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On the outside looking in? A cynical Brit on IndyCar // How the other single seater series won over this Formula One fan

Published by Lukeh

IndyCar has had quite an effect on me over the last year and a half. Aside from the brilliantly devious method of attracting Rubens Barrichello in order to allow myself to take it seriously, I will give it credit where credit is due in how it has been continually entertaining over my short time watching. As a Brit, Formula 1 has always felt like a 'European' formula, despite its obvious worldwide nature, whereas IndyCar has always been the one 'over there', very much an American sport. That's why I find it quite interesting that, as someone who has always looked at IndyCar as someone looking out onto an alien world, that IndyCar is actually a rather welcoming and endearing sport to watch.

Team Venezuela Andretti Autosport,  Iowa Speedway
Credit: Mike Gatzke / Creative Commons

Back when ol' Rubinho was wetting his feet in everything IndyCar last season, I would be lying if I said my main attraction for watching wasn't primarily to keep up with everyone's favourite number two. Yet if the last year and a half has taught me anything about IndyCar it's that once you actually sit down and give it the attention it, admittedly, deserves it provides a rather less serious and downright entertaining sport to watch. I say less serious as if that's some kind of downgrading review of the sport but in some ways this is a better thing than a sport that takes itself absurdly serious, of which F1 is horribly guilty.

Personality changes

Continuing my train of thought of looking at IndyCar from the outside, one of my early wonders was whether it had the host of characters to make it interesting and to pick up characteristics between different people. Going into a new series and not knowing anyone, apart from charm-your-pants-off-at-Goodwood Dario Franchitti, is a fairly overwhelming sensation. Luckily this is again something that IndyCar has proved to be immensely entertaining in, as my previous point of everything being a little less serious means you tend to see a lot more 'banter', if such a term should be endeared, and you quickly learn what makes every driver tick and tantrum in their own special ways. (Basically, don't upset Will Power.)

Let me give you a really good example off the top of my head. If I was to say Takuma Sato to any F1 fan, I'm sure his name would be giggled at and laughed off because of his unlucky times at Honda and Super Aguri. Admittedly there was a lovable side to Takuma but he was a bit rubbish in F1 (except that incredible moment at Canada against Alonso, of course). Whereas over in the US, it'd be fair to say that this short time watching IndyCar has opened my eyes to how good Sato really is. He's matured immensely in his ability to drive and maintain a lead, to fight his way to the front and to do a good job. Don't worry though F1 fans, he still has those memorable moments of being absolutely mental but if IndyCar has done anything for Sato it's allowed him to settle down, add some consistency to his driving and be genuinely quite impresisve from time to time.

Don't worry though, it's not all change. Sébastian Bourdais is still absolutely rubbish.

To the left, to the left

It's easy to be really cynical about IndyCar though, or so I thought. Us Brits utterly indulge ourselves on cynicism after all - we find the weather both repulsive and exciting as an every day discussion occurs regardless of what climate we're experiencing, we figuratively destroy every television program we broadcast yet go back every day for more soapy nonsense, and we argue over whether words actually exist all for the competitive nature of a board game. In my experience discussing them here, oval races get a reputation for being a bog standard borefest of 30 drivers just going left and refusing to go right like a terrible political job I wouldn't dare attempt. Most of the calendar consists of oval racing after all, I mean, you're not missing much right?

Let's put it this way - I'd be gutted if I missed an oval race now. In fact I'm still gutted I missed the Indy 500.

Oval races in IndyCar are part of what makes it such an appealing sport

What is this strange sensation, this strange enjoyment of cars simply going left and nothing happening for two hours? What is this odd belief that there's actually a huge amount of strategy involved, that the constant jump in position and tension between a tiny mistake closing the field, that the smaller ovals can provide some exhilarating surprises over a multitude of hours? How can three to four cars wide going into an oval actually be utterly ridiculous and gripping? I must be going mad, as it turns out oval races in IndyCar are part of what makes it such an appealing sport. The fact it has been such a part of its heritage and history helps, as it's something that would never work in F1 even if it were possible, but IndyCar makes it great and I love that.

