Q: I’m curious to hear your opinion about the status of the Road to Indy system. We are seeing with the current Linus Lundqvist situation with the prize funding being cut significantly from $1.3 million to $500K and the lack of guaranteed races for next year that he is struggling to find a spot in the IndyCar grid.
Does what we are seeing make it more likely that drivers who are trying to get into IndyCar will skip the Road to Indy pathway in favor of racing in the Formula Regionals championships in order to get the Honda-backed Super Formula seat, race in Super Formula for a year or two and then come back and race in IndyCar? It seems like a better option at the moment unless something changes.
MP: It’s among the least impressive things Penske Entertainment has done since it bought IndyCar. Truly embarrassing.
In almost every instance, Indy NXT drivers pay for the privilege of racing in the series. Only in the rarest of scenarios do we have teams that have sponsors who cover most or all of the bill for the season.
That means the big grid coming in 2023 is loaded with parents who are using their own money – or the money contributed by a business they or friends own – to compete in Indy NXT. Prior to Penske Entertainment’s takeover in 2022, the big carrot the series dangled in front of those parents was the possibility for their children to earn a scholarship if they place at the top of their class.
I’d never say cutting the scholarship from $1.2 million to $500,000 leaves a champion like Linus Lundqvist with nothing, but in terms of what it takes to get to IndyCar, Penske Entertainment may as well go the rest of the way and trim it to zero.
When the average full-season IndyCar budget ranges from a low of $6 million to a high of $11 million, $500,000 won’t get you anywhere. Buying a ride for just the Indy 500 comes with a $1 million price tag, at minimum. What’s Lundqvist going to do, pay the $500,00 and pull in and park after 250 miles?
At least with the $1.2 million, which came with a guaranteed Indy 500 seat and two other races, teams were happy to speak with the new champions. Now, under Penske Entertainment’s big cost-cutting focus the racing series it owns, the offering of a real advancement scholarship has been a casualty. So, the good news is Indy NXT will have a monster grid next year because most of the seats were paid for before the scholarship was gutted.
My fear is not for 2023, but for 2024 when a new round of parents have to ask themselves if spending more than $1 million for their kids to race in Indy NXT is worth it due to what Penske Entertainment’s taken away as an enticement. I really hope it doesn’t happen, but if car counts fall in 2024, we’ll know why it happened and who to blame.
Q: I know this happened before Roger took ownership of the IndyCar series and the best real estate on earth (minus former White Castle), but Tim Cindric put his son in a NASCAR ride. Even though Joey Logano won the championship again for Penske, was this a move for Cindric to make more money racing? Does he have the skill to compete in IndyCar, or is daddy looking to make him rich? Does Tim Cindric see IndyCar as too dangerous or not profitable enough for the kid? Makes you wonder why Penske’s second in charge put his son in a tin-top while the team’s strongpoint is in open-wheel.
MP: Are we talking about the same Roger whose Cup team won NASCAR’s two biggest crowns in 2022, starting with Austin Cindric taking the Daytona 500? Same Austin Cindric who won the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity championship for Penske? If so, I’m thinking Penske’s strongpoint is NASCAR along with IndyCar, where Roger also won the championship.
Austin spent two early years from 2013-2014 at the bottom of the Road To Indy ladder system and wasn’t spectacular. From thereon, it was all touring cars, GTs, and stock cars, where he found his groove and set him on a path to where he is today.
I’m not entirely sure where the attitude towards Tim is coming from in relation to his son or positioning his place in the team as some sort of money grab. Penske wouldn’t endorse Austin being in one of his cars if he lacked the talent to be there, and so far, he’s proven to be worthy of the opportunity.
Q: When could we start getting races (IndyCar, F1, NASCAR) broadcast in 4K? NASCAR on FOX will do one or two but regularly.
MP: From the intel I received, it won’t happen until NBC as a whole goes 4K.
Q: How about reaching out to Donald Davidson for some stories about the Rathmann brothers Dick and Jim? There seems to be some interesting facts about their racing careers that deserve to be remembered.
MP: Thanks, Doug. I’ll add it to the list.
Q: I was quite surprised to see how poor the IndyCar TV ratings are. On some race weekends the TV ratings were below NASCAR’s Xfinity SERIES and even NHRA. NBC reported that year-to-year 2022 was an improvement, but didn’t mention poor overall ratings. Other series offer more cameras such as helmet, shoulder, rear spoiler and foot cams for free! Those same series provide practice and qualifying at no charge. None of them charge to watch a race.
Like many, I have a nice-sized 4K TV and am not interested in watching a race on my phone screen and paying for such. Frankly, I don’t understand why Peacock is involved in IndyCar. I feel it alienates many fans at a time when the focus should be on growing the fan base. Toronto is one of IndyCar’s best venues and instead of attracting new fans it’s only available on pay per view.
Undeniably, the IndyCar fan base needs to grow. Dumping Peacock should be done immediately. I would suggest a fan feedback committee like other series have adopted. I invited some friends and neighbors to watch Iowa race. A couple of them asked about there being four types of tires: red, black, primary and alternate. I explained there are only two types. Commentators may want to use red/black or primary/alternate but not mix both names back and forth.
MP: Hi, Kirk. Yes, IndyCar should do a lot of things, and if it were more popular, it would have better options. As for TV, 16 of the 17 races will be on TV channels, with the aforementioned Toronto event as the only one fully reserved for streaming. If you have a nice and new TV, is there a reason you don’t use it to watch IndyCar? Whether it’s paying for cable or one of the streaming services that offer live TV, why limit yourself to your phone? I’m confused. Peacock is there as the secondary solution for watching every race.
As for TV numbers, were you thinking NBC would announce an increase in ratings and then say its ratings were poor? Granted, that would be an epic press release. The ratings, compared to NASCAR, and F1 on an increasing basis, are poor because IndyCar is less popular than NASCAR and F1. Seems fairly self-explanatory.
And since IndyCar isn’t a ratings winner, it doesn’t get to have its practice and qualifying sessions aired live on NBC or the USA Network. The same goes for IMSA. Anything that happens before the race goes to Peacock because there are better ratings to be found with other shows and sports.
On the not-charging-for-races part, I’m fairly confident they all cost money to watch via cable or streaming platforms. If not, please tell me where to get all the major networks and cable outlets that air racing for free so I can save a lot of money.
Firestone refers to their tires as primaries and alternates, so there’s that, and since there’s a visual differentiator they use with colors so fans can tell the difference, calling out the color makes sense. I’m sure you explained that to your friends because without attaching the color of the primaries and the color of the alternates, only using primary/alternate or black/red won’t do the job.