IndyCar’s international obsession

News the 2015 IndyCar season opener in Brasilia has been pulled is a real disappointment for the series organisers and fans alike. Fingers are pointing on who was to blame but the real issue is IndyCar’s continuing fixation with touring the globe.

Once bitten, twice shy? 

Cancellation of another international race is embarrassing at best and reminds us of the Qingdao episode in 2012. The circumstances this time make it difficult to entirely lay the blame at the door of IndyCar’s management – a regional government in real financial strife deciding that blowing cash on a race when their employees are not being paid is not appropriate. The top brass have been roundly criticised – despite assurances the series is financially protected – as you would expect.

The criticisms thus far have focused on the series not learning lessons from Qingdao. In 2012 China’s first ever IndyCar race crashed and burned when similarly a leading political figure promised much that his successor promptly ditched. IndyCar’s inability or otherwise to perform proper due diligence and the like is not the root of the problem however – it is the fixation with going overseas.

The grass is greener – on the other side of the world

Considering CART/IndyCar as one, the races in Surfers Paradise Australia (1991 – 2007) and Sao Paulo (2010-2013) are some of the few relatively well attended and successful international races amongst the sea of ill-advised forays abroad. Not since the ‘glory days’ (depending on who you speak to) of the mid 90s, has the international model worked. The root of that of course is pretty simple: IndyCar’s fan base at home since the split is not big enough or fervent enough at present to support overseas expansion.

The series should not be entertaining the idea of races outside of North America for a number of years. The strength of the series, its core fan base, broadcast figures and digital presence are not at a level where the series can support international expansion. Add to the mix the fact few of the sponsors engaged with the series currently have a need or a desire to be visible outside North America and looking out the passports seems even less logical. Once those issues are resolved – and they do not necessarily all have to be sorted at once – then absolutely IndyCar should look to expand.

The flip side of course might be that IndyCar’s management have decided privately that the series will not claw back ground in the USA and must go overseas to expand/survive. I hope that is not the case for two reasons: first that I do not believe it is true, and second because it would be an immense undertaking. If the sport cannot rebuild in the country of its birth and heritage, it is going to be exceptionally hard to start from scratch elsewhere.

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