IndyCar’s long-awaited entry into the world of modern motor racing docuseries content reached its conclusion earlier this month when the finale of the six-part “100 Days To Indy” project aired on The CW.
Filmed and produced in partnership between VICE Media, The CW, and Penske Entertainment, 100 Days To Indy arrived four years after the ground-breaking Formula 1 docuseries “Drive To Survive” first appeared on Netflix in 2019. Devised as a project with a narrower scope than the season-long Drive To Survive series, 100 Days To Indy focused on pre-season activities through the first six races of the 17-race 2023 calendar, ramping up to its centerpiece, the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 held on May 28.
Like Drive To Survive — now in its fifth season — which set the standard for fan engagement and has been credited globally for creating legions of new F1 fans who learned about the championship after consuming DTS via the streaming giant, IndyCar and its parent company Penske Entertainment sought to achieve the same effect with 100 Days To Indy, albeit several years later than desired, in a bid to develop new and younger fans.
“I thought they did an excellent job of finding and telling stories,” Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles told RACER. “And in a particularly challenging format where they really didn’t have a lot of time, had to edit as they went, as opposed to put everything in the can and then go back months later and decide what survives. They quickly got a handle on many of the personalities in the sport, and did a great job of telling the stories. We didn’t ask them to be politically correct. We wanted them to tell the stories they thought were most compelling, and so the cast of characters ended up being pretty broad, which I think was helpful.”
According to ShowBuzzDaily.com, Episode 6 of 100 Days To Indy — the payoff to the buildup to the Indy 500 won by Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden in a dramatic one-lap b attle with 2022 Indy winner Marcus Ericsson — attracted 186,000 viewers on The CW, the country’s fifth-largest television network.
Episode 1, run on the same April 27 night as the NFL draft, had more viewers than the finale, with ShowBuzzDaily reporting an audience of 189,000. Episode 2 on May 4 showed promise with an increase to 210,000 viewers. Episode 3 on May 11 continued the upward trend with a rise to 214,000, but Episode 4 on May 18 took a sharp and surprising downward turn with just 142,000 viewers.
Episode 5, featuring qualifying and the harrowing crash caused by Katherine Legge that took Stefan Wilson out of the event and inserted the bumped Graham Rahal into the field, achieved a series high of 220,000 viewers on May 25, and after a week’s pause, the Indy 500 grand finale aired and delivered the audience of 186,000.
Altogether, the six episodes generated 1,161,000 viewers during their premieres on The CW, averaging 193,500 views per episode. For the sake of comparison, the Detroit Grand Prix — the most recent IndyCar race aired live on NBC — was seen by a nearly identical audience of 1,047,000 people. Sunday’s Road America IndyCar race, shown on NBC cable affiliate USA Network, attracted 385,000 viewers.
Based on the Nielsen ratings information provided for each CW debut, 100 Days was not burdened with excessive viewership. But with all the other airings factored in, including reruns on The CW, repurposing on VICE’s cable channel one week after each premiere, and consumption via The CW’s streaming app, Miles says each episode generated a larger audience that left the series feeling pleased with the project’s outcome.
“We didn’t have any set benchmark for ‘above this number is a success and below is not,’” he explained. “We’re very pleased with the cumulative audience. We averaged over 500,000 viewers per episode, and it’s important to note that those numbers keep growing. So the numbers will keep piling up, and I don’t know how high they’ll get, but if you look at north of 500,000 per , and you’ve got 500,000 times six, that’s over 3 million. That’s a nice addition to our total number of eyeballs that would normally watch just the races.”
With IndyCar’s primary demographic composed of males near or over the age of 60, 100 Days To Indy was meant to do far more than entertain the series’ existing fan base. Introducing the grandchildren of IndyCar’s primary followers to the series was the project’s top priority, and with the data in hand, a series representative told RACER that “more than half of the viewership for the show was composed of core CW/VICE audience members,” and “this is a younger audience with very little to no previous exposure to IndyCar.”
Nielsen data for the six network premieres on The CW showed 100 Days To Indy had the lowest share of men and women watching between age 18-49, which suggests the gains in building a more youthful demographic through the series were not found on the network, but rather, through users of The CW’s app and reruns on VICE’s cable channel.
