Lack of exposure, household names clouds new IndyCar season
There's no question that established stars from outside the United States, like
IndyCar, in its third season back under one roof, is stable going into 2010. It will have between 22 and 26 cars in 16 of its races, plus 33 at the Indianapolis 500. The drivers race in the fastest, highest-performing cars in North America and they do it on all types of tracks. IndyCar, for the first time since 2001, has a title sponsor in Izod, a big boost to the image and marketing of the series. IndyCar has the vast majority of the elements that brought open-wheel racing to its pinnacle in the early-to-middle 1990s.
Two critical areas are missing for IndyCar to enter a renaissance period to regain all that ground lost from 1996 to 2007 in the war between CART/Champ Car and the Indy Racing League: More American drivers and a dramatically improved television package. They're inter-related, part of the problem and part of the solution.
IndyCar's television package is stronger internationally than domestically, where 12 of the 17 races are on the Versus network. Versus is in only 60 million homes, roughly half of the homes in America. ABC broadcasts the other five races, including Indianapolis. You can sell ABC to sponsors, but Versus won't get you in most doors.
It explains why Brazilians
IndyCar is broadcast on one of Brazil's best networks. With it, Romancini and Beatriz were able to sell sponsorship to join teams who needed funding.
Hildebrand spent the last six months of last year trying to put himself in the same position. He's still trying, hopeful of moving into IndyCars at some point this season.
"Since the middle of last season, I've been talking to teams about different opportunities at different levels," Hildebrand said. "For better or worse, part of the reason a fair number of guys [Americans] are without rides at this point is because not a lot of properly funded rides opened up. The economy and the financial side plays a huge role. I realized coming up with funding and sponsorship dollars is probably as important as anything in getting into IndyCar."
Versus isn't the only reason for the lack of Americans in IndyCar, but it is a stumbling block. This is the second year of the Versus contract and the season starts without
Rahal, son of 1986 Indy 500 winner
Versus hopes IndyCar will drive consumers to it and increase households, but it won't happen without American drivers.
Rahal and Hildebrand could also race in the series this season, raising the number of Americans in the series to six in races outside Indianapolis. Even if they were running full time, it wouldn't be enough to begin lifting IndyCar back to its 1995 level. Indianapolis is a different story. There will be a healthy contingent of Americans there.
IndyCar's team owners bear responsibility for the number of Americans.
• Hildebrand seems unlikely to get the Boy Scouts of America-sponsored car entered by Dale Coyne Racing, who is expected to hire Englishman
Lloyd is also an Indy Lights champion. He's driven in three IndyCar races, twice at Indianapolis, and it apparently gave him the edge over Hildebrand.
"I understand that," Hildebrand said. "Having guys in the seat with some experience, guys that can run at Indy without hitting the wall, that's not a risk teams can take."
It hasn't always been called IndyCar, but the top-level of open-wheel racing in the United States has been contesting national championships since 1909 and racing at Indianapolis since 1911. It has a rich tradition of American champions.
IndyCar can get there again. But it can't do it without Americans.