Mark Miles checks in after IndyCar’s 2017 schedule release

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Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, the head of INDYCAR’s parent company, checked in with reporters during a teleconference to discuss the release of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. He also checked in on NASCAR AMERICA this evening on NBCSN with Krista Voda (video above).

Here’s some of the highlights:

On getting the schedule out so soon

“Well, we thought it was important. You know, if you’re committed to making the foundation of a current year the bulk of the schedule the next year, then we didn’t see any reason we couldn’t do it, and I think it’s important from the point of view of the next step, which is careful tailoring, crafting of the television schedule. But also for the tracks; here happily we are in August, and we’re announcing a schedule, and they have a year to prepare.

“We kind of put the stake in the ground that we’d get this out in August, and I think we’re still in August, so we’re delighted to have met the goal.”

On further schedule growth

“Some of you are aware of and have written about it, and there were options to be sure, lots at the start, narrowed to some finalists, and we think there will be even more for next year.

“Our philosophy about growth is careful, managed growth where we add to fill in gaps on the schedule, and those to me looking at next year, we still believe there may be an international opportunity at the very beginning of the year to be abroad, and that will do lots of things for us if we can find a great opportunity for ’18 in February. And then there may be one more opportunity to add during what we currently have kind of staked out as the heart of the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule in North America.

“We think about all the factors from the balance we want to try to keep in terms of the type of racing, which we’ve already talked about, in terms of urban versus more park-like as we have now in so many of our races, Midwest versus other regions of the country. We’re pretty Midwest based, and I think there’s an appetite west, northwest, east or southeast in this country, urban versus more rural.

“So all those things go into it, and I think we just look at the options on a case-by-case basis and try to make the best calls.

“Fundamentally, the most important thing, irrespective of what kind of track and where it is in the country or the world, we want races like we have for the most part where the race is an event that captures the imagination of the community.”

On whether 2017 and 2018 schedules could have been released together

“I loved the idea of putting out the ’17 and ’18 calendars at the same time, and we were really close to doing it, and that’s exemplified by the fact that I’ve already told you that I expect everybody that’s on the calendar for ’17 to be on the calendar for ’18.  We do think there’s still some prospects that need a little more time to be fully developed for both international and other domestic opportunities for ’18. So we decided not to go.

“But saying all that, I don’t think we have to wait until August of ’17 to release the ’18 calendar. I can’t give you the date on which we’ll do it, but I do expect that it’ll be even earlier before ’18 than it was before ’17.”

On why Phoenix shifted from the start of April to the end of April

“When Phoenix came on for this year, we knew that in ’17 Phoenix would host the NCAA Final Four, and we agreed with them that it’s better to avoid that in that community. That’s a lot of fan choice and a lot of focus from the local media.

“That’s the reason that it changed from ’16 to ’17. I think that makes sense. And I think the schedule still works fine for our competitors.

“We are looking at what that might look like in ’18, and whether it stays more or less where it is or whether it goes back to — I guess we can’t call it the traditional date since it’s been one year, but the ’16 date, and that’s a decision we’ll make obviously in the context of putting out the ’18 calendar.”

On Auto Club Speedway, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Portland

“I think we talked a lot about Fontana about a year or so ago where their needs in terms of climate and time of day and even the sunset, which affects our drivers’ ability to be safe and run a great race, which affects the time of the race, which affects broadcasts in eastern time. It’s all related, so that one we just couldn’t sort out.

“[Mazda Raceway] Laguna Seca, interesting track, race history. We are kind of in that part of the world if you consider Sonoma northern Cal along with Laguna. Sonoma seems to be kind of solidifying a place for us as the season finale, which we love, and I think our fans and our stakeholders appreciate.

“Portland has a great history and is a part of — further north. That’s not northern Cal, and is an interesting region for us. So I don’t know. I don’t know that you’ve heard the end of the possibilities for Portland.”

On the broadcast partners and start times components

“I think [releasing the calendar now] it’s important from the point of view of the next step, which is careful tailoring, crafting of the television schedule.

“The other thing is the further out we get, the harder it is to really fine-tune the television broadcast schedule [for 2018], and that matters to us. As you know, we’ve made real progress with our broadcast partners in finding optimal broadcast times, which help us attract more viewers. We want to continue that focus. The further out you get, the harder it is to pick the exact date when you know a little less about their other programming, so we’ll take a little more time.

“Obviously as I think I may have mentioned before, we have to work with our broadcast partners to find the right balance between the show, the event on-site for the fans who buy tickets and come out, and the fans who will tune in on television. One of the things that we’ve found is that it’s better for race fans I think generally if we can minimize overlaps with NASCAR coverage. I’m not in any way defensive about saying that. We think there are a meaningful number of fans of both series, and we’d like for all of them to be able to watch both kinds of racing.

“It’s really helpful in the second half of the season that the same broadcasters [on NBC] are programming both NASCAR and IndyCar, so it’s in everybody’s interest to maximize the windows for both, and I think that’s happened, and you’ve probably seen kind of the add-up of that, the significant reduction in the number of races where there are overlapping telecasts and the number of hours. It’s much, much less than it was even three years ago. I think that helps all race fans.

“And ABC has worked with us, as well. You’re always trying to minimize key conflicts in the sports horizon. NBC’s objective or one of them is to be the motorsports platform, much as they’ve done in golf, and they have grown as a cable provider, and they’ve grown their audience for motorsports, and certainly they’ve been helpful in the growth of our television audience.”

On Stephen Starks’, VP of Promoter Relations, role in the process

“Stephen has brought great, fresh thinking about all this. You know, together we can focus on the few things we want to do better, and timeliness was part of it, the things we’ve been talking about, so he does deserve huge props for driving this process inside IndyCar, being I think a great resource to those who wanted to be considered to join the series and extending the agreements for those who have been on and now will be on with certainty longer. He spent a little bit of time with us and our legal department, so he understands that side of the business, and now he’s really gone to town, and I think the future is bright not just in terms of the schedule-making process, but our ambition is to add more value to the promoters that we have.

“When I look at other leagues, the NBA has a great team-services group, for example, and they’re able to share best practices in a serious way that adds to the value the league provides to their franchises.

“When one of them figures out something that helps them promote ticket sales and get ticket sales in earlier, they all know about it, and I think we can, under Stephen’s leadership, add that kind of value to our promoters, as well.

“I can see his head swelling. We may have a hard time getting him on the plane on the way back.”

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”