DUDE, good to see you again. Sit, sit. Let's give these issues the kind of LIFE AND DEATH attention they require -- while making fart noises with our mouth. Insert "In case you missed it" self retweets on Twitter here.
First of all, OK, TurboGate -- Number 1, come up with a better name, John Barnes. TURBOGATE. All caps and anything-Gate ... buzzer. Overused. IndyCar may have fined him just for that.
Background -- John Barnes, owner of Panther, on the morning of the hearing into whether or not Honda should be allowed to change its turbo charger, tweets: “@Jbindy4: Today is the day to resolve TURBOGATE! I hope @indcar gets their act together. It has been embarrassing.”
Pursuant to Rule 126.96.36.199 of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series rulebook: Using improper, profane or disparaging language or gestures in reference to Officials, Members or actions or situations connected in any way with INDYCAR, the IZOD IndyCar Series or any Event ..
IndyCar POPPED Barnes for $25,000. Any time a league uses the word "pursuant" it's a check-writing situation. More details including statements from IndyCar and Barnes here.
I been thinking about it, and I go back and forth. On the one hand, at least the hostility was open. And a a fan of more emotion in the sport, I gotta love Barnes popping off. But, pursuant to my mental evaluation, I think IndyCar acted like any other big-league sports organization would. From the league's perspective, this is probably ALMOST the same as Barnes yelling "F*CK YOU!" at Randy and IndyCar. Well, kind of at least. I can't imagine a team owner calling a NASCAR decision "embarrassing" and not getting fined for it. And in the NBA, if coaches even say "the refereeing was iffy" they get whacked for $10K. If Barnes says "I disagree with the decision because of A, B, and C (points of evidence)" he's probably OK.
The negative/shocked reaction among the Twitter fans to the fine is interesting to me. It may point to an underlying belief that IndyCar is a big kumbya club where everyone has extreme affection for each other, and not a major-league sports organization, because virtually every major league sports organization I can think of would fine an owner under these circumstances. There was also some feeling among my Twitter peeps that if this was some sort of culmination of previous run-ins between Barnes and IndyCar (sort of a "last straw" situation which is a HUGE if that may or may not be true) that we would have heard about it before now.
I'm sorry ... hahahahahahahahahaha. OK, I don't mean to laugh but ... hahahahah ... snort ... hahahahahaha. Chortle. There is so much behind-the-scenes stuff going on in sports leagues among owners and league officials that we have NO clue about, because it's all screamed over the bathroom toilet stall, etc., and IndyCar is certainly no exception.
I mean, think about it: You got a dozen(ish) team owners, all who have big personalities or they wouldn't be team owners, at least several of whom care mainly for themselves (screw the fans!), who have a long history of butting heads with The Man, be it Tony George or Randy Bernard. (Danica Patrick voice) This is so not miniature golf.
And I think IndyCar is especially a Festival of Palace Intrigue. Factions who have a better idea, working for or against the league boss, swirling, positioning. So who knows? Sadly this all probably lessens the chances that we'll have a Doug Boles-like "WE GOT SCREWED" moment in the future. More's the pity.
Shanks for the Memories -- So Mike Shank wants to run in the Indy 500. He's supposedly got the team, the "funded" driver (Jay Howard) the cars, but no engine. Robin Miller covered the details here.
Well, that blows. And I'll not be hypocritical here, because when Josef Newgarden and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing had no engine, I certainly went into a grand mal froth over that. View froth here. I guess (because no story I've seen has directly quoted Honda or Chevy) that Honda and Chevy have taken the position that they're already in for more engines than they committed to when the rules were written.
Even Robin Miller in his article one moment says "But right now Mike Shank is being stonewalled from even getting into Gasoline Alley. It’s a new track record for absurdity," and the next moment says "Now before the finger pointing begins let’s make one thing crystal clear: General Motors and Honda have already gone above and beyond what was expected of them this season in terms of supplying engines."
That's the kind of bipolar thing we got going on here. So we can blame Honda and Chevy, but we shouldn't blame Honda and Chevy. Shank has said, essentially, that he'd rather NOT run the 500 than run it with a Lotus engine, mainly because "Lotus" is Latin for "boat anchor."I don't blame Shank, actually, because he's not just about QUALIFYING for the race, he's about having a shot to win it, and that will not be the case with a Lotus engine in its current state
This morning many expect Shank to cut the cord on his effort during a press conference-like event. Either he'll cut the cord or say "OK, we got an engine." The racing world will be shocked if he says the latter. Curt Cavin updates us in the Indy Star here.
On top of all this is the intrigue about Chevrolet and the aforementioned TURBOGATE: IS Chevy not going out of their way to get an engine for Shank as pay-back for not prevailing in the IndyCar turbo ruling? Robin wonders that out loud in his article. No evidence either way that I know of. Still more intrigue: Without Shank there will only be 32 cars that are known of to try to qualify. The field has been 33 or more since something like 1947. Of course Katherine Legge and Simona De Silvestro, chained to said Lotus boat anchors, are cheering for a short field, because then they are in for sure.
End of the day, Chevy and Honda have the right to not provide an engine. IndyCar is in such a weak position -- totally dependent on engine makers' good will for the existence of the league, pretty much -- that they can't really flex up and do much. It's a huge shit sandwich and we're all going to have to take a bite.
Ratings -- Ratings for Sao Paulo weren't that hot, honestly. 0.23 if you use traditional household numbers. It's hard to compare that to last year because the 2011 race was rain delayed, which kills your audience. The 2012 number is DOWN 34% from the rating for the previous race, Long Beach. Viewership (number of viewers, which is different than ratings) so far on NBC Sports is up 6% compared to last year.