“The audience was much younger than our typical race audience,” Miles said. “We’re still waiting for final numbers, but I believe it’s going to be something like 25 percent of the people who saw us first on The CW tuned into one or more IndyCar races. It’s clearly a nice crossover. I think it made the paddock happy. And I thought it was very, very positive and gave us a lot of momentum in the first half of the year.”
IndyCar also says an immediate impact was made within the 4.716 million viewers who tuned into NBC to watch the Indy 500.
“The show added up to a quarter of a million viewers to the Indy 500 broadcast,” the series’ spokesperson noted. “These are individuals who found 100 Days To Indy before finding IndyCar or the Indy 500.”
Currently restricted to viewing in North America, the next step for Season 1 of 100 Days To Indy is to make it available to the rest of the world.
“It will at some point have international distribution,” Miles said. “VICE has the rights to distribute it internationally. They’re working hard on that and believe that they’re quite likely to get an international partner before long. So they told me it’s not unusual, they weren’t surprised by the notion that it would air first in the States, that streaming services would watch to see what happens.
“It’s conceivable that there could be another platform involved, particularly if it is part of making an international deal. I don’t know how probable that is, but I do think it’s quite likely that international distribution will occur. And even here in the States people continue to go back, as is often the case with series that are streamed — they’ll go back and binge in multiple sittings.”
Tracking 100 Days To Indy’s influence on the Twitter and Instagram accounts for the series, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and some of the key drivers involved in the six episodes offered another window into whether the series was delivering new followers.
At the moment Episode 1 began at 9pm ET on April 27, IndyCar had 458,005 followers on Twitter (T) and 488,514 on Instagram (IG). Twenty-four hours later, +109 (T) and +258 (IG) were recorded, and 48 hours later, +281 (T) and +992 (IG) were seen. One week later at the 9pm start of Episode 2, gains of +1265 (T) and +4001 (IG) were made. Just over one week after the series was completed, IndyCar’s Twitter followers had reached 468,432, +10,427, a 2.2-percent rise from Episode 1.
Instagram is where the greatest inroads were made, with 524,776 followers, 36,262 more than at the series’ onset, up 6.9 percent over its April 27 baseline. For IMS, +3357 (T) and +9604 (IG) were its gains during the project, and among drivers, Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward — who already serves as IndyCar’s most popular driver — led his rivals with +6455 (T) and +18,080 (IG).
From a standpoint of percentages, Indy 500 winner Newgarden led all drivers, due in large part to his victory at the world’s largest single-day sporting event. As one of two primary characters spotlighted in Episode 1, Newgarden had a modest bump in followers one week after the series debuted with +152 (T) and +246 (IG), but after the Indy 500 and the project’s finale, he’d achieved a 5.6-percent gain in Twitter followers (+5533) and a sizable 10.9-percent spike on Instagram (+14,237).
Benchmarking the growth of Colton Herta’s social media accounts after the Andretti Autosport driver was featured in Episode 2 also revealed the fickle nature of assigning newfound interest created by 100 Days To Indy to the series’ drivers.
Herta opened Episode 2 with 42,704 Twitter followers and 64,013 on Instagram, and at the same post-docuseries date used to measure the increases for IndyCar, IMS, O’Ward, and Newgarden, Herta was +1632 (T) and +1971 (IG) over the same period. Scott McLaughlin, Newgarden’s Team Penske teammate and co-star of Episode 1, fared slightly better, but like Herta, his social media increases of +2932 (T) and +2497 (IG) were among the lowest percentages — +3.5-percent (T) and +1.6-percent (IG) of those who were tracked.
Altogether, the series, its most popular driver and its newest Indy 500 winner received the largest number of new followers during 100 Days To Indy’s run.
Looking to 2024, Miles is confident a second season of 100 Days To Indy will go into production.
“I think it’s very likely that a Season 2 of 100 Days To Indy will be made and released,” he said in a separate interview with RACER.
Based on what the stars of Season 1 had to say after the project ran its course, many have the same opinion on what needs to be carried over into a Season 2, while views begin to vary on the subject of what needs to change.