Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The $5M LRF*

Have you ever been in a night club and spotted a potential hottie across the dance floor then bump into her later in the evening only to discover that the self same woman had somehow morphed into Alfred E Newman in a dress? That is the phenomenon known as the LRF, the *Low Resolution Fox, part of the Stealth Moose genus.

I feel like this week's Las Vegas announcement had a whiff of that self same moose's musk. Yes, it is a fine idea, it sounds exciting, intriguing, sexy even and full of potential. But hang on, walk around the room for a few hours, have a think and when your paths cross later on, take a good look up and down and ask yourself if the allure is still there. I'm not sure the answer will be 'yes'.

This is a classic free publicity play right out of 'Event Promotion for Dummies'. The mere fact that it has been announced injected life into the INDYCAR twittisphere and dropped a green flag on many miles of forum debate. It's plausibility is now neither here nor there. Peter Windsor did the same thing when he added Danica Patrick to his list of potential drivers for USF1, Best Buy does it every Black Friday when they announce that you can purchase an 80" Flatscreen for 99 cents. While it is entirely possible, the chances of you managing to get your hands on it, are as slim as credit card you'll use to buy everything else once they've dragged you into the store.

There are a large number of factors to take into consideration here and as has been the case with other recent INDYCAR announcements, Johnny Nash's 'More questions than answers' would have been the ideal choice of music to close out the press conference.

Which teams are truly capable of pulling off a win?
A quick scan of the results on mile and a half ovals makes grim reading for everyone apart from Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske. Panther and Andretti Autosport have come close enough to victory lane in recent events to indicate that they would be in with slightly more than a puncher's chance of grabbing the cash.

Which teams have the capacity to run additional cars and be competitive?
No real change from the list above. TCGR and Penske comfortably have the capacity and the cars to attempt this while Andretti have run a fifth car on multiple occasions in the last two seasons. Panther Racing drivers, Ed Carpenter and Dan Wheldon, flanked Helio Castroneves on the podium at Kentucky last season, so there is no question at all that they too can field multiple front running entries.

Will new teams join in?
It can't be ruled out, but a member of a prominent US based sportscar team told me that while his team would 'never say never', they would be 'dreaming' if they thought they could beat the top two teams and that it 'would also soak up a big chunk of $5m in testing to beat Penske'. You can expect that sentiment to be pervasive throughout the sportscar community at the very least. I can count on the fingers of two finger the number of NASCAR teams (exclusing Penske & Earnhardt Ganassi) who could possibly put together a competitive INDYCAR program before the deadline.

Who chooses the drivers?
This is where the confusion begins to build. Randy Bernard is talking about committee who will be used to evaluate the drivers that will be able to enter the event. But he is not there to give drivers any assistance when it comes to funding those rides. What if there is one spot left and Romain Grosjean, Karun Chandhok and Kasey Kahne all wish to take part and each driver has a full budget? What is there to stop any of those drivers approaching any team in the paddock and doing a deal just as they would at any other time in the season. Why would Conquest or FAZZT say no to their cash? Would they still qualify for the big pay out if they are not one of the 'special five'?

So there are four teams who could potentially provide a winning platform for an interloper. What we don't know is how willing they will be to dilute their inevitable championship efforts for an extremely large chunk of change. The Penske and Ganassi Racing organizations have driver talent, from other disciplines, under contract and at their immediate disposal while Andretti Autosport have had no end of quality pilots in their employ in recent years. For example, Belle Isle 2008 saw Andretti Green Racing, as was, in ALMS victory lane with a car driven by Franck Montagny and James Rossiter. Panther could certainly find a way to get another competitive car on the track without necessarily needing to find additional funding.

There is no doubt that other teams would be happy to provide rides for drivers with the budget for a one off race with an enormous upside, but with the chances of winning being almost nil, the driver's investment risk seems rather astronomical.

So this really becomes an issue of drivers being selected by the top four oval teams as opposed to rides being bought. Although, as I will outline below, that does not rule out potentially spectacular ride buying from some giants of global motorsport.

So who are the 'probables', the 'possibles' and the 'list to while away several hours in the pub'? It's safe to say that every Formula 1 driver, with an actual race seat, can be ruled out of this endeavor. Any driver involved in the Chase for the Sprint Cup will also be extremely unlikely to to take part. By the time practice starts in Las Vegas, there will still be more than half the Chase left. Juan Montoya and Tony Stewart have already been quite vocal in their belief that this simply isn't possible for any Sprint Cup driver with title aspirations.

The Intercontinental Le Mans Cup has a month long gap between Petit le Mans and the finale in China and that could free up a significant number of qualified drivers.
The issue with sportscar drivers is that most of the good ones simply aren't 'box office'. Yes Tom Kristensen is a living legend, but Clint Bowyer would almost certainly bring more American eyeballs to the event. That, in the end, my be the biggest issue, any number of drivers may come forward to do this, but how many will really help turn a .8 rating on ABC into a 1.2?

