Racer.com has had a phenomenal series during the off-season with a variety of racing folks - industry insiders and otherwise - give their views on what IndyCar should look like in 2018, when the next round of car refreshes are due. Many, almost all, of the suggestions are huge, big picture ideas that fall into 3 major categories: more open rules to encourage "innovation", more power/less downforce, and a longer schedule. Which are all things we want, but no one seems to have an idea on how to achieve these goals. So, allow me to present my vision of what IndyCar could do for 2018, with a nod to lessons learned from other racing series that seem to have it all figured out...
1. Refine the aerokit concept into something more robust
2014 saw the first year of DTM and Super GT's unified ruleset, in which a common Dallara tub (and various other spec components) can be fitted with a variety of very distinct bodies that very closely mimic production models from just about any manufacturer. There are sports coupe M4s and RS5s, supercar GT-Rs, and even a mid-engine adaptation NSX. The end result is cars that are very similar, and yet very different, and despite the spec-ness of the package, still feel like unique vehicles.
IndyCar's aerokits (we could see the first one officially as soon as tomorrow) are a step in that direction, fitting custom aero bits onto an otherwise spec car. But too much of the car is predefined, as the nose and undertray, as well as the radiator locations, restrict what can actually be done to the looks of the car. For the 2018 car, teams should be provided with suspension components, a gearbox, and a generic tub - but that's it. Let the manufacturers decide where everything goes and how it looks. Opening up the regs fully is just not reasonable anymore, IndyCar would bankrupt the teams. But going further down the road a bit? Should be no issue. Speaking of which...
2. Choose an engine formula that can be used elsewhere
In Japan, Super GT and Super Formula both use the same 2.0 liter turbocharged inline-4s, so Honda and Toyota only have to make one engine to compete in both domestic championships (and Nissan could decide to supply SF without much financial outlay). A similar engine spec could work for IndyCar, and would open up the potential for other manufacturers to get involved. But talk with them first! They might have a better idea of what engine types may be most cost effective/image conscious for them to run.
3. Have your media outlets refer to cars by "Sponsor/Team/Make"
Another Super GT nod (I might have watched a few SGT races this offseason). There, every car is referred to in that manner - Calsonic Impul GT-R. Petronas Tom's RC-F. Weider Dome NSX. It adds value to the sponsors who know that they're not just getting visual exposure, but also the acknowledgement that makes it easier to create a full marketing package around the car. Here in the states, we tend to call the cars by their team's name or number exclusively. What's odd is that IndyCar has a "Car Name" space on their entry blank, so why not use it? Verizon Penske Chevrolet. DHL Andretti Honda. It makes too much sense.
4. Race where you are truly wanted...
Even if you have to swallow some pride (and some sanctioning fee) to do so. Phoenix and Road America would love to have you, the fans want you there, give them a shot at a reduced fee and let it grow until it's worth it to them to pay full price.
5. ...and spread it out so every race is a big deal.
The compacted IndyCar schedule is fantastic from March to August, then sucks the rest of the year. IndyCar is right in that fighting the NFL head-to-head is a bad idea, but running on some Saturdays won't hurt. The series should run 2 races in September, and 1 in October, and then push a couple of races back into February. Then increase the gaps between the remaining races by a week, and let your drivers pound the pavement in those markets during those off-weeks. That lets every event build into something meaningful and gives promoters a better shot at marketing their race and selling more tickets.
6. Use your YouTube channel for more than just practice highlights
One of the best old NASCAR TV shows was Inside Winston Cup Racing, wherein commentator Allen Bestwick, and drivers Michael Waltrip, Ken Schrader, and Johnny Benson would review the prior weekend's race. It was a basic set - just a desk and some chairs. Pretty cheap to produce, I think, and a great format for IndyCar to copy directly! And, wouldn't you know it, Allen Bestwick is calling IndyCar now, too! Put James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, and Charlie Kimball in the chairs and put it on YouTube every Tuesday night. Let people link to it and spread the word. And formalize a relationship with Racer, who is already sending their guys to your races with cameras to give commentary and get interviews, and let them use on-track footage. A simple, low-cost way to get good content and, again, add value for both sponsors and fans.
The road back to relevancy for IndyCar is going to be a long one, and there's no magic bullets, despite what people may think. I'd like to think these changes would help, and not put a blade over the neck of the series in the process. That's enough from me, though. What would you like to see IndyCar do for 2018?