Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Perception Is Everything



"There are things known,
and things unknown, 
and in between 
are the doors of perception"
- Aldous Huxley

With a relatively late-in-the-day 4-hour drive home from the Milwaukee Mile Sunday night, and my fully-tired 11-year-old son asleep in the co-pilot's seat, I had some extended solitude with which to consider my very enjoyable weekend in West Allis, Wisconsin. 

Typically, I'll stay off Twitter while at a race because I am a big advocate of simply filling your senses with the many inputs received during a race.  This beautiful Sunday, however, tweeting while watching the racing as moments allowed, came much more easily than in other recent events (Indy 500). While doing so, following others' comments via twitter confirmed for me my belief that the intake of the product in-person and for those not on-site is different and that those differences are quite marked.  I also noted that even at various locations in this relatively small venue, the experience is different. 

Reflecting during my drive I was left with many positives over those 36 hours, but also two crucial items that I believe strongly Indycar must concern themselves with: what the product is and how to best manage its perception (or reception). Since I've already written about the existential ennui of Indycar multiple times, I'm going to take aim at how it's perceived.

During practice and qualifying, I took a seat near the end of the front straight in the front row, just 15 feet away from the cars at speed. 179 mph trap speeds at a range of 15 feet or less is close to mind-blowing, and especially so when watching them negotiate a seemingly-impossible 180-degree, flat-arc change of direction over the next five seconds. 

Much as you have, I've seen in-car camera views of them going upwards of 235 mph, but being in-person and so close, even at 180, is the best way to really sense how fast they're going. For the race, my seats were near the same point of the straight but within 3 rows of the top. Huge difference in perception! 50' above and approximately 75' away from those cars (see pic - P = Practice, R = Race). The cars look fairly fast yet fairly benign from that location.



Imagine going from standing on a sidewalk proximity to a 7th floor window view across a four-lane street. Sure the overall view is better, it simply isn't the same experience in any regard.  I've always been an advocate of sitting as closely as possible as it seems in direct correlation with how amazing the sensation of the cars speed is.  

Herein lies my point - Indycar MUST be able to give as many fans as possible this experience. Even if not everyone could sit in Row 1 and see them speeding by, to have this in practice gives a new perspective on just how fast these cars are, even at "just 180 mph". 

The perception that the racing isn't very thrilling unless masses of cars are heaped on top of each other goes away quite rapidly when you see just one of these cars ripping by you that closely at speed. You can quite easily see the difficulty of their proposition and to then consider a tightly bunched pack is, in fact, lunacy.

Getting more fans closer access needs to be a priority even in the age of moving fans farther away from the danger. It's imperative that the fan see just how amazing these cars are and as closely as possible. Finding a way to also get that sensation communicated via a camera to a remote viewer is a challenge even-bigger although the in-car cameras begin to approach it. 


I've yet to see the TV coverage from this weekend but I'm sure I'll be quite amazed at how poorly the sensation of speed comes across. Other forms of racing may be suited for the types of camera angles we've seen for decades, but Indycar would do itself much credit to develop an entirely new way of receiving the product for those not in attendance and also figuring out a way to emphasize how being in-person is the best way to see it.

I can't even remember how many times I've said, "TV doesn't do it justice".  Perhaps no other sport I've attended reflects this sentiment quite as much.

Blow up the decades-old methods of visually presenting Indycars at speed from high above and a wide-angles.  

Give us a view and a sensation that is totally unique and amazing.


Editor's Note: I'll have some continuing thoughts on this subject as a guest blogger over at Oilpressure.com tomorrow for the Brainstorming Series.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

"I have but one question" - Existential Ennui In The Summer Of Our Discontent



"Now is the summer of our discontent
Made glorious winter by this sun of Anton;
And all the clouds that lower'd upon IMS
In the deep bosom of racing buried."


In paraphrasing Shakespeare's Richard III, I am comparing the rise and fall of not only the oft-maligned leadership of Indycar by Anton Hulman George, but Indycar itself. 

It is interesting to me that nobody is more narcissistic or wants to believe just how fantastic Indycar is more than the sport itself, its fans, and its leadership. 

NO-body. 

Hubris, people... hubris.

A fantastic and wildly unpredictable race on Saturday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana Cali-forn-aye-ay, and subsequent social and traditional media storm in the following 48 hours was as exemplary a modern Indycar event that you'll ever see. 

If it were possible to quantify this statement, I'd proclaim the 2015 MAVTV500:
 
the single-best, highest-quality, overall Indycar race ever, that was seen and appreciated by the fewest people in modern (post-1979) history.

Talk about exclusive. For better and worse. 

That's Indycar 'in a nutshell'. 

