Q&A: Mark Miles heading into 2016 IndyCar season

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INDIANAPOLIS – Hulman Motorsports CEO Mark Miles, the head of INDYCAR’s parent company, addressed the media at IndyCar Media Day on Tuesday in an informal setting.

A transcript of his press conference, as distributed by IndyCar, is below.

THE MODERATOR: We’d like to welcome back to the floor, the CEO of Hulman & Company, this is Mark Miles.

MARK MILES: Thank you. This was not really intended to be a news conference. I don’t know that I’ll be breaking a lot of new ground today. But given that all of you are here, we wanted to be here and be available, and for the most part answer your questions.

To kick that off, I thought I might make some comments on things that are percolating, will be new, most of them not headline grabbers, but for those of you who follow the sport closely, it will pique your interest.

In broad strokes, I would say we are all about as excited as we could be about the 2016 season. We met with all the promoters in Scottsdale last week. The drivers are all here and will be meeting with them tomorrow. The team owners at the test in Phoenix at the end of the month. We get to go through everything.

One of the things I think is very cool is to show them the plans for how we view the year from a communications perspective, which basically is to design, to leverage the absolutely unique, important, pivotal hundredth running of the Indianapolis 500, and to draw the connections to that legend and to that history, to that epic moment to all our races.

The drivers that are here will be driving at the races, they’ll be competing for wins and titles and the like throughout the whole series. I think we intend to use that moment, that historic moment, for the benefit of the promotion of our drivers and our promoters and events throughout the year. Sooner or later I’m sure you’ll get to see some of the creative that has gone into that.

We expect to continue to increase the television audience. We have the same broadcast partners. As you probably know, we increased ratings and viewership on average over the last two years by 25% and another 13%. I think we’ll get over 50% in total increase over the three years by the end of this year. That was done through some very careful scheduling which took some time.

You’ll see things like, for example, Sonoma is going to run a little later. If I’m a Sonoma fan, I might say, I’d like to be headed home to Sacramento a little earlier. In this case, Sonoma will run a little later because it allowed us from a television perspective. There are several like that where we continue each year to have fewer overlaps in the broadcast with NASCAR. We’re missing Pocono. Our broadcaster is covering the Olympics. Pocono will run after the last sport competition of the Olympic Games this summer and before the closing ceremonies, which is a nice window, good opportunity to capture a broad audience.

I think there are half a dozen surgical scheduling moves like that that I think will help us get over 50 percent in television audience over the three years, including at the end of the 2016.

We are still maybe more than ever as we get closer really excited about the prospects for being back at or for the first time in Phoenix and Road America and Boston. All of them are really excited. All of them are making great progress. As I said, we were just in Phoenix. Brian Sperber and his team are doing a fantastic job of reintroducing IndyCar in that marketplace. We’re looking forward to increasing the number of fans in those cities and making new fans.

There’s a long list of technical stuff. Again, I don’t suggest these are all attention or headline grabbing, but I’ll mention some of them. If you have questions and I can’t answer them, we’ll get you with the engineering folks who can.

Some of them are under the heading of safety enhancements. One of those is tethers. At all tracks there will be tethers, there will be tethered rear beam wing and rear wheel guards. I have trouble saying that even when I’m reading it. They won’t just fly off when there’s an incident.

At superspeedways there will be tethers to the nose and front wing main plate. We think that will be helpful from reducing debris and a safety perspective.

We’re adding dome skids to the bottom of the car, the floor of the car at superspeedways. As you all know, that means increased stability which I think is really important for the superspeedways.

In April the IMS, leading up to the 500 year, we have an oval race in Phoenix, then we’ll have this new test here at IMS so that whatever is going to happen at the Speedway will have been run out here prior to that, which we think is important.

There are new rear beam wing flaps that are a little ‘NASCAResque’. They are meant to kick into and have effect at 15 to 20 miles per hour if the car is going backwards, basically to keep it on the ground. This was developed with the cooperation of all of our manufacturing partners and some of the teams. It was tested at the Texas A&M wind tunnel up to 230 miles per hour in the tunnel. There was no mechanical failure. I’d love to see the wind tunnel testing at 230, but they did it and it seems that it works.

It adds 500 pounds of downforce to a car going backwards, which we think will help prevent cars getting in the air in that condition.

