INDIANAPOLIS — Amid Tuesday’s stunning announcement that the NTT INDYCAR Series won’t move from 2.2L to 2.4L when they move to hybrid technology in 2024 and the reasons as to why, it has unfortunately led many to believe that the sky is falling. While it’s not an ideal direction to go in and I can honestly see why people think that this is a dark moment, I want to take a page out of Aaron Rodgers’ playbook and say R-E-L-A-X.
This is luckily not like the failed power before us. Roger Penske has the backing to do this right. More on this in a minute. Mark Miles has the wherewithal to keep leading. Jay Frye is one of the best humans on this planet with a ton of respect and phenomenal ideas to keep this going in the right direction. The people in place now are the right ones to lead.
Which is why my stock on INDYCAR isn’t in a sell position.
Just look at what just transpired. The championship was decided at the final event of the year for the 17th consecutive season. Five drivers – Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske and Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing – entered the season finale eligible to win the Astor Challenge Cup as season champion. That’s the most drivers with a chance for the championship in a regular-points season finale since 2003.
The championship lead also was exchanged seven times between McLaughlin, Newgarden, Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing, Power and Ericsson during the season.
Nine different drivers won at least one of the 17 races this season, led by Newgarden with five. That’s just two shy of the all-time INDYCAR SERIES record for different winners in one season.
Care to debate that the racing product isn’t as good as ever before?
Power and Dixon also made history with significant career milestones. Power broke a tie with fellow legend Mario Andretti with his 68th career pole at the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, an all-time INDYCAR SERIES record. Dixon’s victory at the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville was the 53rd of his illustrious career, breaking a tie with Andretti for No. 2 all time on the INDYCAR SERIES win list, behind only the 67 victories by the legendary A.J. Foyt. That comes a year after Helio Castroneves won a record tying fourth Indianapolis 500 crown. Dixon has six total championships which is one shy of tying AJ Foyt for most all-time.
You also have a young generation like Newgarden, Ericsson, Palou, Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward vying for championships and an even younger generation that features Rinus Veekay, David Malukas, Christian Lundgaard and Callum Ilott ready to breakout.
What about seasoned veterans like Simon Pagenaud, Graham Rahal, Alexander Rossi, Takuma Sato and Conor Daly?
The racing talent is as good as it’s ever been before.
At least 25 cars competed in every NTT INDYCAR SERIES event outside of the 33-car Indianapolis 500, as teams and their commercial partners found mutual benefits from the enticing, attractive mix of street courses, natural road courses and ovals found in no other series on Earth.
Juncos Hollinger Racing switched from part time to full time with one car in 2022 and announced plans to add a second car for the 2023 season. Arrow McLaren SP also unveiled plans to add a third car to its lineup in 2023.
Off the track, Arrow McLaren SP, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Andretti Autosport also announced plans for gleaming, expanded new headquarters and race shop facilities in the Indianapolis area.
Care to say that the paddock isn’t as talented or stable as it has been now in decades?
Many commercial partners joined INDYCAR or NTT INDYCAR SERIES teams or extended pacts with both in 2022 too.
PeopleReady, Shell, PIRTEK, PPG, Gallagher Insurance, The American Legion and Autograph were added to the impressive roster of INDYCAR partners, while Dallara, Gainbridge, Ruoff Mortgage and TAG Heuer extended pacts with the sanctioning body.
The grandstands are packed on a weekly basis. They’ve found a balance of going to place than want to host INDYCAR events again.
The growing popularity of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES was reflected in the most-watched season in six years on television, with viewership up 5 percent over 2021. The season averaged a Total Audience Delivery of 1.30 million viewers across NBC, USA Network, Peacock and NBC Sports digital platforms, the best in NBC Sports history.
Half of the season’s 16 races on television delivered more than 1 million viewers, the highest mark since 2008. A record 14 of 17 races were on NBC network television in 2022, and selected series races also were televised by Telemundo Deportes on Universo.
This also was the most streamed INDYCAR season on record, with exponential growth compared to 2021. A series race, the Honda Indy Toronto, was streamed exclusively for the first time, and the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge was the most streamed INDYCAR SERIES race ever.
