By: Spencer Neff and Tanner Watkins
December 25, 2019 | 10:00 AM
First and foremost, Open-Wheels would like to wish you a Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and a wonderful new year in 2020. Thank you to all of our readers that support the site on a daily basis – we appreciate each and every one of you.
2019 was a great year for IndyCar – the series ushered in a new entitlement sponsor in NTT, the Indianapolis 500 was filled with drama and intrigue, the championship battle lasted to the final round of the season, and the most successful businessman in racing ended up buying all of it in November.
But while 2019 was good, in this business, you are always looking for a little more – that extra advantage that continues to move you forward towards progress and success.
Today, Open-Wheels’ owner/editor Tanner Watkins and assistant editor Spencer Neff has compiled a wish list of three ideas each, outlining key points to success for IndyCar in 2019 – and beyond. Take a look at them below!
NEFF: New Aeroscreen Provides Immediate Safety Boost
NEFF: Over the past decade, cockpit protection has been an increasingly important topic of conversation for IndyCar. On Carb Day in 2019, IndyCar announced a partnership with Red Bull Advanced Technologies.
For 2020, there will be a new aeroscreen implemented on every car for the NTT IndyCar Series.
Since then, it has been tested at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with positive reviews from past IndyCar champions Will Power and Scott Dixon. A month later, Arrow McLaren SP also tested the aeroscreen at Sebring International Raceway on November 5 with Patricio O’Ward.
Moving forward, the series also looks toward its 2022 chassis, which will have the aero screen integrated into the design. As the series looks toward the 2020 season opener, here’s hoping that this version of the aero screen is a major step in the right direction.
WATKINS: IndyCar Develops a Presence in Competitive Sim Racing
WATKINS: As a semi-active member of the iRacing community, it has been quite a disappointment to see IndyCar be so stagnant in the field of eSports while its competitors have success.
NASCAR, which hosts three unique racing series on both PC and console gaming platforms, has made considerable strides in embracing the value of eSports and applying it to virtual stock car racing.
For the eNASCAR Peak iRacing Series, the premier NASCAR division on iRacing that handed out more than $100,000 in prizes this year, real-life organizations and drivers such as Roush Fenway Racing, the Wood Brothers, and JR Motorsports had teams on-track – increasing exposure by significant margins.
While the raw data has yet to be released, Sports Business Journal reported that NASCAR saw a 195% viewership increase for its premier series across all digital platforms – and that doesn’t even factor in the live cable broadcast on NBCSN for the season finale.
Meanwhile, the IndyCar faithful have been fed a similar statement for the past three years – that the sanctioning body is evaluating their options and they are looking to expand their presence in that market soon.
Unfortunately, their competitor is already light years ahead of them and there is plenty of ground to make up – if they ever get moving at all.
NEFF: Continued Bump Day Drama
NEFF: For 2018 and 2019, 35 and 36 cars have taken part in qualifications for the Indianapolis 500. Before then, it had been since 2011 that more than 34 cars had entered to be a part of the 33-car grid.
In 2018, James Davison was among the most notable drivers to earn his way into the field. A day after a practice wreck, his Foyt-Byrd-Hollinger-Belardi had their car ready and managed to qualify 33rd, as James Hinchcliffe and Pippa Mann would not make the field.
This year produced a similar scenario. On Fast Friday, Juncos Racing’s Kyle Kaiser had a massive crash in Turn 3.
After not making a qualifying attempt on Day 1, Kaiser narrowly bumped his way into the field and knocked out McLaren’s Fernando Alonso in one of Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Bump Day efforts. For 2020 and the future, let’s hope the excitement of qualifying and Bump Day remains as part of the month of May.
WATKINS: Pocono, Watkins Glen Make Returns to Future Schedules
WATKINS: With new ownership at the helm, the time is now to re-introduce popular tracks such as Pocono Raceway and Watkins Glen International to the IndyCar calendar.
While there should not be any expectations of seeing these courses on the 2020 schedule, targeting a 2021 return for each would add a little more punch to an already diverse championship.
With Pocono off of the 2020 schedule, the closest thing the U.S. has to a northeast race is Richmond or Mid-Ohio (not counting Toronto), so the addition of Pocono and/or Watkins Glen would do well to fill that gap.
Furthermore, both courses are iconic United States motorsport circuits with tons of history. Watkins Glen is one of the more prestigious road courses in North America, and Pocono boasts a ton of IndyCar heritage that shouldn’t be forgotten so easily.
Sure, there are barriers to re-entry. Watkins Glen and IndyCar have yet to settle on a date that each party agrees on, and it seems that the previous ownership regime at IndyCar either thought that Pocono was too dangerous to race at, or wasn’t making enough to justify the risk, or both.
Regardless, IndyCar is suffering from just one superspeedway on the schedule as well as a lack of northeastern presence, and adding the two aforementioned tracks to 2021’s schedule would solve both issues.
NEFF: Penske takes IndyCar and IMS to New Heights
In May, Roger Penske celebrated the 50th anniversary of his first appearance at the Indianapolis 500. In another dominant month of May, Simon Pagenaud snapped a 21-race winless streak and won at the IndyCar Grand Prix.
Eight days later, the Frenchman became the first driver since Greg Ray in 2000 to win the pole for the Indianapolis 500 a year after starting second. On Race Day, Pagenaud led 116 of 200 laps and gave Penske their 18th win in addition to the 18th pole he earned a week earlier.
By November, Penske had more reason to celebrate. On November 4, it was announced that his company’s Penske Entertainment Corporation would acquire Hulman and Company, which includes Indycar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Although Mr. Penske is a businessman first and foremost, his love for the sport runs deep. In the press conference announcing the purchase, Penske recalled his first time at the speedway with his father in 1951. With his knowledge and passion, IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a bright future to look forward to.
Header image by Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR.