Q: It’s pretty clear that IndyCar’s chosen marketing agency in 2021 failed more spectacularly than Rinus VeeKay’s or Ed Jones’ judgment did at WWTR and Long Beach, respectively. It’s hard to see where IndyCar gained any fans or TV/streaming eyeballs as a result of the mindless and perplexing marketing campaign. When you look at modern America, media and popular culture love stars, and often “stars” that are famous simply by creating a name for themselves, not necessarily for true talent (see: Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, etc.).
We all know IndyCar has a bunch of engaging, and in some cases even magnetic, personalities. Is there any chance IndyCar will ever be smart enough to take the Paris/Kim route and just create a star via a media campaign? Recognizable names in popular culture are going to grow the attention on the series faster than anything else. There are really good agencies out there, and if done correctly, it shouldn’t be as difficult as it might initially seem. Our marketing campaigns haven’t moved the needle for a long time. Do you think there’s any chance of an aggressive, outside-the-box approach to build on the slow, steady momentum the series has had for a handful of years? Or are we just going to “defy” logic and stick with the definition of insanity again in 2022?
Bobby R, Chicago
MP: It looks like we wonder about similar things. Do I think we’re going to see a giant change in strategy between now and the start of the new season in February? I do not. Do I ask myself if it might be time for IndyCar to hand the keys to marketing its series and drivers to an outside agency? I do. It’s been done in the past and wasn’t necessarily a success, but it feels like a change is needed. Catchy slogans and paying for social media influencers to vlog about our events isn’t working. IndyCar’s the best racing series in North America that nobody knows about. It’s a crime.
Q: With Austin Cindric performing rather well in the Xfinity Series this year, would he and/or Team Penske consider putting him in a fourth car for the Indianapolis 500 and attempt the double? Given his experience on all kinds of tracks, this could be good.
Yannick, Cologne, Germany
MP: Roger told me recently that he has no plans to put a fourth car on track next season — Indy 500 included — so I doubt Austin would be in the team’s short-term plans. But I do love the idea; I know he’s not the most popular driver in NASCAR, but Austin’s a scrappy driver who makes me think he’d be a ball of fun to watch in a Dallara-Chevy.
Q: AMSP says it is not yet looking for a third driver, and that the Barber test was for Nico Hulkenberg to see if he likes IndyCar. So does that mean that Nico was paying to test? Now, maybe with a name driver like Hulkenberg Zak Brown is doing it as a courtesy, and also for his own info bank for the future.
But what about a lot of other tests we hear about where the drivers are not yet established talents? Is it often that the driver has to pay to test? And does the driver have to pay for any crash damage? How does all that work?
MP: AMSP is looking for a third driver, just not as a full-timer next season. Hulkenberg wanted to see if he liked the car and might want to restart his career in IndyCar, and if I was Zak, I’d have done the same and spent the money to evaluate Nico. I’ve heard the test went well, but only well — nothing special. If Hulkenberg ends up in IndyCar, I’d put money on it being with another team. There’s no real formula for how testing works; it could be the team paying, the driver paying, and if crash damage is part of the deal for the driver, it’s usually a test with a rookie or someone who’s known for paying to drive.
Q: As I’ve understood it, high-banked ovals are too dangerous because IndyCars have too much downforce and go too fast. Thus, regardless of if the France family would ever allow it, we would never see IndyCar on the Daytona oval or Talladega.
Would it really be that hard to have IndyCar run on a high-banked oval like Daytona or Talledega? Is there no way to reduce the wing enough so that you are only really relying on mechanical grip and ground effects?
Doug, Stafford, VA
MP: According to IndyCar the cars could race around the big, banked NASCAR ovals with almost no downforce, and they’d likely be able to go hard in the corners thanks to the grip generated by compressing into the banking, but the increased speed on the straights would cause everyone to make massive lifts entering the corners.
The only way to realistically race at a Daytona or Talladega would be to cut power or increase drag — two methods to bring the top speed down. IndyCar has used a low-boost turbo speedway formula since 2012, and since that formula is what Chevy and Honda have perfected for almost a decade, there’s no way they’d agree to a low-low-boost formula which would cost a fortune to develop on their ends. Plus, IndyCar’s new direction in 2023 is about more power, so cutting ponies isn’t the way forward.
That leaves dialing up the aero drag, like CART used to do with the Hanford Device, but that would turn the race into a cartoonish affair where a stupid plate bolted onto the back of the rear wing was responsible for passing, not the drivers’ skills and racecraft. I was amused after watching the first Hanford race, but it got old, quickly. For now, I don’t see how the current or future IndyCar formulas fit at the two signature NASCAR ovals.