I had a Twitter homey from Brazil tweet me that ratings on Brazilian TV were something like 6.4. Holy shit. That's about 2x the rating for the Indy 500. I wonder if ratings in Brazil are that good for EVERY IndyCar race why Brazilian companies don't jump in and sponsor IndyCars for the season.
In response to my ratings post here, a commentor "Roggespierre" nailed it in response to ideas that IndyCar should focus on twisties to differentiate itself from other racing ..
Unfortunately, I believe that market differentiation is not going to be enough to save IndyCar. The U.S. market for international road racing is just too small. That's why CART and, later, ChampCar needed Indy (I'm not saying it didn't work the other way around, too, in retrospect).
The point is that differentiation isn't good enough if there is no discernible market for your product.
Yes, NASCAR owns the oval market. It's too bad that Indy car gave that up and paved the way for NASCAR's growth in the 1980s and 1990s, but that's what the team owners wanted then, and that's what they still want now.
McDonald's rules the quick serve hamburger market, but there is still plenty of room for Wendy's, Burger King, and myriad other competitors in that particular market space. You can differentiate yourself if you're Subway because you have a quick serve food product that people want.
But you're not going to have much success competing with McDonald's if you serve, say, pickled herring. Yes, you are differentiated. Unfortunately, you also make most people sick.
IndyCar should be so lucky. It would do well to make people sick because, at the very least, a few people might care.
I tend to agree with a lot of that, with the caveat that it's not over yet and that IndyCar still has some hope to grow new fans. But it will take a focused and sustained effort, something IndyCar has not been good at for a decade. This Turbo movie that's in the works is hugely awesome, because it aims at new fans -- kids. The way a lot of us became fans of racing is through exposure to it as kids.
Let me again harp on getting down into the minor leagues (Mazda Road to Indy) and building fan bases down there that follow drivers up to IndyCar.
Power Festival of Beatdown ... but a Silver Lining -- Yeah, Will Power is a street animal. And having the same guy win virtually every race is not that exciting. BUT I'm not despondent here (miracle!). I take a lot of solace in having P2 and P3 be some new faces. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato in Brazil, for example. At least the Death Star teams (Penske and Ganassi) aren't consistently and easily sweeping the top three-to-five as they have in the past. Given the long winter of sameness (last five years), I'm highly encouraged by new people on the second and third steps of the podium.
No Cameron is Not Good -- Woman of pressdog® and IZOD Trophy Girl Cameron Haven has been M.I.A. at most races this year. Plus IZOD has not had a big presence at many of those races. This is not a good sign. Cameron is a paid professional, so it costs IZOD airfare, hotel and her fee to get her to venues. Too much investment, apparently, for them. I think you can measure enthusiasm of a sponsor by how active they are at race venues. IZOD is not enthusiastic by that measure. I will see for myself at Iowa, which I expect to be a Festival of Non IZOD Involvement. When your title sponsor is not enthusiastic, that's not good. Last year at Long Beach IZOD was everywhere with a Hollywood party, etc. this year .. pfft. Not even Cameron was there.
Cameron will be at the 500, though. Take a good look and get your autographs and photos with Cameron while you can, because ... I think the good news is IndyCar has a contract with IZOD for several more years. Good thing we went multi-year on that one.
Big Pressure on the 500 -- Every race is critical any more, but I think there is bigger pressure on the 500 this year. Why: 1) New car -- will it perform on an oval? Marco Andretti and others said it was not a lot of fun in traffic after the oval test at Indy last month. Will The NEW CAR attract fans? 2) No Danica -- of all races where Danica had an impact, especially on TV, I gotta think the Indy 500 was the biggest. It also was arguably her most consistently good oval performance. I watched her drive the shit out of it just to make the race last year, one of my favorite Indy memories. 3) Competitive race? Last few have been snoozers in my view, with single-file through the corners and maybe some overtaking on the straights, but pit and fuel strategy have played a huge role.
Last year we had a huge surprise at the end that greatly colored the entertainment factor of the race, but again Ganassi inexplicably missing the fuel numbers played a huge roll in that. It will be interesting to see how The NEW CAR performs at Indy. Two-wide through (not just into) the corners -- last seen at speed in 2004 or so -- is probably too much to ask. We can hope for randomness like BLOWN engines, etc. End of the day, IndyCar really needs a good TV number.
May Day -- Finally, I gotta say that all the excitement and froth over May stirs a little bit of jealousy among us fans outside of driving range of Indianapolis. There has been a cadre of fans out here (outside Indy) that feel like IndyCar is too Indianapolis focused. That is just driven home times 25 in May when stops are pulled out and marching bands are deployed for the 500.
Meanwhile, races outside Indy get a three-piece jazz trio by comparison. Yeah, I get that you invest most where the returns are greatest, and that's Indy. But it's possible that Indianapolis is fiddling while IndyCar burns. But I may also be full of shit and envy since it's difficult for me to justify the expense of attending the Indy 500 in person and, to be brutally honest, it's not a great place to watch the actual race, unless you can sit in the zillion-dollar seats. The Indy schedule, with a mostly dead day at the track on Saturday, does not encourage people to travel in for the weekend.
That's OK. Not saying it's bad or wrong, but the Indy 500 is more of an event than a race, and it seems to me a lot of people go to the race as part of their personal tradition -- kind of like the hundreds of thousands of people here in greater Des Moines go to the Iowa State Fair every year (1 million gate entrants over the fair's 10-day run) -- and then disregard IndyCar the rest of the year. Just a perception out here in the Land of the Great Unwashed (located more than 60 minutes from Indianapolis).
But then again maybe we're just jealous.
That's all I got for this week. Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to comment liberally below.