Despite the success of ‘new’ IndyCar road course events in 2016, the series has opted for an oval as its sole new event for 2017. But with ovals continuing to struggle for attendance, is that the right approach?
America has fallen out of love with IndyCar oval racing
I wrote back in October 2014 a post about IndyCar and ovals: getting America back in love. If you are short of time to read it here is the synopsis: the IRL/ChampCar split made fans choose to be either oval or road/street fans, not both. Despite unification the oval fans have not returned and I offered some suggestions on how to get America back in love with IndyCar on ovals.
As IndyCar heads back to the Gateway oval next season it seemed timely to consider how things have changed in the past 2 years – if at all.
Are more people watching IndyCar oval races
On the evidence of 2016 the answer is basically no. The 100th
running of the Indy 500 aside, there has been little obvious increase in attendances. Phoenix came back with a solid if unspectacular showing representing a decent foundation for the future. The races at Iowa, Texas and Pocono played out to – despite offering up more thrilling entertainment – sparse crowds
Oval races are critical to the success of IndyCar. It is the very fabric of the series and maintains the unique diversity found nowhere else in the world of motor sport. But they have to be successful
It is uncomfortable watching entire grandstands completely empty during the race. It must be demoralizing for the drivers as they risk their necks at over 200mph.
The series has to partner better with ovals and their promoters. It is not enough to add another oval and leave it to the promoter to sort out. If the series is serious about re-building its oval presence, it has to commit to it with budget and resource.
Innovation for IndyCar oval races
The spectacle of an IndyCar oval race used to be enough to attract diehards and the general sports fans in droves. Simply putting on another oval race is not enough. Without some element of innovation new races seem destined to falter.
Consider Saturday night sprint races under floodlights followed by an eliminator race on Sunday? What about fan voting to determine the starting grid or extra tire allocations? Sprint races to determine the starting grid? Such ideas carry the risk of stepping over the line in to gimmickry but without some element of innovation, what will be the attraction for new audiences?
Getting the festival feeling at oval circuits
Part of the continuing appeal of IndyCar road/street course events is the two or three day festival atmosphere. Conversely oval events feel brief and qualifying is monotonous.
Mixing up the qualifying format by running cars simultaneously would spice up Friday/Saturday practice and qualifying. The challenges and opportunities of drafting come in to play, when to run, whether to wait for the track to evolve or put in a banker time early. As a spectacle it would make the whole weekend more enticing and potentially mix up grids for Saturday/Sunday races.
These are simplistic solutions of course. I freely admit that even working out the practicalities of implementation would be complex. But unless IndyCar is happy just to rumble along and survive, something needs to be done to get America back in love with IndyCar oval racing.