Does less emphasis on seriousness and keeping the riff-raff out force IndyCar to lose on its credibility though? We all know Formula 1 holds back people where it can, has its glitz and glamour in places like Monaco and let's not even go into the ridiculous Paddock Club, but with IndyCar basically being a bunch of racing drivers in a field/city doing their thing for two hours or more, it's quite impressive how the lack of formality at times doesn't make it any less credible than what we see in F1. Yes, Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motor racing as far as I'm concerned and that will always be the case, but only the world's greatest wobbling jellies would be ignorant enough to refuse IndyCar the chance to prove why less formality means less credibility when this is simply not the case.

Brought to you by...

As someone from this side of the Atlantic though, I do have a very considerable message to offer to broadcasters of America though - the level of advertising you offer throughout your broadcasting is quite frankly absurd. At times, whether it be on NBC or ESPN or whatever the channels are, it feels like you are watching Commercials Hour with the occasional IndyCar interlude. Perhaps this is the norm of how television is broadcast in America but it ruins the flow of the race being reminded of Marco Andretti's oil sponsorship or how I can tune into a human version of Cluedo every 10 minutes or so.

One of the great pleasures of uninterrupted racing is having the opportunity to get the story of the race told to you in a continuous flow. Here in the UK, a very famous event on a previous broadcaster ITV occured a decade ago where Mika Häkkinen's championship victory was ruined by a commercial break at the end of the race causing everyone to miss the finale. What good are commercials to the build up of a race, to the story that is being told and to the events that actually transpire if a broadcaster is more interested in shilling a dodgy reality show to the uninformed and uninterested? It's a little insulting to racing fans that the level of commercial interludes is at the level that it is and I'm just thankful that it's not quite unwatchable. It's very, very close though. Storytelling is a part of racing, and if you're not willing to remember that for the sake of your financial sponsorships, then it's a bit of a joke really.

The Firestone Firehawk/Chicken
The Firestone Firehawk/Chicken

The fact that this is my biggest complaint about IndyCar, watching in from the outside, is of huge credit to how entertaining it truly is and I've been blessed in the essence that my favourite driver brought attention to your wonderful series of entertaining drivers, tracks of great variety and also Bourdais.

It still feels very 'American', I will admit - the opening of 'Gentlemen, Start Your Engines/Sponsor Based Something Or Another', the build up and presentation, the open feel to everything, the Firechicken - but none of this is a put off... except the Firechicken. Goodness gracious great cup of tea, I'm pleased Formula 1 doesn't have the Firechicken.

I think both series' have plenty to learn from each other. The standard of safety in F1 is utterly paramount and of an exceptional level - there will always be room for improvement but it's never been better than it is now and I think IndyCar is getting closer to that with the likes of what the Dan Wheldon-inspired DW chassis offers to the sport without taking too much away from the racing.

At the same time, IndyCar could teach a lot to the paddock about how it's not that good to be so far up your backside you're speaking as a representative to yourself and throwing rulebooks at each other like a terrible version of the Crystal Maze finale.

At the same time, I do like the differences between the two and it's refreshing to jump on a Sunday afternoon from a Grand Prix to an IndyCar race with plenty going on in both. No matter the reservations you may have about IndyCar, I say one weekend you join us in the live thread and enjoy what it has to offer because you might be pleasantly surprised.




  • I tried to get into indycar, but I couldn't stand to watch the 'no blocking' rule. It prevented battle from occurring and turned them into short dull passes. (much like DRS, except on every corner and straight).

    And then there's the backmarkers. F1 had HRT and occasionally a few really poor back of the grid teams, but as a whole, they appeared to have had a head on their shoulders. Here; they do not.

  • I agree with everything here Lukeh, and you might expect me to. :)

    There's all sorts to like, including fuel strategy, even if it isn't covered particularly well by T&S or the broadcast (NBC's Beekhuis gives it a decent shot). A simple 2 stops vs 3 should be easy to explain.

