Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood III.

Writer asks: Is NASCAR, other forms of motorsports doomed?

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On the surface, Tuesday’s announcement by International Speedway Corp., promising a palatial $400 million makeover of Daytona International Speedway sounded great.

But the fact the track will have 46,000 less seats once the project is completed in 2016 — a decrease of more than 30,000 from its current capacity of 147,000 — has caused at least one writer to ponder the future of NASCAR and other forms of motorsports.

In Wednesday’s AutoWeek.com column titled “Daytona International Speedway cutting 45,000 seats; is this a sign motorsports is doomed?”, respected veteran automotive writer Steven Cole Smith suggests while some of the luster and popularity of auto racing has waned in recent years, Tuesday’s news out of Daytona does not mean Tony Stewart or Dale Earnhardt Jr. will soon be working changing oil at Jiffy Lube.

Smith writes:

“Is motorsports doomed? No. Has it peaked? Probably. Has Has baseball peaked? Golf? Football? Basketball? Tennis? Probably. Because any live, pay-to-attend sport faces the same challenge racing does: There are other things to spend your money on, and when you can buy a 46-inch HDTV at Walmart for $358, there’s an overwhelming temptation to sit at home and watch the increasingly high-tech TV coverage.”

Smith asked DIS president Joie Chitwood III whether the elimination of the track’s “Superstretch” — the 45,000-seat grandstand on Daytona’s backstretch — and the precipitous drop in overall capacity is a bad sign about the future for NASCAR and motorsports as a whole.

To his credit, Chitwood answered honestly and fairly. He understands that it’s a different world today than when DIS opened in 1959. While Chitwood used the example of how things have changed in Central Florida over the last half-century, his take can be applied to the country, if not the world, as a whole.

“People can decide this afternoon that they want to go to an Orlando Magic game tonight,” Chitwood said. “They don’t have to make plans, book rooms, arrange transportation.”

Chitwood’s message is simple: There are so many forms of entertainment out there fighting for the average consumer’s wallet, that facilities such as Daytona need to change with the times, even if it means substantially cutting back on capacity. After all, even drawing 100,000 fans to the season-opening Daytona 500 is a success in most any sports marketer’s playbook.

“No question the motorsports business must begin to think outside the box, and focus on what IS working, such as the fact that Tony Stewart’s NASCAR Camping World Truck race at his Eldora Speedway has been sold out for months,” Smith wrote.

When the leaner and more efficient DIS pulls back the tarp off the completed makeover in 2016, fans can’t help but wonder if as seating capacity goes down, will ticket prices markedly go up to compensate for revenue lost from the eliminated seats?

Not so, Chitwood told Smith, saying only that ticket prices will be “adjusted” — whatever that means.

“We are not transferring this downstream to our fans,” he said.

WATCH LIVE: Indy Carb Day on NBCSN at 11 a.m. ET

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INDIANAPOLIS – Five and a half hours of live coverage await today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on NBCSN, with Carb Day coverage. It’s also live streamed via NBC Sports Live Extra for participating providers at this link.

It starts live at 11 a.m. ET and goes through to 3:30 p.m. ET, prior to the NASCAR AMERICA Motorsports Special. The latter show also has the same stream link via Live Extra.

The coverage includes the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Carb Day practice in advance of the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, leading straight into the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires’ Freedom 100 after noon (12:30 p.m. green flag), and the TAG Heuer Pit Stop Challenge, tentatively scheduled for 2 p.m.

Kevin Lee will lead NBCSN’s Carb Day coverage, filling in for Leigh Diffey who will be in Monaco, with Paul Bell and Robin Miller in the pits. Jon Beekhuis, Marty Snider, and Katie Hargitt will handle the pits.

Townsend Bell will also be on and available intermittently following his practice in the morning, driving his No. 29 California Pizza Kitchen/Robert Graham Honda for Andretti Autosport. He starts fourth for Sunday’s race.

Following the five and a half hours of Carb Day coverage, NBCSN will also have the NASCAR AMERICA Motorsports Special, featuring live updates on site from Monaco (F1), Indianapolis (IndyCar) and Charlotte (NASCAR).

From Indianapolis, Marty Snider, Townsend Bell, and Ray Evernham co-host coverage.

New Tatuus USF-17 chassis revealed

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Photo: Andersen Promotions
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INDIANAPOLIS – More to follow but the new Tatuus USF-17 chassis, the new car for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda on the Mazda Road to Indy, was unveiled this morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The full release is below:

The latest generation of chassis that will form the basis for the first two steps on the acclaimed Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel racing development ladder – which offers Mazda scholarships to allow racers to progress all the way from the grassroots of the sport to the Verizon IndyCar Series – was unveiled this morning at the Indianapolis Motor
Speedway during the lead up to the historic 100th Indianapolis 500.

The new Tatuus USF-17 will be the series’ standard for at least the next five years, and features a state-of-the-art carbon fiber monocoque chassis to meet the latest FIA safety standards as well as the proven 2.0-liter Mazda MZR engine and Cooper racing tires. It will replace the stalwart Van Diemen/Elan tube-frame car which has provided the backbone of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda since 1999.

The USF-17 is based upon the same FIA-approved Formula 4 T-014 design which is utilized in the Italian and North European Zone F4 series, as well as the new-for-2016 BRDC British Formula 3 Championship. Significant enhancements include the provision of a PFC four piston brake package, Cosworth Omega L2 Plus data system with Cosworth CFW 277 steering wheel (complete with integrated dash and gear change paddles) and a Magneti Marelli electronic gearshift system, forged aluminum American Racing Technomesh wheels and stainless steel exhaust headers.