‘Push to pass’ has been increased by 20 horsepower, so it would go from 40 to 60 horsepower, which makes a big difference. Things like the fuel probe sensor, which was part of the controversy, I’d say, for I think it was Fontana in the 15 car, it will now work much better and basically will have more effect more quickly on an engine in gear when the fuel probe is detected.

There’s lots of things like that that we think are improvements and part of the steady progress of making IndyCar more compelling and more safe. We’re looking forward to seeing how it all rolls out this year.

I’m happy to take any questions.

Q: Maybe I misheard, but it sounds like the Pocono race will be tape delayed?

MARK MILES: No.

Q: Live after the Olympics are over?

MARK MILES: Before the closing ceremonies and after the last medal competition, live.

Q: How would you summarize the state of IndyCar racing heading into 2016?

MARK MILES: Ascending. I think in one of my first opportunities to talk to fans three years ago I sort of felt like IndyCar maybe needed to apologize because we put our fans through a lot. We’re not perfect today. But I think the fan metrics are improving.

We have to worry about costs up until such time we can infuse more financial resources into the paddock. We have to be very careful about adding costs. I think the aero kits contributed a little bit of angst in that regard last year. I think they’re getting a handle on that.

What matters most is more fans paying more attention. I think that’s happening. We can talk about the metrics, whether they’re digital, dot-com, social, broadcast.

It’s very hard to get a handle on attendance. We learned about some new technology in Phoenix that will give us a better ability to have a better understanding by day at each event how that works. But my sense is if you can sort of normalize for crummy weather and rain last season, the vast majority of our races have bigger crowds.

I think about attracting more fans and I think the direction is good for us.

Q: You spoke about some NASCAResque flaps when, going backwards, that flip up.

MARK MILES: Yes. Somebody else can give you more clarity. On the roof basically of the NASCAR there are these flaps. I’m told ours are more heavy-duty and professionally engineered and cooler and will be effective. But time will tell.

Q: Mark, you mentioned Pocono. The other track would be Iowa. Are the owners happy with such a late start for both of those two races? It has to affect their gate.

MARK MILES: We’ll see if it affects the gate. It is difficult for a sport to balance the gate, local fan attendee consideration with television. I think what our sport, where we’ve had the greatest opportunity to make up is on the television side. We don’t ever want to be reckless with the affinity and loyalty of fans who buy tickets to make the events work. We have to find a good balance.

If you pick a time when you can’t even get on TV because your broadcaster is covering the Olympics in every part of their platform, that’s a real problem. If alternatively you can pick a time when you have a great window, coming out of a NASCAR race or what have you, then there’s a big upside.

It isn’t perfect, but I think we’re getting a good balance. I think it’s showing up with increases in the biggest numbers, which are television.

Q: You mentioned costs being a factor. Car count continues to struggle. Doesn’t look like it’s going to be much better. Sponsorship is a concern. What can the series do to bring costs down?

MARK MILES: Three years ago we sort of put flags in the ground for some things we thought were really important and say, Where do we aspire to be in three years? One of them, for example, was to get a total paid increase in attendance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway of 200,000 people, which is a 50% increase.

Another one was to double the amount of money that the series pays to leader circle teams. Basically to go from $1 million to $2 million. We have increased that by 25%, $1,250,000. We hope over the next two years to get that somewhat higher.

Frankly, as we look out today, I’m not sure we’ll be able to get it up to $2 million per team by ’18. We’ve had some very interesting conversations with team owners, one in particular with Michael Andretti.

He said there’s two ways to accomplish the point of your goals. One is to pay more and the other is to reduce our costs. What if we combined an effort with our technical people at the series and our manufacturers and team representatives to think through where can there be savings. That doesn’t necessarily mean the cost of a part, although it will mean the cost of a part. It can also mean the rationale and the rules for testing, the way they use tires. We think any number of things.

We’ve got an owners’ meeting, as I mentioned, in late February. By then we will have constituted this group. It won’t be every owner. There will be a focused initiative to say that without affecting the popularity of this sport, are there ways that we can reduce costs, which is the same as writing a check, to make the economics better for teams.

This is something I’m excited about. The team owners believe there are ways, again, that you won’t see, that won’t affect our appeal to fans, but can be sensible initiatives to reduce costs.

Q: You mentioned being excited about Boston coming up. Has some of the publicity that groups have brought up caused you concern?

