If we didn’t know motorsport is in a battle for relevancy, we certainly do now.
Arguably the three biggest racing organizations on Earth – NASCAR, Formula One, and now IndyCar – have altered their points structures in attempts to produce more compelling products that can’t be ignored.
NASCAR is now on its fourth version of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which virtually ensures race winners a spot in the post-season and features eliminations after every third Chase race.
Formula One, dealing with a fan base sick and tired of Sebastian Vettel winning everything, chose to go ahead with making the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix a double points event.
And just yesterday, IndyCar revealed double points for their 500-mile events and a new points-paying system for Indianapolis 500 qualifying.
Never mind the hardcore fans well-versed in the nuances of the sport. Brian France, the FIA, and Mark Miles need to build their respective series’ presence and from their perspectives, they need the casual fan to do it.
Unfortunately, the casual fans can be quite fickle – they may clamor for one thing, but once they get it, they decide they don’t like it and clamor for something else.
Thus, we don’t know where this ongoing situation of series overhauling their championships, all in a bid to make their “show” a can’t-miss event, is going to lead.
In a time where there’s more entertainment options that continuously fragment an average person’s attention span, that “can’t-miss” status has become the Holy Grail. And the hardcore fans of the sport are going to have to deal with that.
Pertaining to IndyCar, its great racing product has been no-sold for years by the general public, so one can argue they don’t really have a choice but to find ways to get attention, artificially or otherwise.
While fans enjoyed the fact that IndyCar’s original (and, for non 500-mile events, still intact) points format allowed for what they believed was a purer way to settle a championship compared to the Chase, did the subsequent title battles become national stories? The answer, unfortunately, was no.
And so, Mark Miles, Derrick Walker and the rest have come up with their plan to build buzz: Double points at Indianapolis, Pocono and the season finale at Fontana, plus an Indy 500 qualifying structure that will dole out points in descending order for all Saturday qualifiers (33 points for first place, one point for 33rd place) before the pole is settled Sunday among the Fast Nine drivers (nine points for pole, on down to one point for ninth position).
The good news in IndyCar’s case is that we can see a method to the madness. Unlike Formula One’s version of double points that simply sticks the idea at the season finale, IndyCar’s version saves it for their longest races of the season.
It also balances the importance between the ovals and the road/street courses in regards to the championship, especially those road/street doubleheader weekends that Scott Dixon used brilliantly on the way to his third IndyCar title last year.
Points still skew toward the twisty tracks (600 points up for grabs on non-ovals, 492 on ovals) but with just six ovals on the schedule, that breakdown is tolerable.
Of course, you wish it wouldn’t have had to come to this and that the series’ on-track magic would speak for itself. But that’s just not going to happen.
With that in mind, the new structure is worth a shot on IndyCar’s end and a “wait and see” approach on ours.