To: The Captain
From: CPX Chris
Subject: A Recipe for Putting IndyCar Back On Top
Dear Mr. Penske,
The IndyCar series visited Portland this week and it got me thinking, so I decided to reach out to you. After watching our premier open-wheel racing series fall on hard times, it is on a great upswing under your ownership with amazing driving talent and a competitive on-track “product.” (Pardon my corporate-speak.) This is the best it’s been since the idiotic Split in 1996 (Tony George is an a-hole, can we agree on that?), and in your hands IndyCar is going nowhere but up.
I love Formula One too, but it is not the be-all-and-end-all that everyone gives it credit for. While it attracts leading manufacturers and top talent, it has devolved into a competition of engineers managing tire degradation. Races are processions punctuated with undercuts and overcuts. Furthermore, the cars sound terrible and are not easy on the eyes. (Admittedly, the 2022 car design looks promising.) They even stole from IndyCar ideas like multiple tire compounds in a race and “push to pass,” as embodied by DRS.
With that in mind, I write to you with a Big Hairy Audacious Goal: Make IndyCar the #1 open-wheel series on the planet. With your business acumen and deep passion for motorsport, I believe you can make our series as good as Formula One -- and even surpass it.
1. Emphasize On-Track Driving Skill Like MotoGP
Strive for an open-wheel formula that yields the week in, week out competitiveness of MotoGP which offers compelling racing every week. It's evident to the fans that success depends on the pilots’ skill and courage, which makes it exhilarating and unpredictable. The victories feel hard-earned, not fluky or handed over on a silver platter.
Motorcycles are about mechanical grip and not aero. IndyCar largely has this already with a package that allows close racing and overtaking. The downside is that this strength is caused by another weakness: IndyCar is a spec racing series so the cars are monotonous.
2. Get Big Manufacturers Back
Why can’t we have Ford vs. Ferrari in IndyCar? Or Porsche vs. Chevy or Toyota vs. BMW? Imagine that! Fan interest and viewership would spike and the grandstands would be packed. People have emotional attachments to brands, so give them that to latch onto and they will be fanatical.
As you know better than anyone, Mr. Penske, it’s all about economics for the manufacturers. If participation boosts their sales, they’ll be all in. Create a formula that allows them to do it cost effectively, provides opportunities to win, and they will beat a path to IndyCar’s door. Again, MotoGP is a great example to follow since they have six top-tier manufacturers and all of them have had wins or podiums this season that build awareness and fan loyalty.
3. Make the Cars Look (and Sound) Cool
To be fair, the Dallara Mk. III chassis used in IndyCar is way easier on the eye than anything in F1. Its swept-back profile is mercifully free of barge boards, multi-element wings, and winglets. The problem, is that the entire field is in the same exact car.
Mr. Penske, you cut your teeth on Can-Am racing, one of the greatest series of all time. The cars were wild, exotic, and varied. Tap into that for inspiration to bring about the oppportunity for both form and function to cohabitate. Something akin to this artist’s vision of what F1 cars could look like would be a game-changer.
Finally, what’s the problem with a raucous engine noise? When I was going to IMSA races in the late 1980s, every car had a distinct engine note. Do not underestimate the emotional pull of a screaming V12 or a thundering V8.
4. Keep It Accessible
Auto racing is an expensive sport, but people need to feel connected to it. One thing IndyCar does well is create accessibility. Fans can roam the pits and see the cars and drivers up close. Try doing that in F1 without at least 8 or 9 digits in your bank account!
Also, tap talent that earns its way up through the ranks. Watching F1's billionaires’ boys take seats from more capable drivers is sickening, so best not to emulate it. Having a good feeder series that let’s the cream rise to the top makes sense.
Bonus Idea -- Make A Reality TV Series
I can’t tell you how many of my friends have gotten into F1 because of Drive to Survive. Steal that idea from them!
In conclusion, I’d be happy to discuss this further, but since the odds of that actually happening are infinitesimally small, I will not bother leaving my cell number.
Yours in motorsport,