MARK MILES: I think the short answer to the question is that we fully expect the race is going to go on and is going to be a great success. We were with the representative of the promoter last week in Arizona and went over where we are on suite sales, sponsors. I’m not a political analyst that can give you all the real truth about what’s going on on the ground except I know our promoter working with the mayor’s office there has worked very hard to make every accommodation to people who live right there who might be inconvenienced to any extent and to speak to the concerns of anybody who might fear the worst, if you will, with a new event they’ve never experienced.

I think it’s true there are five different owners of parts of that track or the facilities adjacent to the track. The city owns a piece, they’re one of the five. You have Massport, Mass Highway, you have the Convention Center. Just the task of getting them all onboard conceptually, which had happened we thought when we made the announcement last May, but every nit documented is a lot of work.

I think the show is going on. I think it’s going to be a stupendous location in a great city. We’re really excited about the chance to capture the attention of more college students who descend on that city just before we race. It’s important that it works.

There are certainly challenges. I believe it will be a situation where in 2017 for year two, the people of Boston couldn’t imagine not having it.

Thank you all for your time today. Looking forward to a great year with you.

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Anaheim 2: Ken Roczen is consistency’s king

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Strength is found not only in outright wins, but also through consistency, which contributed to the rise of Ken Roczen in the SuperMotocross Rankings after Anaheim 2.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with the knowledge that he urgently needed change, so he declared himself a free agent, signed with Suzuki during the offseason and set upon 2023 with renewed determination. It worked. Roczen is one of three riders in the 450 class with a sweep of the top five and that consistency has given him the lead in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings.

SuperMotocross Rankings Anaheim 2
Like Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield wall, Ken Roczen pointed his way to the Power Rankings lead. – Feld Motor Sports

This formula rewards riders who compete at the front of the pack at the end of the Mains, in their heats, or in last week’s case, the three motos that make up the Triple Crown. Roczen has improved his overall performance each week with a fifth in Anaheim 1, a fourth in San Diego and his first podium of 2023 in Anaheim 2. Can he keep the trend alive with a first- or second-place finish in Houston?

A fall is all it takes sometimes. Last week, Eli Tomac tumbled hard when he pushed wide on the exit of a turn and jumped on top of a Tuff Blox. He remounted after that incident in Race 3 of the Triple Crown, but could only manage a 13th-place result in the moto. It could have been much worse and resulted in an injury, but coupled with a sixth in the overall standings at Anaheim 2, it pushed him down a spot in the SuperMotocross Ranking.

Along with Roczen (and Chase Sexton), Cooper Webb swept the top five in Supercross’ first three rounds. He is knocking on the door of a win and it won’t take long for him to ascend to the top of the box. Webb has two victories in Houston and each of them came during a championship season.

If there is a more determined rider than Jason Anderson, get out of his way. His path to the front of the pack is not always lined with primroses since he often has to pass multiple riders with whom he has had a run-in during his path, but the SuperMotocross Power Rankings are concerned only with raw results – not intention – and Anaheim 2 was Anderson’s best race of the season. He earned his first top-five and first podium with a second-place finish that was aided by a moto win.

MORE: Triple Crown format shakes up A2’s finishing order

Dylan Ferrandis has also been a model of consistency. Last week his Triple Crown effort of 4-6-5 gave him an overall finish of fifth. That came on the heels of a fourth-place result in the season opener and a sixth in San Diego. With no result worse than sixth this season, the numbers add up quite well.

Sexton’s position just outside the top five this week is entirely attributable to his last-place result in the San Diego heat. The SuperMotocross Rankings looks at the past 45 days, so that will affect him for a while, but if he continues to ride like he did in Anaheim 2, he’s going to climb quickly despite that albatross around his neck.

