Frye taking pragmatic approach to new role within INDYCAR

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – It’s apparent already that INDYCAR’s new president of competition and operations, Jay Frye, has the right temperament, focus and skill set to serve him well in his new role with the sanctioning body, moving on from being the chief revenue officer for last two years.

Speaking with NASCAR Talk editor Dustin Long at this week’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event from Phoenix International Raceway, Frye is determined to translate some of his efforts in the past to make a healthier paddock and continue to grow the sport and avoid some of the turmoil that existed internally in the past.

“Once you build consensus and become consistent as a league, there will be times where you have to make decisions,” Frye told Long at PIR. “Whether it’s an 80 percent agreement or 50/50, or whatever, you have to make the call.

“You’re not going to make everybody happy all the time. But if as a league, you have to have respect, and they get it; they might not agree, but they understand why you’re doing it.

“The next time it could be the opposite end. The same group that might have previously not agreed before but respects it, actually agrees. As long as you’re all in it together, that’s the key.”

Derrick Walker, Frye’s predecessor in the role, had entered in 2013 with high hopes but struggled to maintain a happy paddock as the 2015 season went on.

A particular sore point occurred at qualifying for this year’s Indianapolis 500, where a series of accidents in the lead-up to qualifying led to INDYCAR deciding to qualify the cars in race downforce trim, a much higher downforce package that produced slower average speeds.

Frye will address race control as one of the elements of his new role, although he noted how challenging officiating is, regardless of the discipline.

“Officiating is very difficult, no matter if it’s NASCAR, NFL, whoever,” Frye told Long. “We’re going to try to eliminate some of the debate. Debate is good, but sometimes there’s too much debate about things that are black and white.

“We need to create a package the teams understand, and know what the consequences are for certain actions.”

Frye said one of the areas that will need to be explored further is race control within the race. Far too often this year, in-race incidents were subject to post-race reviews, and later post-race penalties issued on Wednesday.

“This is more during the game, during the race (we’d be looking at),” Frye explained.

He hopes to have personnel in place within the stewards system, which will continue, by the end of the year. He said it’s “hugely important” that a driver participates within race control, in his opinion.

“Drivers know better than most what’s going on,” he said. “You need a group with great knowledge. Consistency is being there every week. Maybe you have your core group, and a few alternates available if someone isn’t able to come.”

One of the other areas Frye has been able to re-establish is an increased dialogue with International Speedway Corp. (ISC) with regard to future races.

Frye’s presence was instrumental in getting Phoenix back on an IndyCar schedule for the first time since 2005, and he hopes it’s the start of more ISC tracks returning in the years to come.

“We had a group that participated in a schedule committee, and I’ve been on it the last several years,” Frye told Long. “So somewhere in June, I didn’t understand why we weren’t doing more in particular areas of the country. So I called John Saunders of ISC and we went through some different ideas and scenarios, and he was enthused.

“We basically called (PIR track president) Bryan Sperber, and then Bryan and I started working through the process for how the deal could look. And Bryan and his group have been phenomenal. There’s a huge amount of enthusiasm from us, from INDYCAR; we’d been coming here for 40 years, but we haven’t been here the last 10.

“We were already doing business with them, and that was one of the things with my call to John was, ‘What can we do to make something happen?’ Say it’s 2-3 events going forward, and we can come up with some sort of formula. There’s a whole menu of different facilities throughout the whole country.”

Other elements Frye touched on during a wide-ranging conversation were a presenting sponsor for the Indianapolis 500 and potential tethers for wings coming on board in 2016.

There’s no announcements on either front yet, but said the presenting sponsor is something INDYCAR has been actively pursuing and attracted a lot of interest, as Hulman Motorsports CEO Mark Miles told MotorSportsTalk back in May. Tethers, he said, fall under the day-to-day process of making INDYCAR safer in any way, shape or form.

On the whole, Frye said the product is good and building the sport from a people side is key to growth going forward.

“We have in INDYCAR, a great racing product. We don’t want to affect that in any negative way. That’s the first thing on the list,” Frye told Long.

“Part of this, coming from a racing background or perspective, particularly on the team side, our teams … we have some great teams, some great people. It’s very important to do the right thing with the teams. Some cost containments, and getting the teams more involved in the decision-making processes. That’s something I’ve always done.

“And from a team background it’s all about the people. As a league, we need to make sure we have the right people in the right spot, doing the right thing.”


Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

MORE: McLaren considering Kyle Busch for Indy 500

“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”