IndyCar fan survey yields some interesting surprises, curious reactions from paddock

IndyCar fan survey
Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment
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Over three weeks with 53,579 respondents from 147 countries, the NTT IndyCar Series recently commissioned its most comprehensive fan survey.

The results were released shortly after the paddock opened for the 2022 season-opening race weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg, and the online fan data provided by Motorsport Network and analyzed by Nielsen Sports made some waves for its reactions and revelations.

Here were some of the most interesting findings from the online fan polling (which was conducted over three weeks in January 2022) — as well as how they were perceived by the IndyCar industry (click here to review a 36-page summary of the survey):


MOST POPULAR DRIVERS

There already was anecdotal evidence that Romain Grosjean’s rookie season occasionally bordered on Beatles-esque fandom, and the survey backed up the splash he made last year in moving to IndyCar after surviving a firey crash in Formula One.

Grosjean was ranked No. 1 in global ranking (and the only driver to crack 10 percent in the favorite driver category), made the top three on 32 percent of ballots and was voted first in Europe and in the age 16-24 demographic.

“It felt amazing,” Grosjean said. “After only one year in IndyCar being voted most popular or favorite driver has been quite incredible. I’ve got a story; I come from 10 years in Formula 1 before. I think it was a rebirth. I use ‘The Phoenix’ as a nickname. It’s not only related to the fire thing, it’s related to a rebirth of myself through IndyCar.

“The fans give me so much, and I tried to give back last year through all of my experiences (in) the States.”

Romain Grosjean naturally had a strong fan contingent at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment).

Riding the strength of being No. 1 among female fans, Pato O’Ward ranked second (and the Mexican star was first among South and Central American fans). Four-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves credited his return to full-time status with helping him rank third among drivers (including No. 1 in North America and in the over-55 bracket that puts a premiums on Indy tradition).

“I’m happy about it; I’ve been here so long,” Castroneves told NBC Sports. “And now, so many people are like, ‘I’m glad you’re doing a full season.’ I hear that from both the knowledgeable and the first-time fans. No question the fourth win has definitely helped me as well.”

The final two members of the top five were surprising in their own way: Fourth-ranked Scott Dixon isn’t always mentioned for his sway (and the six-time series champion recently was missing from the stars prominently featured in IndyCar’s “Defy Everything” 2022 marketing campaign), and Alexander Rossi was the only U.S. driver in the top five.

Though the survey featured a diverse swath of support across many driver fan bases, Josef Newgarden (sixth), Colton Herta (eighth) and Jimmie Johnson ranked lower than might have been expected for an American-based series. By contrast, two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato was voted seventh in part because he received 60 percent of votes by from Asian-Pacific fans.

Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles said he would be taking a deeper dive on the regional and national breakdowns.

“You’ve got to believe Jimmie is going to move up the ranks, if you’re talking about the U.S.,” Miles said. “The fans are speaking, and Grosjean came to America, came to IndyCar with lots of fans. No surprise there. Pato, I don’t know if I would have picked him as No. 1, but the women did, so we’ll see what that means. I just think it’s all good feedback, and the next step is to even get more deep into perceptions about them all so we can help them and project themselves more meaningfully.”

IndyCar vice president of marketing SJ Luedtke noted that some drivers were more aggressive about rallying their fan bases (notably  Grosjean and his 1.2 million Twitter followers).

“The great part is the entire paddock supported this and helped us get fans who follow them engaged in the survey,” she said. “Some drivers were a little more excited to get people to vote for them so put on a harder press, a little more PR around the survey, and some of that also plays into current follower size of their brand channels.”


MOST POPULAR TEAMS

That the survey broke down similarly to on-track success was no surprise. Team Penske, Andretti Autosport, Arrow McLaren SP and Chip Ganassi Racing accounted for 65 percent of voting.

But it was notable that Penske, a team that even its drivers have joked as being referred to as “the Death Star” among fans because of its record Indy 500 dominance, drew the most support (ranked first by 19.4 percent and in the top three by 44.3 percent), particularly among fans older than 45 in the Americas.