I have ruled out INDYCAR veterans as I can't see how this is a progressive step to moving the ratings numbers in a positive direction.


Joey Hand -
The 32 year old Californian's credentials were rubber stamped in January, with a drive for the ages at the Rolex 24. He may have entered the race as a contractual obligation to BMW but he left with a watch and a new found respect throughout the paddock. His team owner at Daytona was Chip Ganassi and there is every chance he could appear in a fifth TCGR in Texas which would allow him to pick up his open wheel career after a seven year gap.

Simon Pagenaud -
Doubts continue to surround Highcroft Racing's participation on the ILMC and ALMS in 2011. Pagenaud has a race seat with Peugeot for the 24 Hours of Le Mans and has dovetailed work testing work with HPD and the French marque recently which would indicate that contractual obligations should not be an issue. His reputation and value have never been higher and it is likely we could see him in an additional car from one of the big two come October and I understand that talks have already begun to that end.

Sam Hornish Jr -
Sam is a part time Penske employee and will be available. If he makes another run at the Indy 500 he will automatically rule himself out of the money. Irrespective of his recent struggles in the Sprint Cup, nobody should be stupid enough to dispute his open wheel credentials, particularly on a lightening fast oval like Las Vegas.


Kimi Raikonen -
The 2007 World F1 Champion is precisely the type of driver that this event could attract. As surprising at it may seem, Kimi is a self funded privateer in the World Rally Championship. He provides the finance for his ICE 1 Racing Citroen DS3 WRC. The majority of his funding comes from his partnership with Red Bull and how hard would it be for him to ask Dietrich Mateschitz to find $500,000 in order for him to land a fifth TCGR entry? Raikonen has proven, through his rallying exploits, that he is not afraid to test himself and take real risks in the process.

Nico Hulkenberg -
Anyone who saw Hulkenberg crush the opposition in qualifying for the 2010 Brazilian Grand Prix knows that this 23 year old has an abundance of talent. Sadly, he also has a part time F1 job as the Friday driver for Force India. The upside to this is of course the free time a driver has on Saturdays and Sundays. Hulkenberg's boss, Vijay Mallaya, also owns an airline, so getting him from the Korean Grand Prix to Las Vegas for qualifying is absolutely possible. 'The Hulk' would undoubtedly be very quick and there isn't a single team in the INDYCAR pit lane who would not want him in one of their cars.

Bruno Senna -
Okay, it my not be exactly the right Senna, but Bruno is very talented and has access to enough funding to make this a real possibility. He is also out of a full time ride in F1 at the moment. In early 2009, when it looked like F1 was going to be heavily cost capped, Penske initiated a feasibility study as to whether they could rejoin the series and be competitive. The young Brazilian was one of the drivers that was approached about driving for the Captain. Senna in a Penske car could once again be a reality.

Nelson Piquet Jr -
This son of the three time World F1 Champion has no logistical issues when it comes to this event. He will already be there! Piquet is competing full time in the Camping World Truck Series which will feature on the weekend schedule at LVMS. Piquet is well funded and he could quite conceivably complete a deal with one of the major teams. It is worth bearing in mind that the current NASCAR truck has an awful lot of downforce and while it is hardly perfect preparation, Piquet would come into this event with an awful lot of oval experience. Piquet has also proven over the years that he has no fear of running into walls.

Robby Gordon -
There can be no doubt, given Gordon's racing resume and the fact that he is currently sponsored by his own product, that Robby is strongly considering this as he could really use the money. Sadly, Gordon's inclusion would ignite the existing fanbase while hardly moving the ratings needle. It's not like millions of NASCAR fans tune in to Versus to watch him compete in the Dakar Rally every January.

Trevor Bayne -
Rarely is there an opportunity for the Daytona 500 Champion race an INDYCAR. Bayne's limited Sprint Cup schedule and his full time commitment to the Nationwide Series makes his inclusion a must. His profile has exploded in the last seven days and this is a once in a lifetime chance for INDYCAR fans to see the Indy 500 and Daytona 500 champions go head to head.

AJ Allmendinger -
When I asked Matt Cleary, Allmendinger's manager, about this, his response was short and too the point. 'AJ is no dummy' he stated. The former CCWS winner would have a very good shot at victory lane, given some time in the car, but his full Sprint Cup schedule will minimize seat time in the Dallara. There is also the broader issue of Allmendinger's status as a NASCAR 'name'. It's tough to see how this will excite many people outside of the open wheel community.

Kasey Kahne -
There was a time about a decade ago when Kasey Kahne was a Ford property and was ignoring the overture's of NASCAR's finest in order to go open wheel racing. He tested a Rahal Lola at Homestead and did some FF2000 and Atlantic races. It is safe to say his heart would be in it and if he fails to make the Chase, then why not? He will be a major cog in Chevrolet's racing machine in 2012 and beyond and it can only help that Chevy will be rejoining the IndyCar ranks then too. He would also fit the 'marquee driver' requirement which this endeavor must fulfill to succeed.

