Thursday, March 26, 2015

Should IndyCar go to Europe?

I think IndyCar needs some overseas races to get more international recognition. While NASCAR is the biggest motorsport in the USA, international exposure would help IndyCar to attract sponsors. Besides North America, Europe is obviously the continent with the strongest motorsports culture. But for certain reasons, I have been thinking IndyCar shouldn't go to Europe. Firstly, could IndyCar succeed among established series in Europe? F1 is the big thing in Europe and there are strong regional and national series there. And if IndyCar couldn't succeed in Europe, would it make sense to go there with races being on TV at 8am ET like F1? That's why I think the overseas races should be in close time zones in South America or in the Asia-Pacific region like Australia or Japan, taking place in late Saturday night for the US audience. Especially South America might be a continent with potential. They have only one F1 race, the Brazilian GP. And I think IndyCar should really try to get a race in Colombia as there are four Colombian drivers in the series.

But F1 pricing itself out from Europe might give IndyCar a chance to make ground there. Governments aiming to promote their countries have set the bill of hosting a Grand Prix so high that European countries not needing to promote themselves can no longer afford it. Ticket prices must be increased to cover the high hosting fees, and less people can afford attending the race. Last year, more than half of the seats of the Hockenheimring were empty at the German GP. This year, the financially troubled Nürburgring withdrew from hosting the German GP and Hockenheim didn't want to host the race, despite Mercedes-Benz's offer to cover half of the potential losses of the event. So, for the first time after 1960, there will be no F1 race in Germany.

OK, there should be the German GP at Hockenheim next year. But how long can Hockenheim continue paying the hosting fees even every second year as the Nürburgring can't anymore? And what if Germany can't afford hosting a race anymore? Will F1 let Germany lose its Grand Prix just like it let France, the birthplace of Grand Prix racing, lose it? If F1 lets its traditional European hosts lose races and instead keeps on going to new government-subsidized non-European tracks, then I could see chances opening for IndyCar in Europe. Surely there would be some demand for high-level open-wheel racing in Europe.

I'm not saying IndyCar should go to Europe immediately. While Germany doesn't have a Grand Prix this year, Britain and Italy have and France has Le Mans. And those are the countries where I think IndyCar should go to if they come to Europe. But if the future of the German GP is a biennial race at Hockenheim, then I think IndyCar could be the future of open-wheel racing at the Nürburgring. Surely, lack of German involvement in IndyCar could be problematic, even though a rare European IndyCar race might bring fans from abroad. As is the case with American races, good promotion would be important also here. Try to get good support classes. DTM or WEC might want to be the headline series of the weekend but the World Series by Renault might be a good support series with local interest. And moreover, provide a great fan experience. Give access to pits, have some exhibitions relevant to the audience, provide some entertainment at the track area once racing has ended, etc. Make it an attractive event also for those who aren't yet into IndyCar, or aren't necessarily even racing fans. And give them a reason to attend the event the following year, too. But keep it affordable. Otherwise only hardcore fans will come, and there aren't many of them in Europe.

If IndyCar came to Europe, it should be two or three races. It wouldn't make sense to fly to Europe for one race, yet there probably wouldn't be demand for more than three races. I think Britain might be the best European country for IndyCar to have a race in. They have maybe the strongest motorsports culture in Europe and some drivers in the IndyCar Series. And Britain has a modern oval in Rockingham, just like Germany has the EuroSpeedway. I'm not sure IndyCar should go to ovals in Europe; road courses are what attracts Europeans. Still, I think an oval race could work in Britain. In Germany IndyCar would be a substitute for F1, in Britain an alternative. I think F1 would be too strong in Britain for IndyCar to compete against. Yet I think they have a strong enough motorsports culture for an IndyCar race, even on an oval. And Brands Hatch or Donington would be road course options in Britain, as well as the new MotoGP venue Circuit of Wales.

Italy might be another good candidate for an IndyCar race. There were talks about an IndyCar race in Mugello some years ago. If not Mugello, then also Imola might be a good host. As a former F1 track, there might be some desire to see again high-level open-wheel racing. And Bernie Ecclestone threatened least year to drop Monza from the F1 schedule. With Germany already gone, that doesn't sound quite so unlikely anymore. If Italy really lost its Grand Prix, IndyCar could go for the void left by F1. And with two drivers in the series, maybe France could also be a potential destination for IndyCar in Europe, especially as they lack an F1 race.

But are there really chances for IndyCar to go to Europe? And would it make sense? Even as a European fan, I would rather like to see IndyCar being big in the USA than being a global second-tier series. But I think some overseas races would be good for the series. If Europe could offer great events, then I think IndyCar should have some European races. If a country like Germany or Italy lost their Grand Prix, I think IndyCar should try to fill the void. With good promotion, I believe an IndyCar race could be a success, especially when it wouldn't compete against F1 in that country. Of course, the Labor Day finish would bring challenges for European races. If IndyCar wants to finish by Labor Day, then the summer dates are for American races and the overseas races have to be in the early season when it's still winter in most of Europe. But if IndyCar has a good chance to go to Europe, then abandon the Labor Day finish. Dedicate August (when F1 is having the summer break) for the European races and finish the season only in October in the USA.

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