Also significant was the presence of the upstart McLaren team, which surely was helped by O’Ward’s popularity but which McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also credited to “our digital and comms teams with this huge focus on the fan and communicating to them through our drivers, merchandise, digital channels and promotions.”

Brown noted the team’s re-emphasis on papaya orange liveries was based on “what do the fans want to see. Fans know how important they are to us, and we have a good two-way relationship. Without the fans, there’s no motorsports.”

One of the more intriguing conclusions about team allegiances was the lack of them. The survey described IndyCar fans as “non-tribal” with nearly 70 percent following several drivers and teams or considering themselves impartial while being engaged instead by the series overall. Only 13 percent of fans supported one driver, and 8 percent cheered for only one team, above all others.


MOST IMPORTANT COMPETITIVE ELEMENTS

Fans generally favored IndyCar’s direction on competition (approving of the move toward hybrid engines while also supporting tight racing over technological innovation). They also wanted minimal interference from stewards and opposed format changes.

But the survey also revealed a 47.2 percent net approval rating for keeping double points at the Indy 500 – a rule that many drivers and team owners have lobbied IndyCar to eliminate.

Team owner Chip Ganassi said IndyCar president Jay Frye told him that the fans’ support for double points at Indy was among the poll’s biggest surprises.

“If I had my choice of zero points or double points (for the Indy 500), I’d pick zero points,” Ganassi said. “The people who responded to the poll said they liked double points at Indy, and I thought, ’Holy (crap).’ That was stood out the most on that poll.


BRANDS AND SPONSORS

Among the top five most recognized brands in the survey, DHL was the only longtime team-specific sponsor – a pleasant surprise for team owner Michael Andretti, who immediately asked one of his team PR reps to send word to the No. 28 sponsor upon learning of the result. Verizon also made the top five after shifting into a Penske team sponsorship (with Will Power) since a long run as a series title sponsor, which Luedtke noted still had an impact on its fan popularity.

The other three brands (listed alphabetically and without ranking of the top five) were NTT (title sponsor since 2020), Firestone and Honda. More than 30 brands and sponsors received at least 1,000 unprompted votes (from fans who were asked to name companies involved in IndyCar).


MOST WELL-LIKED RACES

No surprise that the Indy 500 ranked first (58.8 percent) among races attended by fans who were surveyed, but the rest of the top five was an interesting mix (Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course 31.3 percent; Mid-Ohio 19 percent; Road America 16.8 percent; St. Pete 15 percent) that reflected less West Coast representation (notably in missing the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, generally regarded as the most prestigious event after the Brickyard).

Long Beach still was well regarded in ranking second behind the Indy 500 in the “perfect calendar based on fan appeal” and ahead of Road America, Laguna Seca and St. Pete. The survey’s 16-track “perfect calendar” also included four venues (Circuit of the Americas, Watkins Glen, Pocono and Phoenix) absent from the 2022 season while missing tracks (Nashville, Portland and Iowa) that are on this year’s schedule.

SURVEY SUMMARY: Click here to view the 36-page review of the fan polling

IndyCar champion Will Power completes ‘Victory Lap’ at ceremony in Indianapolis

Will Power Victory Lap
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power went on his “Victory Lap” last week to celebrate his second career championship as the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series champion.

It began with several media interviews in Monterey, California, the day after he won the championship with a third-place finish in the Sept. 11 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

From there, it was off to Los Angeles for more interviews and personal appearances that included a VIP Tour at the Petersen Automotive Museum, several appearances on SiriusXM and lunch at The Ivy, where the Team Penske IndyCar Series driver was treated to Wagyu Beef.

“It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life,” Power told NBCSports.com.

From L.A. back to Power’s North Carolina home, near Team Penske’s home base of Mooresville, there was one stop left on Sept. 17 — the Victory Lap Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, an invitation-only banquet where Power and his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet crew at Team Penske were honored for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship.

They didn’t even have to check into a hotel and spend another night on the road. Power and his team left on a Team Penske plane from the Statesville, N.C., airport at 4 p.m. ET Saturday to fly to Indianapolis. On arrival an hour later, a limo bus took the team to IMS.

