Recently, it’s come to light that drivers such as Conor Daly, Ryan Briscoe, Tomas Scheckter, and Alex Lloyd are only on the sidelines due to an inability to find funding. We decided to have our contributors share their thoughts on the state of motorsports, and how talented drivers are being forced to become “ride buyers” in order to continue to race. Does this change the stigma of a ride buyer? Are there drivers with budgets that continue to run, that you feel don’t deserve to be?
Matt: Times have changed. The economics of racing has completely changed. You can see above average (but not elite) drivers make their way through the ranks quicker than elite drivers who don’t have as much financial backing. And it won’t change. In fact, it’s only going to get worse. Dollars are harder to come by for many drivers, meaning the ride buyers will soon monopolize the field. The only deterrence to ride buyers are teams with solid sponsorship, usually bigger teams like Ferrari in F1, or Chip Ganassi in Indycar. Either that or you have an abundantly wealthy owner looking to stake you at his/her own financial loss. There is nothing you can do. Despite this, I feel as if the Indycar field has remained elite given the situation. Some drivers are on the sideline who don’t necessarily belong there. If I were a betting man, I think you could expect to see Daly and Briscoe both in the field in 2013. Ride buying is become a part of racing, there’s just no way around it.
Tiffany: I agree with Matt in the sense that the economics of IndyCar have changed over the past several years. However, the economics of the nation, and sports in general, have also changed. We can look to NASCAR to see that big personalities sell both tickets and sponsorships, and that sport has thrived in the recession. While I think that ride buying (to a certain extent) is here to stay, I think people are also overestimating the talent of drivers left on the sidelines. While Daly was climbing the ladder, I think he also wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a successful American F1 driver, which there hasn’t been in a long time. The allure of F1 is strong and I can’t blame him. Briscoe won a pole at Indy and has 8 IICS wins, but has only 2 since 2009. You can’t win just 2 races in 3 seasons with a Penske-caliber seat and expect to keep it. Penske expects more. In terms of Tomas Scheckter, he put the car in the wall more often than the top 10. He’s a go big or go home kind of driver, and when owners are stretching $$ to buy parts, they can’t afford him. Lloyd never really put together the results that his IndyLights career suggested he’d have, with only 3 top 10s on a team where he was second to Justin Wilson. Finally, Pippa never really showed dominance in IndyLights, so why should someone pump a ton of money into her even if she works hard? As awful as it sounds, you need the talent to run with the big kids if you don’t bring the $$. Briscoe has that talent, I think, so he’ll probably find a seat elsewhere, but the others? I think you may have seen the last of most of them outside of one-offs at Indy.
Honestly, I’m okay with the above statement. As painful as it might be to some people to hear, why do we need to see the same people struggling over and over and over again. How many times do we need to see the Jacques Laziers, the Jay Howards, or the Bruno Junquieras of the IndyCar world?
Ross: Ride buying itself has become truly a cancer to the sport. Not just Indycar, but all motorsports. Drivers who bust their tail building up through the ranks sit on the sidelines, while as someone’s dad who is an owner of a fast food chain or something similar gets a ride. From a sports car point of view that’s fine, because for every horrible ride buyer, there’s two or three Scott Tuckers (Level 5 Motorsports) who really have some talent but started later in life. I do like Penske’s theory on ride buying though. His take on it is, his team will not have ride buyers. Penske feel’s that it is the driver’s duty to drive and the team’s duty to go out and find the sponsorship, which to me makes the most sense.
Really what this boils down to is yes, economics. Right now, those signing the checks for Indycar sponsorship are keeping the checkbook a little closer to the chest this year. I would also be so bold to say that a driver wanting to run ALMS or GrandAm has a better shot of getting money than an Indycar driver. Why you might ask? The constant unrest that seems to be oozing from Indy. Granted it’s been quiet for the past month or so, but if I’m a CEO or marketing manager with a company who happens to know the stories of the past, I would be hesitant also. “But last year the racing kicked a$$” True yes it did, but sacking the guy who was trying to revamp the sport in the middle of such an upswing isn’t the most positive thing ever. So, here we are. Briscoe, Scheckter and others sit and wait, but ya know there is always sports cars.
Matt: I feel as if Jay and Alex lack that charisma that JR, James, and Charlie have. Plus they have by no means been slouches in Indycar, as they’ve all had their fair share of great runs. In order for Indycar to get new sponsors, they need a new TV Deal. I think all things given, it is extremely tough nowadays for teams to go find sponsors, but Roger Penske does sum it up perfectly.
Tiffany: I’d like to respond to what Ross said primarily, since I structured my first response in regards to Matt. I don’t think that ride buyers are a cancer since they have, indirectly, kept the sport afloat for the past several years. Without ride buyers, the IICS would be a small niche series that can barely keep 15 cars on the track. As hard as it is to stomach for some people, the money that ride buyers bring to the IICS helps to pump money into those that don’t have sponsors, and those with sponsors but can’t make ends meet. Without ride buyers, some teams wouldn’t even be afloat. So, in the end, it comes down to whether people want a tiny, tiny series with full-sponsor drivers, or a fleshed out series with some ride buyers. You can’t have it both ways. The responsibility doesn’t fall on the series to find sponsors for drivers, it’s their responsibility to find sponsors for the SERIES as a whole, just as it’s a promoter’s job to find sponsors for individual races. If a driver can’t find sponsors, that’s their own team’s issue to deal with.
Let us know what you think @Open_Wheels