IndyCar’s drivers eager to get back to work

It has been six long months since the last IndyCar race, when

the focus was still on the drivers and the on-track product. The

days since have been filled with politics, drama and debate over

how to fix the troubled open-wheel series.

With the March 24 opener finally in sight, the drivers are eager

to get back to work. But they head into the season much like

IndyCar’s fans – in an odd wait-and-see mode about where the series

is headed.

A recently commissioned report by the Hulman & Co. made a

variety of recommendations for the series, including adding a

three-race playoff and a season-ending race on the road course at

Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Most the drivers at Monday’s media day

said they have no idea what suggestions from the Boston Consulting

Group the series is seriously considering.

That includes veteran Scott Dixon, one of the very few who has

so far met Mark Miles, who became CEO of Hulman & Co. in

November. Dixon and Miles had dinner and attended an Indiana

basketball game last week.

”I think the guy is very switched on,” Dixon said. ”I think

he likes the fact it’s a challenge, and I think at the moment he is

open to the fact he doesn’t know a whole lot about racing. Right

now it seems he’s just asking questions and seeing what comes


Dixon appeared to be in the minority of those who have so far

had any interaction with Miles or had any discussions about the

direction of the series.

Four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti, considered one of

the series leaders among the drivers, simply shook his head when

asked if he’s had any conversations with Miles. Three-time

Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves asked ”Who is that?”

during a discussion about current IndyCar leadership.

In fact, there was not a single representative of IndyCar’s

management team or the competition department present during the

eight-hour media day.

It left the drivers as the spokespeople for the series, a role

they are eager to fill. All of them have ideas on how to strengthen

the series, and most of them center on increased marketing and a

stronger television package.

”There’s a lot of things in IndyCar that aren’t broken, there’s

a lot less to fix than people think,” James Hinchcliffe said.

”It’s just that some of the big things need to be fixed, and

different parties have been giving their opinion. Some points were

valid, but some were pretty wide of the mark. In reality, the No. 1

goal has to be increased television viewership. If we can solve

that, then we can work to expand.”

The key to increased viewership is getting people to watch the

races. The BCG report found IndyCar to be ”the best pure racing

motorsports league in the U.S. … but the series suffers from lack

of awareness.” The report then suggested myriad ways to lure new


AJ Allmendinger raced in the now defunct Champ Car Series, moved

to NASCAR in 2007 and will now return to IndyCar in the

Indianapolis 500 and at Barber Motorsports for Penske Racing this

season. Having benefited in both fame and fortune from NASCAR’s

marketing machine, he doesn’t think IndyCar needs gimmicks for

growth and stability.

”I think IndyCar has just got to be marketed better,” he said.

”I don’t know if fans see it, honestly that’s part of the problem.

Over the last several years, that’s what NASCAR has done. They’ve

marketed their drivers and they’ve told their stories, good or bad.

In life now, that’s what people are drawn to. If it can be marketed

better, the series can be strong.

”There’s room for more than one racing series. And there needs

to be a strong open-wheel series. If the series is able to market

itself better, people are going to watch.”

Tony Kanaan doesn’t disagree that marketing and television are

the problem, but believes the efforts need to be combined and

IndyCar should have a healthier presence on television. He points

to all the NASCAR content on TV today and argues IndyCar has almost

no programming outside of a race weekend on the air.

Kanaan said the recent addition of Hinchcliffe to two Speed

channel programs is a start for IndyCar, but the series has a long

way to go.

”TV is everything, that’s what the sponsors want,” Kanaan

said. ”We have the competition. We have the personalities. We need

to get it on TV. NASCAR is on TV every single day. We need to put

television shows on that show the personalities that tell our


But Justin Wilson, who with Franchitti and Kanaan was part of a

driver advisory board last season, wants more focus on the


”We need to be the pinnacle of open-wheel racing in the U.S.,

the cars have got to be spectacular,” Wilson said. ”We need more

power. When we race, it needs to be special. It’s got to take your

breath away. I remember that when I was younger, going to the track

and watching Formula One cars and Indy cars. Now, you look, and

these cars, they don’t take your breath away.”

Oriol Servia suggests rebuilding everything starting with the a

renewed focus on the Indianapolis 500 by offering a $15 million

prize to the winner. He got the idea from Townsend Bell, and

admitted he first though Bell’s idea was extreme but after thought

thinks it could have some legs.

”Just think about it, one race, it pays $15 million to win, who

cares about the rest of the season?” Servia said. ”You’d get all

kinds of drivers entering the race. Maybe NASCAR drivers, ALMS

drivers, Grand-AM drivers, all kinds of people would show up. Then

you’ve rebuilt the 500 and interest slowly starts to grow again in

the rest of the season. It’s a little out there, but maybe it could


It’s not even clear who will ultimately make the decisions about

IndyCar’s future.

Although Miles now runs Hulman & Co., IndyCar doesn’t

officially have a CEO since Randy Bernard’s firing in October. Jeff

Belskus has been acting as interim CEO of the series while also

running Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but the series is two weeks

away from the season opener without a permanent fix.

Dixon thinks Miles could run the series so long as he surrounds

himself with a solid staff. Among the names that continues to

circulate as candidate for IndyCar CEO is Zak Brown, founder and

CEO of motorsports marketing agency Just Marketing


”When Randy was fired, the two guys I thought would be best for

IndyCar were Mark Miles and Zak Brown,” Graham Rahal said. ”We’ve

seen what Mark can do firsthand in Indianapolis with the Super

Bowl, and everyone knows what Zak can do in motorsports. Both of

them together in IndyCar could do a lot of good for the


Both Franchitti and Kanaan raced against Brown in their early

years and endorsed him Monday for a role with the series.

”Zak is really smart, and I’ve got a lot of respect for what

he’s done,” Franchitti said. ”When you’ve got a guy with that

experience and that Rolodex, he knows how to make things

successful, it would just be really great to have him involved in


Said Kanaan: ”He’s very aggressive and he has a vision. The

problem is, and it has been in this series all along, is if he has

a vision, are they going to let him do what he needs to do?

Otherwise he’s just a spokesperson for the place and Zak doesn’t

want that job.”