Archive for IndyCar

May
27

Indy 500 Ratings Down Again

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According to USA Today, the 93rd Indianapolis 500 scored a 3.9 Nielsen rating, comparable to the postponed and rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600 that was run on Monday in Charlotte.

The 3.9 rating represents the lowest television rating of a live flag-to-flag Indy 500 broadcast.

It's hard to spin the obvious: there are fewer people enthused about this race and "re-unification" of two weak series into one has not strengthened Indy car racing.  I'm sure the consistently absymal performance of ABC and the lack of serious television coverage in May contributed to the poor showing.

I know I keep hammering on the same point, but we really have to face it... I'm a racing fan and even I didn't know half the drivers in that field Sunday.  It amazes me that there are people out there who still refuse to recognize this as a serious problem.  The AJ Foyts, Rick Mears, Mario Andrettis, Al Unsers and Johnny Rutherfords are long gone... and the current crop of drivers replacing them don't have the image and widespread visibility to fill their shoes.

I know... I'm talking crazy again.

Let's File This Under "Oops"

Speaking of crazy... Robin Miller must be feeling a bit red-faced today after "breaking" a story on SPEEDTV.com that Tony George had been ousted as CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway by the Board of Directors.  The Board, of course, is comprised of his own mother, sisters, and a few others.  The story had it that the Board was fed up with George's "spending" and they voted Tuesday night to release him as CEO.

George held an impromptu press conference of sorts for local Indy media to refute the story, indicating that he remains CEO of the Speedway and that no such discussions have occured that he is aware of.  Later, Mari Hulman-George, Tony's mother, released a statement that essentially declared the story to be false.

George has brought a lot of changes to the Speedway since becoming CEO -- including the addition of new races like the Brickyard 400 NASCAR race in 1994 and the US Grand Prix Formula One event.  Also in 1994 George announced that the Speedway would create the Indy Racing League under USAC sanction to rival the established CART series.  That undertaking and subsequent struggles of the IRL have likely dipped deeply into the Speedway coffers.

George has also been criticized for spending too much money on updates to the facility, e.g. in preparation for the Formula One event.  But George addressed that criticism in the press conference, saying that overall the Formula One venture broke even: the first four races drew a large enough profit to recuperate the costs and the losses generated with the final four races.  The Speedway abandonded the Grand Prix after the 2007 season.

Under George's leadership the Speedway invested heavily in safety improvements -- including higher fences, new pit exit / entrance lanes and a new pit divider.  The Speedway was the primary financial driver of the now ubiquitous SAFER barrier.

So... it looks like Tony George isn't going anywhere.

That Robin Miller... always trying to stir up controversy.

Parity...? What Parity?

After that, it's hard to believe anything Robin Miller has to say... but he gave some eyebrow-raising statistics on SPEED the night after the 500.  He said that Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing have combined to win 49 of the previous 51 oval races, including 9 of the prior 10 Indy 500s.  Now the teams have had a variety of drivers over the years, but it's scary to think that those two paint schemes have been first to take the checkers on such a consistent basis.  When racing becomes predictable... well... it becomes boring.

Humpy Time

Scuttlebutt out of Indianapolis is that H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler -- famed NASCAR promoter for Charlotte Motor Speedway ("retired", of course) -- would make a fantastic addition to the Indy Racing League.  Apparently the Gene Simmons "I am Indy" advertising campaign didn't pan out.

It would be quite an ironic twist to see Wheeler -- who spent his life trying to get the Coca-Cola 600 to outshine the Indy 500 -- working for the IRL.  I think it might be a good idea... at this point the IRL has to try everything.  I just hope Wheeler's idea of promotion doesn't include school buses jumping 30 wrecked cars with pyrotechnic explosions down Indy's front straightaway.

I think the IRL needs to make some moves of a little more... substance?  This dog is on life support and I don't know if even Wheeler could save it.

Thoughts, anyone?

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May
24

Castroneves Wins 93rd Indy 500

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Just a month after being acquitted by a jury on six counts of tax evasion, Helio Castroneves became only the ninth driver in history to win a third Indianapolis 500. The victory represented car owner Roger Penske's 15th Indy 500 win.

Castroneves, who started from the pole, led the first 7 laps and then reclaimed the lead for the final time from Scott Dixon on lap 142. He held off second-place finisher Dan Wheldon and third-place Danica Patrick on a lap 183 restart. Townsend Bell and Will Power rounded out the top five.

Driver Vitor Meira was injured in a lap 174 crash with Raphael Matos in turn 1. Meira and Matos made contact entering the turn and Meira hit the wall head-on and his car flipped on its side. He was extricated from the car and taken to the infield care center. Earlier in the race, Meira suffered a significant pit fire during refueling.

Only three drivers -- A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, and Rick Mears -- have won the Indy 500 four times. Castroneves, 34, will likely have the opportunity to add his name to that list in the coming years and perhaps even become the first five-time winner of the race.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is celebrating its Centennial Anniversary in 2009, opening for its first race in 1909.

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Team Penske on Top

Ryan Briscoe turned the fastest lap early during practice Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His fastest lap speed was 225.981 mph. Second-quick was Penske teammate Helio Castroneves at 225.438 mph. Balancing out the top five were Dario Franchitti (224.984 mph), Scott Dixon (224.822 mph) and Danica Patrick (224.755 mph).

Practice was run under threatening skies all day but was only interrupted occasionally for light drizzle.

There were two on-track incidents during the day. Early on rookie Robert Doornbos hit the turn 2 wall and coasted to a stop on the back straightaway. Later in the afternoon, Scott Sharp lost control of his car exiting turn 1, spun and made hard contact with the turn 2 outside wall. Sharp climbed from his car apparently uninjured but the car sustained heavy damage.

