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St. Pete: Are IndyCar Street Races Worth It?

JP Montoya has taken his second consecutive St. Pete Grand Prix

JP Montoya has taken his second consecutive St. Pete Grand Prix

Everyone has waited though the winter for the IndyCar season to start. Lets face it, NASCAR still has a healthy following, but it’s plateaued and Formula One has yet to show us what it has in store for 2016.

The question for IndyCar is: Do we really need the street races?

Having just watched the St. Petersburg IndyCar opener it’s left me in a conundrum. Is IndyCar doing itself a disservice by running these street races? Or, is it a necessary thing that is inextricably tied to corporate America, the event itself and the money scene.

IndyCar is a high powered spec series, not FF2000, and these cars simply do not seem to be suited to any of the street courses they run on. Crash after crash, Kamikaze dive bomb drivers who take out half the field in an effort to show the world they are somehow genetically connected to the late Ayrton Senna.

Watching the bottlenecked scrums on a track that, even on television, doesn’t deliver the excitement or sense of speed that you would expect from these cars is a turn-off.

The ultra-high down-force packages that they’re running have these cars careening through these rough and bumpy streets at speeds that may simply be too much for many of these drivers.

Pile-ups like this in St. Pete are all too common for professional drivers of IndyCar caliber.

Pile-ups like this in St. Pete are all too common for professional drivers of IndyCar caliber.

Don’t get me wrong, they are, for the most part, excellent drivers, but you wouldn’t know it from the Formula Ford festival types of passes they seem determined to attempt.

Spec cars that are this large, have this much horsepower and down force seems to me to be a recipe for a disaster. Not the kind that endangers their lives, but endangers their legitimacy.

On the other hand, what choice does IndyCar have? They have to remain relevant to the show. That ‘show’ being slanted more to the corporations than fans. The corporations use the street races as pro golf tournaments with the added thrill of high octane.

It’s easy to have a captive audience of potential clients and current clients to show around and schmooze in order to close the next big deal. But are they delivering the product to the fans?

The answer will come this week in the television ratings. Will they be higher or lower than last year? Will people have tuned them out by the fourth caution lap while the safety crews untangle the mess?

I certainly get the premise: Make the race a weekend event. Concerts, multiple races, Ferris wheels, clowns, whatever. It makes for a good weekend for the fans, at least the die-hard fans.

One wonders just how many people are first time attendees and how many came back from the previous year? Chances are, St. Pete or the street races that have survived don’t have huge number of repeat customers.

So what’s to be done? Not much. The cities provide too much money in the form of corporate participation to revert to the true road course that are many times far from the large urban demographics that IndyCar needs.

Perhaps less down-force and a harder look at enforcing the rules against the dive bombers. Short of that I would welcome anything that could improve the show. IndyCar needs it.

Of course, your thoughts are always welcome.


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About Michele Rahal

Michele Rahal began his career as a professional racing driver in the United States driving for top road racing teams and owners such as Tom Gloy Motorsports, Lever Brothers and the Championship Group. His professional racing career continued from 1980 to 1987. In 1988, Mr. Rahal retired from active driving and moved on to create motorsports insurance packages for teams, events, facilities and drivers developing and instituting programs through such world renowned institutions as Lloyds of London.

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