Last week’s news of Penske signing Simon Pagenaud for 2015 means that next season, IndyCar’s established ‘top 3’ teams are all expected to run four cars. The opportunity is a golden one for Pagenaud but what are the implications – good and bad – for the series overall of further ‘super-teams’ expansion?
Pagenaud undoubtedly deserves the opportunity following a stellar 2014 season. Penske is not a team in the habit of signing drivers out of anything other than a desire to win so it is a ringing endorsement of his abilities. Significantly it offers more competition at the sharp end of the IndyCar field which is good for us fans.
Pagenaud and the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team were this season’s title dark-horses. Lacking in experience to finish the job they came up short but Pagenaud. Running now for Penske with their decades of open-wheel experience and crucially knowledge (finally) of how to close out a new-era IndyCar season instantly makes Simon a contender next year. Food for thought not only for his new team-mate (and on/off nemesis) Will Power but all the leading drivers.
More significantly for the series however is the endorsement such a move brings. Running a fourth car is a significant challenge, even for Penske, and doing so demonstrates their commitment to IndyCar. Furthermore the commitment shown by Penske’s sponsors and backers to run a fourth entry is a real boon for a race series still in the recovery position. Such moves would not happen in a series deemed to be going nowhere.
Sadly – as is always the case – there are some implications of Penske’s decision which might not be music to everyone’s ears.
Straight out of the box, the fact Andretti, Penske and Ganassi are all likely to run four cars in 2015 suggests the smaller teams’ chances will diminish. Just as is the case in Formula 1 and even more so NASCAR, race wins are likely to come from the same 2-3 teams.
Aside from the fact IndyCar’s smaller teams are just as critical to the series as the big boys, for me it takes us toward the loss of one of the big attractions of the series: the fact pretty much every team on the grid has a reasonable chance to win at least once a year.
On the presumption that more data and more testing for the super-teams garners results, exposure for the smaller teams and their sponsors could diminish. Where brands like Occulus, Hydroxycut and Fuzzy’s have enjoyed the exposure from Pagenaud, Bourdais and Carpenter/Conway winning races this season, will they experience that in 2015? Even if they do, will it be to the same extent?
Poorer results – as Bobby Rahal’s team learned the hard way this season – mean less exposure. Less exposure ultimately leads to lower sponsorship fees and consequently fewer viable teams in the long run. So whilst the addition of another car to the Penske stable brings with it many positives for the series, IndyCar has to be cautious that such moves don’t come at a more significant cost. IndyCar has healthy grids at the moment and it needs to keep it that way.