Welcome to the RACER Mailbag. Questions for any of RACER’s writers can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the high volume of questions received, we can’t guarantee that every letter will be published, but we’ll answer as many as we can. Published questions may be edited for length and clarity. Questions received after 3pm ET each Monday will appear the following week.
Q: IndyCar is by far my favorite form of racing and has been for over 40 years, but I’m really worried now. All we really have is IMS and maybe Gateway and Long Beach, while F1 is starting to make a move on us in places we couldn’t make work. If they are successful in Miami and Vegas, I think the end is near for IndyCar.
I know F1 is extremely expensive, but people also go to see the races, and it has value to many potential stakeholders. What does IndyCar have to offer? The Indy 500 of course, but it goes downhill from there. Yes, cheaper sponsorships, but also fewer eyeballs on the product.
R.P. is an extremely smart man, but he may have made an emotional decision on his purchase rather than a business one – that is his prerogative. I was hoping he’d be able to improve the marketing and advertising of the series, but frankly I haven’t seen much difference. They haven’t learned from the past mistakes in this area, and I haven’t seen a strategic plan for the future. Does Penske Entertainment need a change? What is Mark Miles doing?
We’ve had the luxury of F1 being everywhere but in the U.S. in the past, but they are coming, and from different ‘fronts’ – TV (Drive to Survive) and now physically. This isn’t looking good. What says you?
MARSHALL PRUETT: I see no reason to fear for IndyCar’s health as a result of F1 expanding to three U.S. races. It’s not like IndyCar fans are going to stop watching or stop attending because there’s more F1 product to offer. Could it mean some IndyCar fans sample an F1 race for the first time? And could some folks skip an IndyCar race in favor of an F1 race? Sure, but it also means there’s 17 IndyCar races for domestic F1 fans to try, and for what we have to offer with access and affordable tickets, there’s no comparison.
But I do wonder why IndyCar is constantly being caught by surprise by F1’s aggressive approach to winning the hearts and minds with new American fans, or if the lack of reaction from IndyCar means its satisfied with what it’s doing and feels no threat from F1. I know Penske Entertainment is running IndyCar with a very tight budget, which is certainly a factor in why we haven’t seen big/new/ambitious plans to grow the series. From the outside looking in, it does come across as though F1 is loaded with creativity and vitality and IndyCar is short on ideas and action. Nashville is certainly a great addition to the schedule, but if we’re talking forward motion, I’m not sure it falls in the same category with all the new inroads F1 is making here.
I love that IndyCar’s trying something different by moving Detroit back to a downtown venue next year, and that it – along with Hy-Vee – is making a significant effort to reanimate Iowa and make it a success, but those don’t land with me as big, new, or ambitious. That’s popping leftovers from last night’s dinner into the microwave.
When we’re reporting from the launch of IndyCar’s Atlanta GP, Louisville GP, San Francisco GP or New York GP, I’ll be suitably impressed.
Q: Seeing the MSR/Helio ‘Drive for Five’ theme run for Indy had me thinking. How many years during The Split, and what teams, was Helio driving for when he didn’t even enter the Indy 500? If my memory serves me correctly, a few of those years he was with The Captain? If so, had he raced Indy, he might already be a five-time winner or more if not for The Split. (Let’s keep 2002 out of this for the sake of discussion).
MP: Helio joined Penske in CART in 2000 as a replacement for the late Greg Moore and R.P. entered his first IRL race at Phoenix in 2001 to get a feel for how things worked ahead of a two-car effort for Castroneves, who won on debut, and Gil de Ferran, who raced at Indy in 1995 before the split with Jim Hall.
Castroneves made his CART debut in 1998 with Bettenhausen Racing, which was a midfield team, and then switched to Hogan Racing in 1999 (where I worked as well) which was a top 10 contender about half the time, but no threat for consistent victories. The bottom line is Helio would not have added to his Baby Borg collection if he’d been entered at Indy with his pre-Penske CART teams.
Q: There was a great article in the 3/27 Sunday New York Times about Jay Penske’s takeover of the film/celebrity industry publications such as Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Deadline, etc. My question is regarding the meteoric rise in F1 popularity because of Netflix’s Drive To Survive. How has IndyCar been caught so flatfooted? The Captain owns IMS Productions, and his son is the ownership of TV and film reporting publications, I’d think an immediate rollout of an IndyCar show would be a no-brainer (especially with the ROI F1 is receiving on a global scale from its reality show.) Throw it up on Amazon Prime, which also has global distribution, and join the revolution. F1 has just announced a third U.S. race and Liberty Media has F1 on the verge of supplanting IndyCar as the number two most-watched racing series in the country.
As Long Beach is on NBC this year, I’d at least hope for a handful of celebs milling around the pits and broadcast booth.
Zack S., Atlanta, GA
MP: Couple of things here, Zack. Penske Entertainment does most things at an extremely high level, but marketing and promotions is the one area where it’s hard to find folks within the paddock to throw praise in their direction. F1 also has an annual budget that’s a few zillion dollars above what IndyCar and IMS have to work with, so that’s a real limitation to consider. And then we have the uncomfortable part of the answer where, after Netflix and F1 struck their deal and found massive popularity with DTS, IndyCar was only ever going to be seen as a distant second in terms of value and interest for doing a version of the same thing. I know from conversations I’ve been in that Netflix and the other major streaming services just haven’t been tripping over themselves to sign IndyCar and then get their butts kicked when the latest DTS F1 season arrives.
The only thing I’ve heard that offers a glimmer of hope is a rumored DTS Indy 500, which would focus solely on the month of May and not the rest of the season, for 2023 or 2024. If that were to happen, I do think it could be a big deal for the series and Netflix. And if it happens, and if it’s a success, maybe that’s the mechanism to see if an expanded relationship were possible. Other than that, I keep hearing IndyCar’s scripted reality series is making more and more progress.