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Indianapolis 2009 Is 50:50 According To George

Indianapolis 2009 Is 50:50 According To George

Formula One lost the US Grand Prix for this year, negotiations between Indianapolis Speedway boss Tony George and F1 ‘boss’ Bernie Ecclestone breaking down before an agreement could be reached. The loss of the race is a real shame and a blow for the sport, particularly the manufacturers who were enjoying the advertising in their largest market. But there have been hopes of Formula One returning to the brickyard, and today George said he is working on it, but despite this, it is still 50:50 at the moment.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is celebrating its centennial in 2009, and George wants a grand prix there; he likes Formula One. In 2007 George collected a trophy for ‘The Best Organised Race of the Year’ or something similar, so clearly Formula One likes him. Or his track, at least. But in between the hopes and dreams lie money, and George is said to be chasing potential sponsors at the moment to help secure a position on next year’s calendar.

It’s 50/50, that it’s safe. The last conversation I had was probably in February. For planning purposes, we would need to know fairly soon if it’s part of our ’09 calendar. They [FOM] don’t necessarily need to know now. They can wait until August, September, October to announce their calendar, and that doesn’t work for us.

It won’t happen until we get some more commercial support – a title sponsor or whatnot. There is still a gap to be bridged in the finances for it to make sense. Tony George.

Support for a US Grand Prix among the fans is quite high, but as I’ve mentioned several times before on the website, I am not all that keen on the infield circuit at Indy. I find it uninspiring and boring. Yes, the banked corner and start/finsh straight is awesome, and the place is brimming with history and tradition. But in all honesty, I’d rather see the cars on the full oval than run around the Mickey Mouse layout they carve through the middle.

I’m not the only one who thinks this either. Allow me to introduce Bill to this post. Bill occasionally pops his head around the door and leaves comments here, and a while back he sent me an email following my last attempt to get the race moved to a more F1-appropriate circuit via moaning and grumbling. Bill’s views are direct from America, and his insights into how the sport is viewed over-yonder are interesting. Here are a few excerpts from his email…

I am American, and I go to Montreal when I can, but have been to USGP at Indy every year it was there. Do I love it? Yes and no.

No because I agree with you – the track is pretty much crap. Yes, for multiple reasons. First – it is F1 in my country. There is no bigger thrill for a fan than to hear cars in front of you in anger. It doesn’t matter if it was a parking lot. If you are a fan, you get chills.

[…]

We as Americans don’t know squat about the personalities of the F1 drivers. Until recently we didn’t have Top Gear (where I did see Webber and Button in re-runs of the show), we don’t see the talk shows, so we have no personal relationship (via pop culture) with any of them. And F1 wonders why gossip-hungry Americans don’t follow the sport? We don’t know who they are!

[…]

F1 fans here in the states cannot get the digital feed, despite the races being broadcast digitally. We cannot get internet feeds, we don’t know the drivers outside of the sport (for example on talk shows), we have a mickey-mouse track, one of our announcers (the “esteemed” David Hobbs) calls Alonso “Fred”, Massa “Phil”, and every two years while you in the UK wonder if you will have a home race, we wonder if we will even have TV coverage anymore. Bill Adkins.

So it seems that while I may be bashing Indianapolis a fair amount, Bernie and his merry band of men also need to sort out the sport’s coverage in America. Interlagos is usually a sell-out race (perhaps because of its psition on the calendar) and Canada is always a popular race (perhaps because it’s on a decent circuit) so Formula One does well in the North and South. But in the middle is a huge market full of people actually wanting Formula One. It’s crazy that it isn’t happening. Just plain crazy!

Oliver White

5 comments

  • You’re not kidding! If the commentators can’t even get the drivers’ names right and don’t know what they’re doing from one year to the next, what hope is there for anyone else in the USA?

  • For clarification sake…it’s not that David Hobbes doesn’t know the names…it’s an insider kind of thing…they also refer to Lewis as either Luis or Louise depending upon your interpretation…and my personal fave–they call Jarno either “scrumptious,” “the scrumptious one” or “Trulli scrumptious.”

    A little background on the Indy USGP history…the brickyard doesn’t release attendance figures, but the first race in the current round of USGPs was said to have been attended by over 200,000 people–I don’t think any other venue comes anywhere close. They continued to pull in very high numbers until the aftermath of 2005–and should you be surprised–my son and husband attended the race, and yeah, they got the tickets refunded and four free tickets for 2006 (the reason I am now a huge fan), but that nowhere near reimbursed them for the cost of attending a sham race. There are a lot of people who will never go back–and I don’t blame them. Despite that, the attendance for the last race there (2007) was still figured to be somewhat north of 100,000–I could be wrong on this, but I think only Interlagos has similar attendance figures. Also, they’ve dawdled around with contract extensions and date changes that make it hard for people who want to plan to attend—2007’s race wasn’t finalized until Sept.

    And…I said this over at Clive’s blog a while ago…everyone wants to be in the US market, but you wouldn’t know it from their lack of “tie-in” advertising. For a minimal (for them) cost, every Mercedes dealership in the US could have had a banner up saying “US Grand Prix winner powered by Mercedes”–now few would have known what that meant, but don’t you think a certain number of people would have been interested enough to look into it. It’s the old chicken and egg argument–we don’t mention Formula 1 because no one knows about it and no one knows about it because the manufacturers don’t mention it. BMW could easily have made a stunning commercial showing stills of Robert’s accident (as I’m sure Bernie would not have allowed video)…with a tag line something like “Robert Kubica walked away from this accident with a mild concussion and a sprained ankle…the technology that we use to protect him in our Formula 1 race car is translated into better protection in our road cars” with a disclaimer “do not try this at home” and “professional race car driver on a professional race course”…as we are big on disclaimers here in the US. I can perhaps understand the lack of tie-in from Toyota and Honda, but they don’t even try.

