the IRL – ChampCar debacle taught them that attending to fan needs is important enough to take some risks. We also hope it taught them that not all experiments work, which doesn't mean that they should avoid experiments, but does mean that they should correct them as soon as the mistake is clear (this doesn't take 12 years, btw).

Oh, and if you are watching, join the WRR Fantasy IndyCar League:


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