Q: The 2021 schedule looks more like a 2007 Champ Car schedule. Has Roger given up on the series? All attention to the Speedway? Or, is he seeing how the COVID stuff plays out?
RM: Giving up? Yeah, he spent his own money to make sure the season finally opened in Texas, rented Iowa for a doubleheader, helped promote twin bills at Road America and Mid-Ohio and staged two more races last weekend at IMS. I swear, I do not understand what you people expect.
Q: I’m concerned about the future. Next year will have a 13, at most, track schedule full of gaps. Today (Friday Harvest GP)’s race is in the middle of a workday on a channel I never heard of and didn’t know I had, having been pre-empted by figure skating. The main engine manufacturer’s parent company (who’s yes, a separate entity until it comes time not to give Nando a ride) just up and quit F1. A seven-time champ who’s garnered 100s of millions in sponsorship might not find enough money for a half-season run. Tell me there’ll be racing next year and the next few after that.
RM: I think as long as Roger Penske is alive and kicking there will be an IndyCar series and an Indy 500, and I think Honda and Chevy gave the series a nice vote of confidence last week. USAC racing seems to be in decent shape, so as long as IndyCar and USAC are in play, I’m good. Could care less about F1.
Q: It is interesting to see how IndyCar and NASCAR respond differently to these difficult times in motorsports. NASCAR, coming of a couple of decades of massive growth, finds itself with declining attendance and TV numbers. Its approach is to take massive swings to try to win back fans. The Chase, now the playoffs, major remolding at tracks like Daytona and Phoenix, PJ1 traction compound, choose rule on restarts, and now a major overhaul of tracks in the hope of regaining the old fan base while adding to current fan enjoyment of road courses.
Of course, NASCAR has the money to try big things. IndyCar, on the other hand, is coming off years of decline, now finally slowly creeping upward. Its response is more conservative. Firm up the schedule with returning tracks and dates. Staying in the U.S. Not doing anything gimmicky (except for double-points on the finale). It will be interesting to see how each approach works out. Which model do you see working?
RM: When we say declining numbers for TV and attendance we need to be rational, because NASCAR remains light years ahead of IndyCar and a weekly Cup race holds up well against regular season basketball and baseball. Yes, they’ve both declined since the boom 20 years ago, and NASCAR has been throwing darts the past several years trying to rekindle that popularity, but it hasn’t made much difference. IndyCar is more challenged because it’s a tougher draw for promoters, but there has definitely been a renaissance with road racing (and NASCAR is on board as well) and that’s good, because it balances out the loss of oval tracks. NASCAR will get a culture shock when the TV deal is over and renegotiated, whereas IndyCar gets very little in the way of TV money because the ratings aren’t very good, so it’s a matter of making the best of your situation. Having Roger Penske at the helm gives me hope.
Q: With Honda’s F1 exit, might the IndyCar and IMSA programs pick up a bit more funding and resources? When IndyCar gets to the hybrids for 2023, do you think Honda will start out with an advantage over Chevrolet? The same might also be true in IMSA. As far as I know, GM has not raced any hybrids in any series.
Don Hopings, Cathedral City, CA
RM: Take it away Marshall Pruett: “Honda Japan, which funds and operates the F1 engine deal, and American Honda, which funds its Honda Performance Development firm that operates its open-wheel and sports car programs, are separate entities, so changes in F1 won’t affect HPD in IndyCar. I’m confident there will be an engineering information exchange between Honda’s F1 and IndyCar programs to see what can be learned from F1’s hybrid package, but there’s a big difference in power output and design freedom in F1 that won’t transfer to IndyCar’s lower power, spec KERS units. On the last question about advantages, I’m reminded of IndyCar’s aero kit introduction in 2015 where Chevy had to start from scratch on building an aero team, HPD had the vaunted Wirth Research to lead its design, and by comparison, Honda should have blown Chevy out of the water. It didn’t happen – not by a long shot – and it served as yet another reminder to never question Chevy’s capabilities, even when it might be lacking experience in a new area of development.”