In (partial) defence of Jenna Fryer

AP correspondent Jenna Fryer’s recent article – so what if Alonso is doing the Indy 500? – caused a storm of controversy amongst fans, drivers and media. Fervent criticism plus a tidal wave of completely unacceptable abuse took away from the simple fact Fryer had put together a good critique of the situation – up to a point.

Does it benefit the Indy 500 or IndyCar overall?

Fryer’s position – that the one-off appearance by 2-time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso at the 2017 Indy 500 would do little for the long-term growth of IndyCar – has merit.  IndyCar as a series needs as much promotion as it can get. But the profile of the Indy 500 has always been a problem because it often overshadows the rest of the series.

Fernando Alonso Indy 500 announcement

Ultimately IndyCar as a product needs promotion that outlasts the month of May and is not tied directly to a single event. A one-off appearance at the crown jewel event primarily benefits the one race that does not need more support. From the date of the announcement to the week after the 101st Indianapolis 500, Alonso’s presence will give IndyCar a massive media boost. Assuming the Spaniard does not win, once we are in to July the benefit will have run out of gas.

IndyCar needs more than one-off appearances

 By contrast a decision for Alonso to do more than just one race would have been a greater boost to the series. Even better would have been confirmation that he was spearheading a full-time assault on the 2018 IndyCar season with McLaren. Even Fryer I am sure would accept that all races on the 2018 schedule would have seen a big spike in ticket sales off the back of that kind of announcement.
Fryer’s position is pretty much on the money. The Indy 500 does not need more promotion. IndyCar as a series is not the direct beneficiary of the Alonso hype because it is limited to one race. After the month of May, will the Alonso appearance do anything to  boost ticket sales for the new race at Gateway for example?
Small crowds at IndyCar oval race
Irrespective of Alonso’s participation, we will not see sparse crowds at the Indy 500. And that’s part of the problem.
 Having said that, it is important to understand the reality that IndyCar – still very much in recovery mode – will take and needs to take any positive promotion, even if it’s life-span is limited. Perhaps Fryer was focused a bit too much on what was wrong with the Alonso scenario  – that is was not the ideal outcome – rather than there being some benefits to the series.

Sound arguments undermined by alternative suggestions

The sound arguments put forward by Fryer were however undermined by what she proposed as better alternatives. After putting forward a strong case to justify her point – that a one off at Indy probably does little to boost IndyCar long-term – she damaged it by suggesting the exact same concept with a different driver choice would have been a superior alternative.
Danica Patrick was one of the ‘better’ alternates to Alonso proposed.  The one-time IndyCar winner headed to the bright lights of NASCAR and has massively underachieved ever since. She may be a media draw but that has been in steady decline over the past few years because results simply have not lived up to the hype. Taking, for example, Danica’s sponsors as a barometer of her status in NASCAR she is definitely in decline.

No Smoke without fire…

Tony Stewart was another of the alternates proposed. From a nostalgic perspective ‘Smoke’ sounds like a great idea. Getting the Indiana native back in an IndyCar would be fun (although physically challenging). But once more from a mainstream media perspective – for the longer term benefit of IndyCar – Stewart is not a better choice than Alonso.
The former NASCAR Cup champion is sadly probably better known now for the tragic accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jnr. than his racing exploits. Fryer then concluded by proposing that one of the Taylor brothers – Ricky or Jordan – would be a better option than Alonso. This was like a red rag to a bull for IndyCar supporters.

IMSA versus IndyCar

In the case of the Taylor brothers the suggestion that two drivers from a less-prominent and less well-known series (in terms of mainstream US media coverage) was quite a head scratcher. This is perhaps where the strength of feeling against the article stemmed from. Particularly amongst IndyCar drivers and media.
Many of the guys who race against the Taylor’s in IMSA are former IndyCar car drivers or ones who never quite made the grade. Hardly the breading ground for world class talent. (P.s. I am not beating on IMSA but I’m comfortable motor sport fans will accept that the IndyCar field is superior to IMSA in terms of depth of driver talent).
Fryer just like everyone is entitled to put her opinion across. Similarly as soon as you put an opinion out there, there is a right to reply. But there is not the right to simply abuse the individual for having a differing opinion. Much of what Fryer wrote has merit in terms of the discussion around Alonso’s appearance this season. But equally some of it was – in my opinion – misjudged.

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