Kyle Busch -
Kyle Busch may be the one driver on Earth who would be willing to do this with little or no preparation. It was surprise few observers if, despite having only driven the INDYCAR two-seater, he was on the pace. He is a local, he would draw a hefty live attendance, media presence and a very large TV audience. Sadly, he would also draw the ire of Joe Gibbs and Toyota, so the chances of this happening seem to be remote.

Kurt Busch -
Kyle's brother would have an additonal Penske Penzoil/Shell Dallara fuelled and ready for him but his Sprint Cup title aspirations would undoubtedly come first. Like Kasey Kahne he too has CART experience going back to his Roush Ford Days, but the Captain's pragmatism coupled with Busch's undoubted stock car focus makes this a long shot.


Valentino Rossi -
If this was simply a wish list of current automotive talent, there is no doubt that 'il Dottore' would be nailed on at the top. He is quite simply the most talented, exciting and charismatic racer of this (or any other) century. Over the last decade he has grown bigger than MotoGp itself while extensively testing for the Ferrari F1 team and dabbling in top class rallying. Sadly, the Australian GP is the same weekend as the Las Vegas event. Damn him and his day job!

Sebastian Loeb -
Midweek Motorsport's Nick Daman often comments that Loeb may be the greatest rally driver of all time, but adds that seeing as he has dominated in a time of scant competition, it is hard to asses his true position amongst the all-timers. His second place finish at Le Mans in 2006 impressed all who witnessed it and he has extensive seat time in Formula 1 with Red Bull and Renault, in addition to his GP2 testing experience. So if Valentino Rossi out of the picture Randy should be on the phone to France toute suite!

Ben Spies
Scheduling conflicts immediately rule out the 2009 World Superbike Champion and contender for the 2011 MotoGP crown.

Travis Pastrana
I absolutely believe Pastrana has the guts to attempt this but I also supsect his commercial value is now way too high for his numerous sponsors and partners to allow him to attempt this.

Ken Block
Watch any of Ken Block's 'Gymkhana' video series and then try and tell me he couldn't give this a shot? 30 Million viewers on YouTube, and counting, would suggest he can deliver a hefty count of eyeballs to the event. While it would be a stretch to expect him to be competitive, his pit stops would be fun to watch!

The following is a list of drivers who could absolutely do this and possibly win. But they would just as easily lose a 'Walk down your own town's high street and get recognized' competition:

Karun Chandhok (F1)
Christian Klien (F1)
David Brabham (F1, ALMS Champion with 1 Le Mans win)
Romain Grosjean (Every open wheel category on Earth except INDYCAR)
Franck Montagny (Peugeot Le Mans Squad & INDYCAR)
Nicolas Minassian (Peugeot Le Mans Squad & CART)
Stephane Sarrazin (Peugeot Le Mans Squad & WRC)
Marc Gene (F1 & Peugeot Le Mans Squad with 1 Le Mans win)
Alex Wurz (F1 & Peugeot Le Mans Squad with 2 le Mans wins)
Anthony Davidson (F1 & Peugeot Le Mans Squad)
Pedro Lamy (F1 & Peugeot Le Mans Squad)
Tom Kristensen (Audi Le Mans Squad with 9 Le Mans wins)
Allan McNish (Audi Le Mans Squad with 2 Le Mans)
Romain Dumas (Audi Le Mans Squad with some INDYCAR experience with Penske)
Mike Rockenfeller (Audi Le Mans Squad with 1 Le Mans win)
Timo Bernhard (Audi Le Mans Squad with 1 Le Mans win)
Guy Smith (CART, Rebellion Toyota Le Mans Squad with 1 Le Mans win)
Neel Jani (A1GP, Rebellion Toyota Le Mans Squad)
Adam Carroll (A1GP & INDYCAR)
Andy Priaulx (RLL BMW ITC Squad with 3 WTCC titles)

Okay, so basically I've named every driver on the planet with a current racing license. While discussing this on last week's Midweek Motorsport, host John Hindhaugh suggested that it would be better to spend the $5M on a IROC style race between the top INDYCAR drivers and any of the drivers from the list above, it would be fairer and it would make more sense. Maybe this will actually morph into something closer to that idea. IROC in its heyday was quite the spectacle, so why not revise the format?

The list below represents a mixture of the possible and the probable who have the ability to move the TV ratings needle in the right direction and are five drivers I would happily pay money to watch race an INDYCAR.

Kimi Raikonen
Kasey Kahne
Sebastian Loeb
Nico Hulkenburg
Trevor Bayne

Now there's a Hi-Def Fox I'd take home in a heart beat!


  1. I would think that Jacques Villeneuve HAS to be on the list of possible drivers!

  2. It's sad that the drivers are compromised and the choices made by the owners of the race are affected by how we perceive the people's perception of the racing show.

    --Ri of Change Rules F1 website