Following a season of growth, excitement and innovations,Â IndyCar Series leadership conducted a “state of the sport” press conference on Friday afternoon before the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California.
There is still the matter of the 2019 championship to be decided this weekend, but CEO Mark Miles and president Jay Frye took nearly an hour to outline the leagueâs goals and strategic vision for North American open-wheel racing and the Indianapolis 500.
This was the first season in which the entire campaign was broadcast by the NBC Sports Group following several seasons of over-the-air races on ABC and cable events on NBCSN. The new collaboration has produced 11 races that rated higher than the 2018 counterparts and the Indianapolis 500 produced a total audience delivery of 5.5 million,Â up 11 percent.
Meanwhile, IndyCar secured a major coup with the full-time inclusion of the McLaren Group, which will merge with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to form a Chevrolet-supported team in 2020. McLaren had fielded a car for Fernando Alonso in two of the past three Indianapolis 500s, but the two-time Formula 1 champion is not expected to contest the full schedule next year.
IndyCar also revealed its 2022 engine and chassis combination over the summer, a formula that will include a hybrid powerplant intended to attract additional manufacturers to the discipline.
Those were amongÂ the topics discussed on Friday by the IndyCar leadership panel on Friday at Laguna Seca.
A selection of the most important quotes and statements can be found below.
POTENTIAL OF NASCAR AND INDYCAR DOUBLEHEADERS
StoriesÂ published earlier this summer suggested NASCAR and IndyCar have began to discuss the possibility of promoting a doubleheader of some kind. In the months since, IndyCar officials have backed down from that narrative a little bit, saying that nothing was imminent.
Miles clarified the statements at Laguna Seca, saying that his office has had conversations with NASCAR, but only in an exploratory manner.
Any doubleheader wouldnât be conceivable until 2022 and Miles believes it most likely be plausible at a venue IndyCar currently races at.
Mark Miles: “It was said that there was momentum in May. In my view there was more discussion in May, more talk about it, more smoke than fire. I think the folks at NASCAR know that we think it’s a good idea. I think as far as I can tell, they think it’s a good idea too.
“Jay is more in touch with them regularly than I am. So, we’ll see if it can be pulled together. I don’t see it before 2022, and exactly when, I don’t know. But it’s something that we think — if it gets more people watching motorsports, it’s well worth working on.
“Itâs complicated. We have to get the schedules together. From our perspective, at least my perspective, I think it might be easier to do that where we already race as opposed to adding a race, another stop on our schedule. I don’t know whether that’s the same sense that NASCAR would haveâŠ You’ve got to make sure that the sponsorships work and there aren’t those kinds of conflicts and a lot of commercial things. But look, if it gets more people watching motorsport, then we think it’s worth spending some time working on.”
WINDSCREEN TESTING SCHEDULE IN PLACE
IndyCar expects the Red Bull Advanced Technologies windscreen to be mandatory when the 2020 season begins at St. Petersburg, Florida, on March 15.
Five-time series champion Scott Dixon tested the device in a simulator in July and real car tests have been scheduled for Indianapolis on October 2, Barber in Alabama on October 7 and Richmond, Virginia,Â on October 15. The device has been met with widespread acclaim as a clear improvement over the current Active Frontal Protection deflection device.
Jay Frye:Â “We’ve been working on this aero screen since 2016, so I guess you’d call this an overnight sensation. But the real game-changer for us this past year was when we partnered with Red Bull Advanced Technologies.
“There’s been no stone unturned on this program, this project, from driver cooling, driver expectation, clarity, glare, impact. It’s amazing what they’ve been able to do in a very short period of time. We believe this is an industry-changing total safety solution for driver cockpit protection. We’re very excited to get it on the track because we always say the data doesn’t drive, drivers drive, so the next step in the process is to get it on track and see where we’re at.”
HYBRID ENGINES SET FOR 2022 DEBUT
The new power plants will combine elements of the current 2.4-liter internal combustion engine with a hybrid powertrain. It will mark the first time the vehicles will not use the traditional, manual handheld electric starters to start the race cars.
Instead, a hybrid component can be activated by the driver from the cockpit.
The engines will produce power in excess of 900 hp and will contain a multiphase motor, inverter and electric storage device that will create energy recovery from the carâs braking system. That will provide a power boost to the overtake assist system used on road and street courses.
It all fits within IndyCarâs movement to add horsepower and lower downforce.
Jay Frye: “Regarding the hybrid piece, it’s very important that we remain true to our DNA, and our DNA is fast, loud, authentic and unapologetic, so when we put together this product, it had to meet all those criteria.
“A couple of things we’re working on with this piece is one is for safety so the cars will have electric starters, so the driver spins, they stall the car, they’ll be able to start the car into first gear so the driver is not exposed âŠ
“Another thing that’s really a byproduct of the whole system is hopefully we’ll keep the pace of the race going, so there won’t be as many yellows, so that will help, too. But one of the bigger parts, the biggest part in our opinion is horsepower. Our stated goal is to get over 900 horsepower. This product will give us at least 50 of that, so we remain true, again, to our DNA. We want to have less downforce but have more horsepower. We’re excited about this.
POTENTIAL FOR NEW MANUFACTURERS
The current OEM partners, Chevrolet and Honda, endorsed the move to hybrid due to its road relevance and IndyCar hopes that attractiveness will appeal equally to other manufacturers.
“We announced some things this year that we’re quite excited about, and I think that will help enhance our overall product and some of the things they’re looking for,” Frye said.
“Over the next couple months, we’re going to hit it really hard, and we’ve heard from a couple that we had not heard from before recently, which was good. So it’s a big commitment, but we’re going to make sure we’re going to knock on a lot of doors in the next few months.”
INDYCAR REMAINS INACCESSIBLE IN CANADA
IndyCar has always been extremely popular north of the border, with one of the sportâs most popular drivers, James Hinchcliffe, hailing from Ontario.
IndyCarâs deal with SportsNet, ran out at the end of the 2018 season, and IndyCar only hastily put together an agreement before the season-opener at St. Pete. That race was put online for free and the Indy 500 and Grand Prix of Toronto were put on cable TV.
Every other race was put on a premium tier that cost $200 CDN.
Mark Miles accepted a degree of blame for the conundrum but also cited the current television landscape in the country:
“I think we appreciate the work that’s been done by our broadcast partner there now. We will always be looking to grow the reach. It’s kind of a volatile sports media market at the moment, and so I don’t know how quickly we may be able to grow our audience there, but we’ll continue to be close to it and attentive to opportunities.”