International coverage of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and domestic and international coverage of Indy Lights was available around the world through the new INDYCAR Live! streaming platform.
That’s the good. So, are we really going to let how many liters the engine package is let us think that it’s all doom-and-gloom?
You shouldn’t. What INDYCAR needs is to keep growing and in order to go to the next level, it’s time to spend some money and take some risks.
Yes, finding a third OEM is the biggest anchor to this growth. That’s not up to debate. It’s not like you don’t have good people searching for one. The reasons INDYCAR hasn’t been attractive to a third OEM is because the series needs to continue their pursuit of the next level.
They’re not there yet.
Key word being, “yet.”
Miles took over a series left for dead. He revitalized the series and he and Frye did so by staying within the box. Their engine plans were maybe a little futuristic and too soon. Maybe the path was to build the series further first. By doing so, you have to start spending money on marketing. Say what you want about SJ, but she was going grocery shopping with a small budget.
There’s talented people in place for SJ to work with but the way things are run are on a slim budget. Penske has money and he has control here and the best way to get this series further off the ground is having to spend a lot of his own money in the series.
Giving IMS a nice face lift is one thing, but does that truly help this series grow? What makes this series grow is ensuring every race, I mean EVERY RACE, being marketed like the Indy 500 is each May. You’re not going to dilute the Indy 500 by doing so.
An example, when NASCAR is at Martinsville, their socials and marketing is geared towards the grandfather clock. They treat every race like it’s the Daytona 500. INDYCAR treats every race outside of the Indy 500 like it’s the unwanted step child.
The reason for this isn’t because the people in place don’t care. It’s because the people in place are doing multiple jobs and don’t have the compensation or budget to do what they were hired to do in the first place. They would love to promote INDYCAR better but when you’re told there’s no money to do it, you just don’t do it.
That has to stop. The promotions are unfortunately right now going to have to be paid for and done so by large amounts. NBC will help, but they aren’t going to go above and beyond because of the contract. They’re getting their ROI, but INDYCAR isn’t yet and it’s the old adage in order to grow you have to spend money.
You have to spend your way to get there and find a way to attract to the younger fan base in the process. The traditionalists aren’t going to help you anymore. The constant bitching that they’re not getting their way is honestly now a good thing.
Don’t like concerts? Deal with it. Don’t like the way some races look? Deal with it. This isn’t the 1970s, 1980’s or 1990’s anymore. I’m sorry to hit you with this news, but this younger generation aren’t gear heads like that previous generation was.
Hell, most racers today don’t even know what goes into making their car go fast. They just hop in a drive it.
That’s why INDYCAR has to think outside the box and honestly have a marketing strategy to catch the 18-49 demographic’s attention because treating the series on the basis of a gear head is the wrong move.
Yes, racing is getting to the finish line faster than the other cars and speed and innovation and just that, racing, but that 18-49 group doesn’t care about the nuts and bolts like the definition of racing entails. That’s long gone. You have to adapt with it.
By doing so, you’re going to have to make some uncomfortable decisions.
INDYCAR has taken the safe route to grow but it’s time to get outside of that comfort zone. F1 has changed a lot of their ways. NASCAR has raced in a football stadium, conducted two straight years of races on dirt, will race on a street course next season, has a new car, hosted a halftime show, adapted a playoff strategy and has incorporated stages.
While the original fan base wasn’t happy about all those moves, NASCAR gained more of a following than lost. This isn’t your grandpa’s or even your dads NASCAR anymore. They know that. But their numbers are also growing again and they’re going to get a large piece of the pie on their next TV deal.
That mindset is to why F1 and NASCAR are growing and to why INDYCAR is treading water after their rise. It’s not the abundant growth like F1 and NASCAR are seeing and their inside of the box approach isn’t attractive to the outside world.
Where this isn’t doom is that the pieces are already in place. I stated those above. It’s there. It’s time for fresh ideas and the no fear mentality to take some big swings here and then revisit the engine package.
The younger generation couldn’t care less about engines. They like fast, sexy cars, good drivers and fun storylines. INDYCAR has it now. You just have to reach them.