Power led the 2022 season with five NTT P1 Awards for pole, earning the NTT P1 Award as the best qualifier of the season for the fifth time in his career. Power also made history with his 68th career pole, breaking the all-time mark held by the legendary Mario Andretti.

Power and Scott Dixon also became just two of only five drivers to complete every lap of every race in IndyCar Series history.

“What a year,” Power said as he was awarded his personal Astor Cup trophy (the second in his collection after the 2014 championship. “What a phenomenal year coming off one of my worst seasons personally. We came back with a vengeance.

“I want to thank Roger and Kathy Penske for everything they have done for me over the years. I wouldn’t be standing here and have the numbers I have without what Roger has done for me. I’m given a car every week that is capable of winning the pole, races, championships, and Indianapolis 500s. I’m so grateful for that.

“Also, to Greg Penske, you are there every week now at every event and I know we will be in good hands moving forward with the Penske Family.”

There are many on Power’s team and at home, that helped support Power throughout his career. None is bigger than Power’s wife, Liz, who told Power before the season that he would win the championship and break Andretti’s record.

“I must thank my wife. I’m so lucky to have a wife with that crystal ball that can tell me what is going to happen,” Power said. “I can’t think you enough, babe. I love you so much and you have been a big support to me my whole career. We’ve been together 17 years, and I’ve been in the series 17 years. She has been such a huge support to me. The mother of our child and she is a fantastic mother.

“She can’t tell the future. She just had faith in me.”

Liz Power’s premonition came true and that allowed Power and his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet team to celebrate Penske’s 17th IndyCar championship and 42nd title in the racing team’s history.

“The 12 crew this year, I’ve never had such a great group of guys,” Power said. “Trevor Lacasse (chief mechanic) is such a calm guy, but he does such a meticulous job on the preparation of the car. He is very, very good at keeping the whole crew happy. It feels as if there is no pressure on us. That’s a huge part in getting the most out of people. It was our first year together with you as a crew chief. What a great year to start our relationship.

“Dave Faustino (Power’s longtime engineer), we’ve worked together for 15 years. He’s almost like a wife to me, a partner … apart from sleeping together. We have a very good working relationship. Sorry Dave, I’m an awkward person and you are not.

“The things we have been through in our years together, it’s crazy that we continually improve and get better. We are standing on the podium after winning the championship and we are talking about the car, the race, and the tires. We weren’t talking about the championship.

“We never stop. The other boys were laughing at us, but I’m already thinking about next year.

“Ron Ruzewski (Team Penske IndyCar Managing Director and strategist) on the radio, always calm. He has actually made me a calm person. I rarely get upset on the radio anymore.”

Power also recognized the fans who helped boost attendance at many venues on the schedule this season as NBC Sports enjoyed its largest IndyCar audience yet.

“This series is growing,” Power said. “With open wheel racing now so popular because of Formula One, it’s really our time to push and put money behind it and go now and take IndyCar to another level because we have the best racing product in the world.

“I have to thank my teammates and (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric. I can’t tell you how hard we push each other. We are ultracompetitive and love each other and push each other hard, so thank you.”


Power won the championship by 16 points over hard-charging teammate Josef Newgarden, who finished second in the standings for the third year in a row.

“Overall, I’m filled with a lot of pride for our team and what we were able to do this year,” Newgarden said in his banquet address. “Any year that you step in the championship, you can easily see the challenges it presents everybody.

“It’s a very difficult challenge for the teams and drivers. To be a part of it, make it through it and for us at Team Penske, to topple it, is a very big deal. We’re all competitive.

“The tough thing about being in a championship fight, especially with teammates is we all want to be the best. That’s how it should be. We are competitive people and want to be the best. But it’s a team sport.

“Will, tremendous season, great, great job. I think the world of everybody on our team. It’s a big group. I’m so happy for all of you on the 12-car crew. There is so much we can take into next year.”

Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was unable to attend the banquet because of the Goodwood Festival in England but sent congratulations to Power via a video message.

“I really want to congratulate Will Power,” Dixon said. “You drove a tremendous season this year. Even with some of the lows that you had, some of the mistakes with qualifying, you bounced back tremendously. I know how tough these championships are and to see you do it in the style that you did it in the last race of the season, massive congratulations.”