    I tried to get into indycar, but I couldn't stand to watch the 'no blocking' rule. It prevented battle from occurring and turned them into short dull passes. (much like DRS, except on every corner and straight).

    The 'no blocking', 'imagine a white line in the track' rule was dropped before the 2012 season after they changed Race Director. The racing has been transformed since then. Partly due to that, partly the new car.

  • I always like the IndyCar that I see and think I should watch more. Scheduling can be a bit of a pain, though. At the moment I have to content myself with over-the-shoulder occasional viewing. I hadn't really thought about it before, but it does feel like F1 but more relaxed.

  • One Firechicken is bad enough without having to worry about a whole flock of them. Firestone are owned by Bridgestone so we were very close to every Schumacher victory being celebrated by the Firechicken.

    I cannot get my head round how TV ever caught on in America. The number of ads is astounding and every channel and every program is the same. All those ads are the reason why American programs run for 19 minutes or 40 minutes. In America they had ads to pad them out to 30 or 60 minutes. If you watch a lot of American series you find odd events that make no sense. There is an intro and outro to a break but no break. Every time that happens there is an ad for some medicine that ends by telling you you should consult your doctor to see if taking it will kill you.

    Indycar has a lot to recommend it. Apart from anything else F1 has done nothing but rip off Indycars for years. Full course cautions and pace cars became safety cars. Compulsory running of two separate tyre compounds was transplanted straight into F1. The only difference being instead of being red or black F1 has a badly remembered rainbow of colours.

    There is a whole list of things but you get the point.

  • And then there's the backmarkers. F1 had HRT and occasionally a few really poor back of the grid teams, but as a whole, they appeared to have had a head on their shoulders. Here; they do not.

    Out of curiosity, how long has it been since you watched Indycar? For the most part the worst backmarkers like Milka Duno and Marty Roth have gone, they now have a rule where the race director can black flag any driver not lapping at 105% of the pace of the leaders (also known as the Milka Duno rule). Judging by the actions of Geido van der Garde in Montreal I would say that Indycar's backmarkers are very well behaved!

  • Where Indycar can really teach F1 some tricks is how to be to nice to the fans! You will not believe what a lousy $500 Cdn dollars can get you in Toronto for the Honda Indy event vs. $500 Cdn dollars for the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.

    I have Scott Goodyear's autograph and I have Al Unser, jr's autograph beside it. (Well, actually 6 inches apart - and there's a vey specific reason for that....)

  • Indycar and Formula one are hardly related but it reminded me of the very series "Tailenders" that should have another clip soon. www.youtube.com/w…tch?v=9-E7KSEZhp0

  • Where Indycar can really teach F1 some tricks is how to be to nice to the fans! You will not believe what a lousy $500 Cdn dollars can get you in Toronto for the Honda Indy event vs. $500 Cdn dollars for the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.

    Oh, there's no comparison there. Don't get me wrong -- I loved my trip up to Montreal this year to my first Grand Prix, but the bang for the buck is not even close. My weekend race tickets in Canada cost me roughly $450 and for that I got to watch from my designated grandstand and ... that's it.

    In contrast, I had tickets for the St. Pete Indy car race back in March. All tickets (except for the suites) are General Admission on Fri and Sat (so feel free to sit on the front straight) and my Sunday seat was up high on Turn 1. And, because I bought them before Jan 1, they threw the paddock pass in for free. Total cost? $100.

    When in the paddock, you can get literally within arm's reach of the mechanics working on the cars and they; happy to talk to fans if they have a moment. It's the same with the drivers. They come and go, but rarely will they not stop to pose for a picture or sign an autograph. I saw Graham Rahal shooting the breeze with a group of fans for 10 or 15 minutes and TK did the same. There was no extra charge for the autograph session and you get to interact with all the drivers as you're moving though the line. F1 really could learn quite a few lessons in this regard.

  • And lest I forget my manners, that was a very good article, Lukeh. I enjoyed the read. :)

  • And lest I forget my manners, that was a very good article, Lukeh. I enjoyed the read. :)

    Thanks Chuck, glad you enjoyed it!

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