This off-season might prove to be the most critical off season Indycar seen since Champ Car and the IRL came together in 2008, and perhaps ever. The now title-sponsorless Indycar series entered its lengthy off season with a just as long list of tasks that need to be completed before the season starts again at St. Pete.
New Title Sponsor: In a move that surprised no one IZOD quietly fulfilled its contract and pulled out of the sport at the end of the year. Everyone knew this was coming for a long time, and because of that I’m a little surprised a replacement wasn’t announced at the season finale. Reportedly they’ve been courting Verizon for several years now, and obviously they’d be a great partner for the series. Their rival Sprint kicked them out of NASCAR and two companies from the same sector both sponsoring racing series could elevate Indycar’s brand.
Settle The Front Office: It’s been over a year since Randy Bernard’s departure and despite some high profile candidates interested in the CEO position it’s remained vacant. Not only that Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s sales and marketing officer Mike Redlick resigned and Greg Gruning, who responsible for seeking big sponsors, also left. So there are some big holes that Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles needs to fill quickly.
Finalize the International series: If the much ballyhooed international series is going to happen it needs to be finalized and publicized before the green flag at St. Pete. Beyond the obvious need to promote the events, teams need as much lead time as possible to put together sponsorship. While some sponsors like Barracuda and probably Novo Nordisk want more international races others don’t. Target for example doesn’t have any stores outside of North America. If this international series going to work teams need to be able to track down sponsors, and probably drivers, from those countries.
Fix The Schedule: The 2014 schedule is so underwhelming Miles is already dangling the possibility of a bigger, better schedule in 2015. Supposedly Circuit of the Americas, Road America, Mazda Speedway at Laguna Secca and a Grand Prix in Portland are close to deals for 2015. It would be awesome if at least one of these deals was signed and delivered by the time St. Pete rolled around.
Sign Another Manufacture: Honda has come out and said it, but the way the finances are supposed to work is that there are should be three engine manufactures, each supply about a third of the field. Right now Honda and Chevy are bearing the extra costs — and are real gentlemen about that — but how long is that going to last? Until there is three manufactures we won’t see significant bumping at Indy.
Not really front office responsibility
Event Sponsors: Honda dropped the title sponsorship of St. Pete, there isn’t one for the Indianapolis Grand Prix and apparently another couple of races are waiting on title sponsors for 2015.
Solid Rides for Young Americans: J.R. Hildebrand deserves a second shot, Conor Daly should be in the series, cause I don’t think he’s ever going to reach F-1, Sage Karam appears to be ready, at the tender age of 18, to be ready for the Indy 500 and there’s about eight or so young Americans that should be in Indy Lights next year.
Would be nice
All Star Event: Given the lack of ovals on the schedule it would be great to see a non-points All-Star Race on an oval followed by a nice long race the following weekend. What would make sense to me is moving the MavTV 500 to the Saturday before the Superbowl and having an All Star Race the week before. Or maybe Chicagoland Speedway later in the season. Just do something to give us more oval racing and the teams more money.
A Better TV Deal: Ratings on NBCSports sucks, and honestly I don’t see how sharing small channel with NASCAR will improve things. If there is an international series it could be leveraged by with more coverage on ABC and ESPN.
The Bottom Line:
Maybe I’m over-reacting to the 2014 schedule, but I feel like Miles and his team need to build some credibility with the public. With the addition of Juan Pablo Montoya and other first-class drivers like Sam Bird and Jaime Alguersuari looking at joining the series the on-track product looks great for 2014, but it’s up to the front office to build a bigger, better stage for them to perform on.