Changes: For Better or Worse – Part 1

The biggest change to IndyCar will be missing Dario Franchitti from the field. [John Wiedemann Photo]

Whether you are young or old, changes don’t always come easily.

In sports, the three-point shot in basketball and the Designated Hitter in baseball haven’t come about without much hand-wringing and often heated discussion.

So as the 2014 racing season is about to begin in earnest, let’s take a look at some things that will be different this year and some changes that need to be made.

Indy Car:
Dario Franchitti, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and four-time Indy Car series champion was forced to end his driving career due to medical concerns related to injuries he suffered from his final lap crash at Houston. Target Ganassi will replace him with 2013 500 winner Tony Kanaan, but the Scot will be missed on the track. He will likely be to Ganassi what Rick Mears is for Team Penske: a coach for the team and an ambassador for the series.

Returning to Indy-type racing with Team Penske will be globetrotter Juan Pablo Montoya, fresh from an eight-year run in NASCAR.  The Colombian driver came to the U.S. in the CART series (champion in ’99 and 500 winner in 2000), moved to Formula 1 for six years (seven wins for Williams and McLaren) and is a three-time overall winner of the Rolex 24 Hour endurance race at Daytona.

The month of May at the Speedway will open with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, a road course event, on May 10th. Long-time Indy 500 fans are divided as to the merits of an added race that could possibly take interest away from the 500. Indy Car was in need of races on its schedule as only 18 events at 15 venues are on the docket while popular events at Baltimore and Rio have disappeared for now. Other schedule changes find the Iowa event moving to July and the Milwaukee round shifting to August a week after the Wisconsin State Fair.

Changes Needed Sooner Rather than Later:  CEO Mark Miles is hoping to have a title sponsor in place by the series’ opener in St. Petersburg. Verizon has been rumored to take over from the departed IZOD. Many wonder how that will affect their sponsorship efforts with Team Penske.

As we and many others have voiced for years, more events need to be scheduled so the series races longer than five months. Road America, Cleveland and another Canadian race need to bolster the schedule, while Phoenix, Michigan and Portland also need to return. Higher TV ratings and event sponsors with deep pockets will go a long way to make these changes happen.

Road Racing:
Road racing fans in North America are happy that 2014 will see the combining of the two major series into the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. In the past,   Rolex Grand Am and American Le Mans groups have competed for dates, tracks and teams; and with conflicting sets of rules, fields were at times slim. Late in 2013 the two series officially combined and regulations were agreed upon to field two prototype classes (including the Delta Wing entry) and two GT classes for 2014 under the TUSCC banner with IMSA doing the sanctioning. The first event at Daytona in January saw a competitive field of almost 70 entries compete for the Rolex 24 crown. Change in this case looks to be beneficial for all concerned. Fox Sports 1 has signed a five-year contract to televise series’ events while rules for the classes will continue to be adjusted to balance competition.

Needed Changes:  Thirteen events for the combined series will be run during 2014, but missing from the schedule are events at Lime Rock, Mid-Ohio, Barber Motorsports Park and Sonoma.  Small steps need to be taken during this inaugural season for the combined group, but consideration should be given to expand the number of venues for 2015 and beyond. Also, the round at Road Atlanta-the Petit Le Mans- needs to once more become part of the World Endurance Championship.

Next time we’ll take a look at changes in NASCAR and the Formula 1 series.


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