Power’s championship formula included one victory, nine podiums and 12 top-five finishes. Teammate Josef Newgarden was second in the championship with five wins but only six podiums.

Cindric saluted Power’s season in accepting the championship team owner award.

“Will, you took it to another level this year,” Cindric said. “You are the complete package. You completed every lap, had nine podiums, finished out of the top 10 just four times, broke Mario Andretti’s record, and you did it all without cussing at the officials on national TV.

“One complaint I do has is while most of us think you might be from another planet, you never told us your wife was a fortune teller.”

Cindric also honored the seasons of Penske drivers Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, who won three times in his second full season (“You are one of only two full-time IndyCar drivers that has driven for us in the past 23 years that hasn’t won an Indy 500 or an IndyCar championship. Your time is coming.”).

Kyle Moyer was named team manager of the year (his fifth time and Penske’s sixth). Pennzoil presented Lacasse with the chief mechanic of the year for the first time, the sixth time for Team Penske. The No. 12 crew also won the Firestone Pit Performance Award for the most pit stop performance award points in 2022.

Power, Newgarden and McLaughlin delivered nine of Chevrolet’s series-leading 11 victories this season, helping Chevy win the Manufacturer Award for the seventh time since it returned to the series in 2012 and the first time since 2017. Jim Danahy, U.S. vice president, Competition Motorsports Engineering for Chevrolet, accepted the award on behalf of his team.


Christian Lundgaard was honored as the 2022 NTT IndyCar rookie of the year. Lundgaard, from Denmark, scored one podium, two top-five finishes and seven top-10s in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He edged David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD by 18 points in the standings for first-year series drivers.

Christian Lundgaard (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

“It’s been a tough season and looking at how it panned out, we struggled so much at the beginning of the season and how we were able to turn it around means so much to me and the team,” Lundgaard said. “It’s the one thing that you only get one shot at. I’m happy to have it.

“Being the first Dane at the Indy 500 certainly helps. Competing here for me is quite important and also special. To win this award and to be here in future years means so much to me. I have a chance to compete for wins and championships.

“This team gave me this opportunity at this track one year ago. We came back and got redemption. We got our first podium here. This year was 40 years ago that Bobby Rahal won the same award. It’s pretty special to keep it among the team.”

Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist was honored as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion after a dominant season for HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing. Lundqvist won a series-high five races in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry and clinched the Lights championship with a race to spare, ending with a 92-point advantage over Sting Ray Robb. HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing owners Henry and Daiva Malukas accepted the team championship.

“I’m very proud of that,” Lundqvist said. “It’s cool to see. We are starting to look to the future, and this might not be doing too bad. It’s been great. As most of you can guess with Henry and Daiva Malukas (team owners), it’s been an incredible journey. So much fun that we’ve had. To be on the grid this year was so much of a struggle for us. I didn’t even know I would be doing this until January.

“To be able to pull out the season that we had, I cannot thank this team enough. We will celebrate this for a long time. I’m so happy and proud about that.”

Outgoing IndyCar Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Geoffrey Billows also was honored as he is leaving that role while battling cancer.

“When I think of Dr. Billows, I think of two words,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said. “One is selfless and the other is tough. He’s gone through a lot these last couple of years, and he didn’t want anybody to know. He’s an amazing man, and we are very grateful for what you have done.”

Dr. Geoffrey Billows with IndyCar president Jay Frye (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

Billows was presented with a framed checkered flag signed by all drivers in the series as well as other IndyCar officials and dignitaries.

“I was not expecting this at all,” Billows said. “This means so much for me to be part of this family for the past 30 years. I’ve been presented with opportunities I never thought I would ever have. I can’t tell you how much I love all of you guys and care for all of you guys.

“Thank you so much. I want to also thank my wife, Tammy, who has been a pillar of strength as I continue on this journey with cancer for the past two years as well. You will still see me as a consultant because I love this too much to quit altogether.”

When the evening concluded, Team Penske boarded a bus to the airport for the short return flight to Statesville. They were home by midnight.

Power’s Victory Lap was complete.

“The best thing about this is I get to sleep in my own bed tonight,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500