450 Rankings

This
Week
Driver Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1. Ken Roczen 84.63 3 2
2. Eli Tomac
[2 Main; 2 Heat wins]
83.25 1 -1
3. Cooper Webb 82.25 2 -1
4. Jason Anderson
[1 Heat win]
80.63 5 1
5. Dylan Ferrandis 78.75 4 -1
6. Chase Sexton
[1 Main; 3 Heat wins]
77.75 9 3
7. Justin Barcia 67.88 6 -1
8. Aaron Plessinger 67.63 8 0
9. Adam Cianciarulo 67.25 7 -2
10. Joey Savatgy 61.00 11 1
10. Marvin Musquin 61.00 12 2
12. Malcolm Stewart
[1 Heat win]
58.75 13 1
13. Christian Craig 56.13 14 1
14. Colt Nichols 56.00 10 -4
15. Dean Wilson 47.50 15 0
16. Tristan Lane 41.00 18 2
17. Grant Harlan 40.67 19 2
18. Justin Hill 40.57 16 -2
19. Logan Karnow 36.50 20 1
20. Alex Ray 36.00 21 1

Supercross Points


The 250 West riders get a couple of weeks off before heading to Oakland for the rescheduled Round 2 and several of them need the rest. Tough weeks for Cameron McAdoo and RJ Hampshire forced them to lose ground in the SuperMotocross points to Jett Lawrence at a time that could prove to play mental games.

Lawrence also had his share of issues at Anaheim 2, but overcame early falls in the first two motos and finished no worse than sixth. Considering that he dropped to the tail of the field in Race 2, that was a remarkable accomplishment and he entered the final race with a shot at the overall win. He narrowly missed that mark, but still has not finished worse than second in three rounds. His lead in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings is safe.

Cameron McAdoo rode with injury in all three Triple Crown motos, so his sixth-place finish was a moral victory. Cameron McAdoo, Instagram

McAdoo said it best in an Instagram post this week: “Woke up feeling grateful that I’m relatively healthy after my big mistake during qualifying yesterday. We made the decision that it would be safe for me to race so I did everything I possibly could to get through the night ending up [sixth overall]. We will work on getting healed up in these few weeks off to come back strong for Oakland!”

With results of 8-7-5 in the Triple Crown and his combined sixth-place result, McAdoo lost significant ground to Lawrence in both the points’ standings and our Power formula. The Oakland race is going to be critical if he wants to stay in the championship hunt because the series will have a long break before returning in Seattle for Round 11. No one wants to sit with negative feelings for that long.

Mitchell Oldenburg has quietly amassed some impressive numbers. His name has not been called a lot during broadcasts, but he has not finished worse than seventh in any of the first three rounds. Themes develop during a season and weekend – and for the moment, this one revolves around reliability. Oldenburg finished 5-4-6 in Anaheim 2 which means he has consistently amassed SuperMotocross Power Rankings points.

Stilez Robertson won his first race of the season in Moto 2 of the Triple Crown. Coupled with a third-place finish in the final race, he leapfrogged Hampshire and Enzo Lopes, both of whom had disappointing outings. He stands fifth in the points’ standing mostly due to a ninth-place finish in the season opener, but each race has been progressively better and that is a good sign.

Sometimes, all it takes is a taste of success. Prior to Anaheim 2, Levi Kitchen’s best Supercross finish was a seventh earned in this year’s season opener. He scored a ninth at Minneapolis last year, but that was not enough to put him on the radar. This early in the season, one strong run can sway the SuperMotocross Power Ranking significantly, but Robertson has earned his way into the top five. More importantly, he’s going to be the object of interest when the West series returns to Oakland.

Next week the 250 East riders mount up in Houston, Texas before they head to Tampa, Florida. The Power Rankings will combine the two divisions, so the riders below are likely to shift dramatically.

250 Rankings

This
Week
Driver Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1. Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat wins]
89.13 1 0
2. Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
77.63 3 1
3. Mitchell Oldenburg – W 77.00 5 2
4. Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat win]
76.75 6 2
5. Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main win]
73.75 12 7
6. RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat wins]
70.00 2 -4
7. Max Vohland – W 69.29 8 1
8. Derek Kelley – W 63.75 10 2
9. Enzo Lopes – W 63.25 4 -5
10. Pierce Brown – W 61.29 13 3
11. Phil Nicoletti – W 59.25 7 -4
12. Dylan Walsh – W 56.00 9 -3
13. Cole Thompson – W 51.00 11 -2
14. Robbie Wageman – W 50.75 15 1
15. Anthony Rodriguez – W 49.00 14 -1
16. Ty Masterpool – W 47.50 16 0
17. Kaeden Amerine – W 47.50 16 -1
18. Dominique Thury – W 47.00 18 0
19. Austin Forkner – W 43.00 20 1
20. Derek Drake – W 42.33 21 1

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Ken Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage