The popping of champagne corks will signal the arrival of a new decade, and the farewell to one that brought a raft of fundamental shifts to racing. The types of cars that we watch, the sanctioning bodies that govern them, the drivers we cheer for, the systems that keep those drivers safe and even the way we tune in to watch a race have all undergone significant changes in the past 10 years.
Here, RACER’s team of writers reflects on some of the biggest changes or events to have touched the sport over the past decade. They’re not presented in any particular order, and they weren’t chosen so much for their ‘bombshell’ value as news stories as they were for the impact they had, and for the way they’ve helped to shape motor racing as it heads into the 2020s.
THE IMS/INDYCAR SALE
Throughout the dark days of The Split, when CART, IRL and Champ Car battled for fans, sponsors, credibility and relevance in the American sporting world, there was always an underlying – if not preposterous – wish for open-wheel racing: What if Roger Penske ran the show?
It seemed a pipe dream, because Mari Hulman George maintained that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was never going to be sold, and if it that ever changed, it certainly wouldn’t be offered to the man who led the charge against her son, Tony George. Still, if the smartest guy in room owned the room, wouldn’t everyone benefit?
We’ll soon find out, because The Captain pulled off the deal of his amazing career by purchasing IMS and IndyCar in November to give American open-wheel racing a stability, professionalism, road map and think tank like it has never possessed.
And the ironic link to this unbelievable stroke of fate was that Tony George brokered it – he told Mark Miles they needed to approach R.P, because he wanted his family’s prize possession to be in the best possible hands for the future.
So between Penske’s vision, skilled staff, attention to detail and ability to negotiate in board rooms all over the planet, it’s only a matter of time before IMS and IndyCar have a third engine manufacturer, more revenue streams and a plan to raise its profile to where it should have been decades ago.
– Robin Miller
GRAND-AM + ALMS = IMSA
Seven years before the sport was stunned by the news of Roger Penske’s purchase of IndyCar and IMS, the sale of the American Le Mans Series to its bitter rival, Grand-Am, sent shockwaves through the global endurance racing world. Like Penske’s acquisition, the bombshell merger news that broke over the Baltimore Grand Prix weekend in 2012 is something we never thought would happen.
It was, at the time, rightly presented as the best of both series coming together under one expansive roof as IMSA, a powerful name missing from the sport for two decades, was resuscitated to house ALMS and Grand-Am teams in the new-for-2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
What emerged with the NASCAR-owned property held immense promise as four classes of racing debuted at the Rolex 24 At Daytona. All the signature events from the ALMS and Grand-Am calendars were consolidated into a single schedule that packed Sebring, Long Beach, Road America, Road Atlanta, VIR, Lime Rock, Laguna Seca, Mosport, and more into the inaugural TUSCC campaign.
Former warring factions embraced the united concept, which was a rarity in North American sports car racing, and as it readies to embark on its seventh season, a stable calendar has become a fixture for the WeatherTech Championship. A custom prototype class of its own making DPi, has been a point of pride, and last year’s move to NBC Sports marked another improvement for the series founded by Jim France and John and Peggy Bishop.
As the series heads into its second decade, the subjects of cost containment, grid size, and converging prototype rules with the French ACO and FIA WEC organizations will dominate its planning sessions.
A year-to-year drop from 47 cars at the 2019 Rolex 24 At Daytona to 40 for the 2020 season opener cannot be dismissed as a fluke. The price of a full-season DPi budget is equal to a full-season IndyCar program; the cost of IMSA’s entry-level GT Daytona class would cover a half-season in IndyCar, which is worrying.
– Marshall Pruett