DiZinno: Fatigue, rather than buzz, reigns after IndyCar’s 10 week in a row stretch

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The brutal stretch of 10 weekends of on-track activity in a row for the Verizon IndyCar Series is over, and the series heads into a most needed off weekend this weekend.

Robin Miller, who serves as part of NBCSN’s IndyCar pit reporting crew, wrote a rather important op-ed piece this week for RACER.com, noting the drain this schedule has done to the crew members, many of whom have spent their livelihoods and careers in the business for decades.

If this was used as a test case for future IndyCar schedules, then deal me out.

One of the issues that exists with the schedule now, even more than the logistical headaches posed from going to New Orleans, Long Beach and Birmingham in three consecutive weeks, is more the fact that in mid-June, 10 of 16 races in the 2015 season are complete, and there’s so few events to look forward to the rest of the calendar year.

With 10 of 16 IndyCar races done, that’s 62.5 percent of its season in the books.

Percentage-wise, NASCAR Sprint Cup is through 15 of 36 races, and FIA Formula 1 is through seven of 19. That equates to 41.66 and 36.84 percent of their seasons complete, respectively.

The FIA World Endurance Championship, which is on the rise, is only done with three of eight races, and the burgeoning Red Bull Global Rallycross championship is through one of 12 points races (two in total, counting the non-points X Games).

All four series stretch into late November, while IndyCar ends the last weekend of August – a full three months earlier.

Post-Indianapolis, it felt as though IndyCar was racing just to race, more than to build buzz about another event it had coming up on the schedule. And four races in three weekends after the Indianapolis 500 was arguably a bit too much in the immediate days after IndyCar’s longest race, and longest month of the season.

Detroit is a very well-run event, and the efforts of the Penske organization are second to none. But the weather and the fact it was a doubleheader stretched the limits of most on site to push on.

Texas and Toronto, frankly, were dwarfed on the world stage by other motorsports events. The Canadian Grand Prix is always one of the highlights of the year for F1, even if this year’s race wasn’t an outright classic.

This past weekend, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is getting more headlines around the world rather than IndyCar’s latest showcase at Toronto.

Toronto was a decent enough race with a popular winner, but just another cog in the schedule rather than the marquee event it once was in its usual July date. Attendance, certainly, is a fraction of what it had been a decade or more ago.

Ironically, had the race been held a week later, this upcoming weekend, IndyCar would be racing on a weekend where the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is off, and not directly head-to-head with Le Mans. Unfortunately timing was always going to be tight for IndyCar in Toronto this year, with the Pan-Am Games occurring next month.

As the final six races come up between the end of June to the end of August, traction might be harder to come by – Fontana (August to June), Milwaukee (August to July), Iowa (a week later in July), Pocono (July to August) and Sonoma (a week later in August) have all had date adjustments from their 2014 race dates.

Building buzz around events that are lacking in date equity – particularly the three oval events at Fontana, Milwaukee and Pocono – is going to be a challenge for the organizers. When stories emerge after the events, potentially, about low local crowd numbers, it should not come as a surprise.

Speaking strictly from a Milwaukee perspective, my home race, there has been little promotional buzz barely more than a month out ahead of the race at the venerable one-mile oval.

There have been private concerns expressed from sources within the last month that this may be the last year for the race, and the annual “will Road America come back?” story out this week that Miller also wrote may have more legs this time around. Potentially.

Meanwhile, on the whole, IndyCar teams don’t have the crew depth and strength in numbers as do NASCAR and F1 teams, and the ones they do have have been run ragged and roughshod the last three months.

Without dedicated shop/headquarters crew as NASCAR and F1 teams have, besides the traveling crews, the crews have been working ad nauseum to tear down and build up the cars for each event, and that’s if there haven’t been any accidents. Full rebuilds of wrecked cars only adds to the stress levels and workloads.

The scale of NASCAR and F1 allow for their schedules to run longer, but more importantly, for each race to feel like something of a big deal.

The anticipation for a Grand Prix builds in part because there are so few back-to-backs.

The anticipation for certain NASCAR races builds because of the consistency of date equity – with several exceptions, you generally know when a certain event will come up on the calendar. Sonoma later this month and Daytona to kick off in early July, when NBC makes its return to broadcasting, are but two examples.

Meanwhile IndyCar has had 10 races worth of content, but has it had 10 races worth of buzz? It’s hard to say yes at this point.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.