It's no secret that The Verizon INDYCAR Series flies under the radar outside the United States, but many don't realize that it also does the same within the United States. Although per race viewers increased 34% from 2013 to 2014 in the U.S., it might surprise many to hear that viewership still pales in comparison to NASCAR. Even F1 commands roughly equal the number of U.S. viewers per race.
Some in Europe may have lost touch with the Series they knew as CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) after Motorsports Hall of Fame member Nigel Mansell, in 1993, became the only driver to hold the CART and F1 Championship at the same time. This was the height of CART/INDYCAR's popularity, which was arguably the most followed open-wheel series in the world with drivers named Mario Andretti, Mansell, Foyt, Fittipaldi, Unser, Jr. , Sullivan, Bobby Rahal, and Brabham. Since then, the popularity of F1 has skyrocketed and IndyCar cannot hold a candle to the world-wide love of F1.
However, trends are trends, which can snowball rather quickly in motorsport, especially given the INDYCAR reunification (after a very acrimonious split precipitated by Tony George in 1996, who was since removed from the IMS Board of Directors by his sisters and mother); INDYCAR engine competition and redesign which took the opposite approach from F1 (the return of higher revving twin turbo V8s with new aero packages that many think allow more design freedom than F1); and an influx of a wide variety of talented international drivers, including former F1 talent, such as Takuma Sato, Juan Pablo Montoya (the rare F1 talent who does not struggle with ovals due to his NASCAR experience), Sébastien Bourdais and Luca Filippi, as well as internationally recognized drivers such as Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, and Hélio Castroneves. Furthermore, recent F1 drivers Max Chilton, Kevin Magnussen, and Simona de Silvestro (who tails a long line of female IndyCar drivers) have all expressed interest in joining or returning to INDYCAR. Contrast this with a crisis of declining worldwide T.V. viewership of about 33% in the last five years in F1, a series that many say has lost its identity, you may want to browse a few INDYCAR races again, if you aren't already a fan. Tracks are diverse enough to fit all tastes, including superspeedways, small ovals, road courses, and street courses.
If you choose to have another look at INDYCAR, you may want to keep an eye on the following stories:
First, the unlikely but effective trio of Jack Hawksworth, Takuma Sato, and A.J. Foyt. Foyt, of course, is a living legend inside INDYCAR, and has earned that status not only by winning but being uncompromising, demanding, and rough. One year he backhanded Arie Luyendyk in the pit lane after a confrontation. Sato has proven that he's a viable and real threat, with talent to spare, however it's the stark personality difference with he and A.J. that catch many fans' attention. Insiders realize Mr. Foyt knows how to pick talent and now realize he's not going to let his ego or personality stand in the way. (Sato finished 8th in a BAR Honda after the 2004 F1 season). U.K. Fans can claim three drivers, one being rising star Jack Hawksworth who graduated to open wheel racing in late 2010 and competed in the 2010 Formula Renault series and claimed pole position in 4 out of the 6 races and finished 3rd overall in the championship and top rookie ahead of the Red Bull Juniors Daniil Kvyat and Mclaren Autosport Award winner Oliver Rowland. Many feel the Foyt team will be a major surprise with this sort of diverse, yet mutually respectful talent.
Second, the new areo packages, which allow each team to pick and choose certain parts that can alter the flow of air in many different and creative ways. Thus, INDYCAR is attempting to transform itself from a spec series to what it used to be...ground zero for innovation by team engineers, not regulatory bodies. Perhaps the new aero regulations are best described by INDYCAR director of aerodynamic development Tino Belli:
"The engine cover, sidepods and rear wheel guards are common between the speedway and road/street course/short oval packages. On the speedways, the manufacturers can do a new front wing main plane, rear wing end plates, front wing end plates. Teams are allowed to use optional components that fit to the sidepods, engine cover and rear wheel guards such as winglets and flicks."
"The teams will have quite a lot of things they can play with if they decide that they can come up with a better solution for their particular requirements and their driver or car set-up. The car set-up is not only going to be a downforce level like a wing angle, springs, shocks, toe and camber. If a particular type of mechanical set-up needs an aerodynamic solution, they can try what they like.
Another thing we're allowing is all of these optional components can now be changed between qualifying and the race. A team could decide to go for a super low drag qualifying set-up and use the newness of the tires to try to get the speed and then revert to a more high-downforce race set-up, which could mean a change in some of the components on the sidepods, wheel guards and engine cover. For a long time, we had what you qualified with is what you raced.
On the road course in addition to the sidepods, engine cover and rear wheel guards is the front wing flaps and end plates, and the rear wing end plates. The rear wing is a standard Dallara main plane for all events except for the Indy 500, during which teams can choose between the Dallara or their manufacturer's main plane. The engine air intake will be different from the Dallara chassis, too." - From Indycar.com
Third...raw power. It's been a while since someone qualified over 230 mph at The Brickyard and many believe the new aero regulations combined with the twin turbo allowances will push the cars close to that number, and then continue to build speed and head toward the qualifying record of 237 mph set by Arie Luyendyk in 1996. For the average race fan, speed is king, but safety considerations (akin to a fighter pilot having too much blood exit the brain) have made pushing the 1996 boundary a bit difficult. Striking a balance just below it on the ovals while increasing performance on the road courses (where INDYCAR lags far behind F1 in the speed category) may gain the series some lost credibility and attract talent who can be free to innovate and compete instead of being choked by regulation. And if you miss the old eight cylinder thunder of F1, all you need to do is listen to an INDYCAR these days, which is getting closer to sounding like what some miss most about F1.