Unique USF2000 sidepods, engine cover, front and rear wing end plates, nose cone and front cover combine to form an aero package that includes carbon composite wings with adjustable twin-element rear wing and a carbon composite diffuser. The rolling chassis is priced at $51,800, which is significantly less than the current USF2000 car.

“Today marks yet another great moment for the Mazda Road to Indy as we take another step forward into a bright future with the new Tatuus USF-17,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “I have watched Tatuus work with my staff and our partners on this project over the last six months, and I am convinced we made the right choice on this new car. They listened to what I wanted in a race car and delivered a beautiful, technologically advanced and, I believe, fast racecar. I have to thank Project Manager Scot Elkins, who has shepherded this project from its inception.”

The prototype USF-17 car will undergo a rigorous test and development program over the course of the next six weeks at four different race tracks in North America, after which the final specifications will be fixed. Mazda sports car talent and USF2000 steward/driver coach Joel Miller will handle the bulk of the testing duties.

Delivery of the first batch of 15 cars – all of which have already been sold – is set for September, with an initial two-day series test slated for late October. A second batch of 15 cars is scheduled for delivery in December. A second series open test will take place in January of 2017.

The winner of next year’s USF2000 championship – the first to be run with the new Mazda-powered Tatuus USF-17– will receive a Mazda scholarship to assist in graduation to the 2018 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, which will see the debut of another brand-new car featuring the same chassis along with an updated Mazda engine, enhanced aerodynamics and wider Cooper Tires.

“We talk a lot about the Mazda Road to Indy as the finest and most comprehensive driver development ladder in the world,” said John Doonan, Director of Motorsports, Mazda North American Operations. “The unveiling of the USF-17 today is the next step for Andersen Promotions to continue to improve the safety, performance and value of each series. We can’t wait to see the USF-17 racing next season and then the new Pro Mazda chassis to follow in 2018. To go along with the sleek Indy Lights IL-15 chassis, we will have the finest lineup of race cars anywhere.”

Interest in the USF-17 has been high. The September shipment of 15 cars has been sold as well as half of the second shipment in December. They will be delivered to 12 different teams, nine of which are new to the series.

“For me and for all of the people working at Tatuus, this is a fantastic day,” said Gianfranco De Bellis, Tatuus Race Cars Director. “I have great memories from my first experience with Dan Andersen 20 years ago in America. Our commitment and wish was to build the best car possible. I hope this will be appreciated by all the teams and something that we will all be proud of. I want to thank Scot and everyone involved in this project. We will look forward to seeing the car on track to be sure that it is not only a beautiful dream, but a reality.”

Testing will begin in June at NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Ky., followed by dates at Barber Motorsports Park, Road America and Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. Media are invited to attend the Road America test on June 27, which takes place the day after the Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy race weekend.

Dennis: Michael Schumacher agreed to leave Ferrari for McLaren

2 Jul 2000:  Michael Schumacher of Germany and Ferrari struggles to hold off David Coulthard of Great Britain and McLaren-Mercedes during the French Formula One Grand Prix at Magny-Cours in France.  Mandatory Credit: Clive Mason /Allsport
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McLaren Group CEO Ron Dennis has revealed that Michael Schumacher provisionally agreed to leave Ferrari for the British team in the late 1990s.

McLaren is celebrating 50 years of racing in Monaco this weekend, with Dennis having headed up its Formula 1 interests since 1981.

In an interview with the official F1 website, Dennis reflected on the drivers he had worked with at McLaren and those who he had missed out on signing.

Schumacher joined Ferrari from Benetton in 1996 after winning his first two world championships, and would go on to win five in a row between 2000 and 2004 with the Italian marque.

However, history could have been very different had he joined McLaren as he provisionally agreed to with Dennis at one point, setting up a partnership with fierce rival Mika Hakkinen.

“When he was already driving for Ferrari, Michael and I agreed for him to drive for McLaren,” Dennis said.

“Our meeting took place not during the grand prix weekend; no, we met secretly at a Monaco hotel at another time.

“But in the end it did not work out because his management insisted on controlling his image rights – they basically wanted to retain them all, plus get paid a lot of money of course.

“That was disappointing. I think Mika and Michael would have been a truly fabulous driver line-up.”

Schumacher remained with Ferrari until the end of 2006 when he announced his retirement from F1, only to return with Mercedes in 2010, racing for another three seasons.

Schumacher remains in rehabilitation after sustaining head injuries in a skiing accident in December 2013.

Lauda expects Rosberg to sign new Mercedes contract in next three weeks

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda expects Nico Rosberg to sign a new contract with the German marque in the next three weeks.

Rosberg currently leads the Formula 1 drivers’ championship by 39 points after winning four of the first five races of the 2016 season.

Rosberg’s contract with Mercedes is up at the end of the season, having last signed a deal back in 2014, and is yet to agree to an extension.

Reports in Italy claimed that Rosberg could be an option for Ferrari for 2017 in place of Kimi Raikkonen, but Lauda fully expects the German to continue his relationship with Mercedes.

“I’m sure we want to keep Nico, and Nico wants to stay,” Lauda told Sky Sports.

“I don’t see any issues at all. This will be fixed very soon.

“We have to decide it in the next three weeks. This is my point of view, to let him know that we all stick together for the next couple of years.”

Teammate Lewis Hamilton is locked in with Mercedes for the foreseeable future after announcing a new contract at last year’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Team boss Toto Wolff hinted over the off-season that a change in line-up may be required if tension between Hamilton and Rosberg boiled over.

However, with Rosberg in the form of his life, it seems unlikely that a switch will come in the near future – relying he wants to extend his seven-season stint with Mercedes.