Pole Day Qualifying is Saturday, May 9.

Gordon Shows the Way

Jeff Gordon posted the fastest time (177.633 mph) in the final seconds of practice for Saturday night's Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Moments before, Jeff Burton turned a lap at 177.608 mph. Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, and Mark Martin rounded out the top five.

Rain, Rain Go Away

Nationwide Series qualifying for Friday night's Diamond Hill Plywood 200 at Darlington was rained out, giving the front row to points leaders Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman. The thunderstorm delayed Sprint Cup qualifying by more than a half-hour, but rain is not expected to interfere with the remaining weekend's events.

A Sign of the Times?

At Indianapolis, 32 drivers took to the Speedway for IndyCar practice. Meanwhile in Darlington, 45 Sprint Cup drivers practiced in an attempt to qualify for the Southern 500. Will there even be a need for Bump Day at Indy?

Also, Sprint Cup practice was televised live on SPEED while Indy boasted no television coverage of practice. An outsider might wonder which event is more prominent. I wonder if the Southern 500 will pull in a higher TV rating than Indy?

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May
07

Marco Andretti Tops Indy Practice

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Marco Andretti posted the fastest lap in first day practice for the Indianapolis 500 on Thursday. He covered the 2.5-mile oval in 39.9152 seconds, giving a lap average of 225.478 mph.

Second-quick was Helio Castroneves (225.237 mph), followed by Ryan Briscoe (224.904 mph), defending race winner Scott Dixon (224.448 mph), and Dario Franchitti (224.160 mph).

Thirty-two drivers turned in a combined 2,199 practice laps.

The Speedway is open for practice again Friday before Saturday's Pole Day Qualifying. Scott Dixon won the pole in 2008.

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It's May and that means the gates at Indianapolis are open for business.

Rookie Orientation commenced on Tuesday and four drivers passed their tests: Mike Conway, Robert Doornbos, Raphael Matos, and Alex Tagliani. Of the four, Doornbos turned the fastest lap at 221.735 mph. Rookies Stanton Barrett and Nelson Philippe will complete their programs on Thursday. Wednesday activities were washed out only 50 minutes after the track went green.

Also on Tuesday was the Veteran Refresher program for drivers returning to Indy after an extended layoff. Of the drivers participating -- Alex Lloyd, Scott Sharp and Paul Tracy -- Tracy posted the fastest lap at 223.069 mph.

Tracy has not participated in the Indy 500 since a controversial finish in 2002. In that race, Tracy was executing a pass on leader Helio Castroneves entering turn three when the caution flag was displayed for a crash in turn two. The race ended under caution. Officials declared that Tracy had not completed the pass before race control had called for the yellow flag, giving Castroneves the win. Tracy's team later appealed the decision and lost, and Tracy decided not to return to Indianapolis.

Prior to 2002, he had four Indy 500 starts -- 1992 through 1995 -- failing to finish in each of them.

The Speedway officially opens practice to all drivers and cars on Thursday in preparation for the Memorial Day weekend race. The 2009 race is the 93rd running of the Indianapolis 500, the 14th under Indy Racing League sanction and the Speedway itself is celebrating its 100th Anniversary.

Pole Day qualifying is set for this Saturday, May 9. Based on Tuesday's times I suspect the pole will be somewhere in the upper 220s.

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I feel bad now for poking fun at NASCAR's television ratings slide.

I just read over at Christopher Estrada's Indy Racing Revolution blog that the Versus network scored an amazing 0.15 rating for the Kansas 300 Indy Car race.  The rating represents 171,000 households.

171,000?  Holy crap there were probably more fans in attendance at Talladega than were watching that Indy Car race on TV.  And the turnout for the Kansas race was abysmal at best (but let's blame that on weather).

Seriously though... why do they even bother racing this series anymore?  It's plainly evident that there is no interest from the "higher ups" in making this anything more than a weekend hobby for rich jet-setters.

Speaking of insanity... here's another good article:  IRL Thinking Big in China.

The Indy Racing League is taking a serious look at holding a race in China as early as 2011. Series officials said there are several good reasons why the league may want to head to the nation of 1.33 billion people.

“We’re looking at one existing and one new facility,” [IRL president of commercial division Terry] Angstadt told IBJ (Indianapolis Business Journal). “Chinese officials said they want a venue that will hold 500,000 people.”

lol... I don't even know what to say.  They want to race at a venue that holds a half-million people and they can't even get over 170,000 people to watch a race for free on TV?  I don't get it.

I'm in a mood to give useless advice tonight so here's a tidbit to offer:  I don't think that flying teams to the other side of the world to run a race in front of 495,000 empty seats while being 12 time zones away from your core audience is going to do much to build fan interest here in America.  I know that probably sounds astonishingly impossible, but I'd wager it's true.

Wait -- this explains it:

“A lot of our corporate partners and team sponsors have a serious interest in being in China,” Angstadt said. “Lots of IRL companies have business relations in China. For instance, Penske has operations in China and Menard’s buys in China. A race there would allow them to enhance those relationships and possibly forge new ones.”

Forget about Penske and Menard's -- what are you doing to attract fans to the sport?

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Apr
04

Rahal on St. Petersburg Pole

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Graham Rahal won the pole Saturday for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (FL), the 2009 season opener for the IndyCar Series.  Rahal, also the defending champion of the race, became the youngest driver to win an IndyCar pole.  Rahal's time of 1:02.4110 (103.828 mph) was the quickest in the third qualifying segment on the 14-turn temporary street circuit.

Justin Wilson will start on the outside of the front row.  The rest of the top five qualifiers included Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe, and Dario Franchitti.  Franchitti is returning to the IndyCar Series this season after his foray into NASCAR last year.

Sunday's race begins at 2pm ET and will be broadcast on Versus.

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