Ovals and roads, a perilous dichotomy

IndyCar commentary — By on August 14, 2009 12:04 pm
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(Originally posted by Paul to Planet-IRL.com.)

So much has been made by so many people regarding the 2010 IndyCar schedule that just the mention of it nearly makes me nauseated. However, the introduction of more and more road courses introduces a perilous dichotomy to the IndyCar family.

Even though many IndyCar purists are not in favor of road courses outweighing ovals, we have seen a sudden upsurge in the number of proposed new IndyCar teams for next season. Just within the last couple weeks, we have heard rumors from Gil de Ferran, Highcroft Racing, Fernandez Racing, and now a new team from Alex Tagliani and Jim Freudenberg. Even if AGR reduces its entries from four cars to three (or even two), the IndyCar Series should see a nice bump in the number of cars on the grid when it takes to the streets of Brazil to kick off the 2010 campaign.

So, where does this leave us, the fans? Well, most of us have been clamoring for increased car counts and sponsors for several years. Many have pointed the finger at the Indy Racing League management for not doing enough to encourage new teams to join the Series. It seems ironic then that many of those same people who were upset by low car counts and lack of sponsors are now lamenting the fact that the additional road courses have encouraged more teams and more sponsors to look at the Series.

Yes, I admit that it likely won’t open up a bunch of new seats for Americans yet. But as the old saying goes, a rising tide raises all the boats. A larger field will encourage even more teams and sponsors to look at the IndyCar Series as a viable alternative to NASCAR. The responsibility then falls to the Indy Racing League to ensure that costs do not skyrocket out of control as they did with CART in the early ’90s. I just read an article recently indicating that CART teams in the early- to mid-’90s were spending upward of $11 million per car! That’s a big number in today’s dollars — can’t even begin to remember what that probably worth back then! (By comparison, the number I keep hearing kicked around for today’s cars is about $7-9 million per car for the top teams.)

For the Series to take advantage of this new possible influx of cars, the League quickly needs to get the cost of competition down. They have done a good job in the past few years by getting the engine lease under $1 million and really allowing a team to be competitive in the $4-5 million range. However, the Series would be most successful if the top teams — the Penskes and Ganassis — were topping out at $5 million per car and a lower-rung team could still be competitive in the $2.5-3 million range.

Understandably, there will be many fans who continue to be upset by the number of road courses on the IndyCar schedule. Remember, as has been pointed out many times before, the Series cannot just pick a place to race — they must be sought after by a facility much in the same way that Barber Motorsports Park courted the IndyCar Series. If the Series can maintain 26-28 competitive cars (with something more than a dozen Americans), the ovals will come back to the series and the appropriate balance will be found. Give it time, though — it ain’t gonna happen overnight.

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