    On the television coverage…Speed TV does the coverage…a cable channel and on many cable companies it is a premium channel (extra cost). In the past a couple of races are shown on one of the major channels, but not this year as there is no USGP, I suppose. The problem I have found is that when I travel I am unable to get Speed TV at hotels which complicates things for a true fan. I have found a work-around this year, but watching a race on a 3X3 inch streaming video screen is extraordinarily sub par.

    As you might gather, I am VERY passionate about “my” race and want it back…and I think there are plenty of things that can be done to not only get the race back and to also raise its visibility.

  • Hobbs calls them Fred and Phil because its an inside joke. The man knows something of the sport. Additionally, we have Steve Matchett, who is one of the leading technical analyists in the sport. We have Peter freakin Windsor. The coverage is fine.

    All of the info is out there, we all have the internet and are capable of watching more video on these guys than you can shake a stick at. Podcasts, blogs, team sites, ITV, BBC, its all out there. Just because american sports pundits are oblivious to what goes on outside the country doesn’t mean the fans are. You should see the footy coverage.

    While the race was at Indy it was one of the most highly attended. Plus you got closer to the action with the pitwalk and the interview plaza than at many other locations. The problem is George wants a sweet deal to boot. Bernie gave him that to get it off the ground, but there comes a point when you have to ante up what the other locations are paying for the race.

    He didn’t get his deal, so now he needs a title sponsor. How he can’t find one in the States is difficult to comprehend, other than he doesn’t seem to do a real good job in that area. I don’t see much sponsorship on his IRL team. He doesn’t push marketing the race in the city — last year there were still banners up for the 500 — no effort to make us feel welcome (other than to bleed our wallets dry).

    It’ll happen, but I’m not optimistic for 2009. The one thing that might make it happen is if one of the auto manufacturers takes on the title sponsorship.

  • These are great points, but the lack of F1 advertising tie-ins here in America by any car companies makes me wonder…do they actually want a race here? Or was it just the speculation of a journo, or maybe a throwaway quote from a team principal. Mario Thiessen can say that the US is BMW’s biggest market, but he is so far away from BMW USA’s marketing wing that he really only speaks for the team, not for BMW corporate.

    I haven’t seen much F1 advertising here in the US–one was a magazine ad years ago for HP, touting their WilliamsBMW sponsorship. Last year, I also saw an Intel magazine ad showing a grid full of BMW Sauber’s, to symbolize multi-core processors. Honda has actually been the most consistent in tying themselves to racing–their most recent corporate (ends with The Power of Dreams) TV ad ends with a split-second shot of the RA108. Past ads (Live the Impossible Dream) showed the BAR, though they give the IndyCars more ad time.

    Lastly, the Speed guys (Varsha, Hobbs, Matchett, and Windsor) are great. Yeah, they’re less buttoned-down than ITV, but at the same time, they get much more technical. Windsor often points out when a driver or team is using a different brake brand than usual (Carbon Industrie vs. Brembo, for instance). This info about brakes is something that I never see covered elsewhere. Also, Matchett is the only on-air personality I’ve heard who can talk authoritatively about the pros and cons of twin keel vs. zero keel, or how different suspension geometries affect the car. This is where ITV is severely lacking–if they wanted to do the best F1 coverage on the planet, they would, instead of spending time interviewing Anthony Hamilton, do a full rundown on new aero tweaks that teams are running.

  • Great post, and a number of very good opinions offered here. As a young American with a budding interest in F1, I hope I can offer a unique perspective here.

    Contrary to what many people believe, Formual 1 CAN be a success in the United States! However, the first step is FOM realising several things…

    1. F1 dose indeed need a race in America to be the best version of the “World Championship” that it can be- the teams and sponsors want it, as do millions of fans both in the US and around the world.

    2. With that said, FOM must understand that American venues and events don’t involve simply writing a check from the government for $30 million. While they shoulden’t let IMS off the hook, they should give them a bit of a break because of the financial side of things.

    3. F1 can build a large and strong American fan base….but it will take some marketing and publicity for it to be that way. That starts with the mainstream Americna sports media- ESPN, Sports Illistrated- getting photos and video feed to show. It also involves marketing to these media outlets from FOM to pum up their interest in F1. FOM needs to understand that America is a developed nation with a strong tradition of motorsports, and they can’t just expect to waltz in here and have F1 be at the top of the attention meter of American fans.

    The provisional 2009 schedule- with no date for the USGP- is a crushing blow to myself and many other American fans. While it can still happen in 2009 if Bernie wants it to, it looks almost impossible at this point. While some of you may not like certain aspects of Indy, it is the ideal location for the USGP- it offers instant name recognition that can be used to develop the Americna market. I firmly believe that having a GP on the streets of Vegas or Miami will just result in another Phoenix-style failed event that will be popular with no one.

    There’s alot more that can be brought into the discussion, but we’ll leave it that for now. Here’s hoping to a swift return for the USGP!!

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