It's in my nature to be inquisitive. Perhaps to a fault. Maybe I should have gone to journalism school and become an investigative reporter, like this guy who brought down the massive FIFA scandal. Journalism bad-assery of the sports variety at its best, but I digress.

I'd like to suggest that the most important thing we might do to help is to challenge ourselves to take a huge step back and look inward at the sport from the outside. I'm talking big, big wide-angle view of Indycar here.

Imagine you are NOT one of the approximate 500,000 (or 00.0083%) humans on this planet who follow Indycar. If you're reading this, it's quite likely you are a fan already, but please try. 

~ IF we are to take the leap and assume my posit about the quality of this race relative to the total audience worldwide is fairly accurate, my question is, "WHY?"

~ IF Indycar has such great racing (even applauded publicly by much more famous drivers from other disciplines - via Twitter et. al.), why is it not wildly successful and more popular?

~ Why does Indycar struggle to gain any TV ratings of significance (which, as we know, serve primarily to bolster media ad buys, increase exposure and sponsorship for teams and the league, leading to better financial stability and security)?

~ Why does Indycar struggle with ticket sales in such low demand to the degree that venues have little desire or financial incentive to host a race?

Which, therefore, leads me to wonder - does it matter that Indycar exists at all? 

"Why does Indycar exist and for what purpose?"  

Here's where I ask for your thoughts. In the comments please try to step waaaaay back from the sport and clearly, concisely, and honestly illuminate your answer for me in one or two sentences/less than 50 words.

I have a thought in mind already, but I want to see what you say.  No snark, no bile, no humor, just honestly and succinctly answer the question.

If the Indycar ownership could also do that for me, we'd be well on our way to solving some things.




Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Future is Now


February 25, 2017 - Austin, TX

Good morning everyone from sunny Austin, Texas and welcome to the first on-track open test of the inaugural season of the 2018 RedBull Hypercar Series.

Ever since the purchase of the nearly-defunct Indycar series by RedBull in late 2016 and the subsequent debut of the RedBull X1 chassis as the spec chassis for the new RBHS, fans have flocked to to the internet, track, and television to get their first impressions and follow the development of this amazing "hypercar" powered by a very unique, hybrid propulsion system. 


Fascinated by cutting-edge auto-racing, yet also unhappy with the fractious divides, polarization, and lack of transparency in the governance of F1, RedBull founder Dietrich Mateschitz vacated his teams and money from Formula 1 and devised his own series, and made an audacious offer for the failing Indycar Series that the Hulman and Company board could not refuse.  

The concept for the new series, born out of the twilight of the Indycar Series following the 100th Indy 500, was to open a new outlet for forward-visioning, single-seat, monocoque, single-spec chassis, incorporating a hybrid propulsion of various internal-combustion motors and electrical motor systems. 


Multiple settings will exist for the motors and even can be altered during the race based on strategy and in-race conditions. Teams will be allowed to devise their own fuel of choice prior to the race (from traditional ethanol, methanol, compressed natural gas, or biodiesel) and also their own downforce configurations from the bodywork options as well. 

Paid winnings will also be coupled with a points system including a graduated bonus system for minimal energy input usage.  A baseline for energy units (combustible fuels or electrical storage in the battery configuration) will be established for each race. Teams exceeding the baseline will receive a graduated-scale of reduced winnings while teams staying below the baseline will receive an increasing scale of bonus winnings and points in addition to their placement payout.


The new Redbull Hypercar Series will incorporate sprint and endurance racing, and span two divisions (one each in the South and North American continents) culminating in the Inaugural Championship of the Americas to be held at Circuit of the Americas near Austin, Texas in October 26-28, 2018. Each division of the Series will contest their own race series. Based on the results of those 'seasons', each division will produce 8 contestants for the final Championship race with a purse of US$20 million going to the winners.

Several existing racing teams from the former Indycar series have shown up for this weekend's testing fielding multiple cars piloted with an illustrious list of drivers for the new series.

In the North American Series, 12 events in the US and Canada will be held on a variety of race circuits, and run from May to late-September. The Central and South American series will see 8 races hosted in Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico, with the season running from July to September.

The Top 8 teams from each division will contest the final 6-hour race at COTA with the Champions receiving the all-new traveling RedBull Hypercar Cup Trophy.


The inaugural 2018 season will launch in North America at Mazda Laguna-Seca Raceway on May 5th, with stops at Indianapolis on May 27, Road America on June 9. Night races also feature in the North American series including stops at Daytona International Speedway (road course) in late June, and again in Indianapolis for a 12-hour endurance race on the road course in late-August. 

Excitement and interest in an American racing series has not been seen like this for decades. Citing pre-sales of tickets already well-beyond 50% capacity at many of the venues, RedBull expects the inaugural season to be a success with likely expansion of new divisions to Asia and Europe following in 2019.