It’s only natural to be forward thinking. Without having some sort of an eye to the future, we would be nothing more than idle beings with no capacity for improvement and betterment, simply languishing in a world of the present where nothing else matters aside from instant gratification. When we don’t look to the future, we don’t improve, and we therefore can not grow.
Indeed, a failure to look towards the future is one of the many things that precipitated INDYCAR’s fall from grace back in the days of yore. During the 1980’s and into the early 1990’s, INDYCAR was a thriving (and wholly different) entity with a rich history and engaged fan base. Yet, due to the petty differences of a few very important individuals, the sport fell into disrepair, and that fall can mostly be blamed on the fact that the key people involved in INDYCAR of that time ignored the future of the sport in favor of what suited their individuals wants and needs at the time… hence why it is so important that the world of INDYCAR keeps its eye on the future from here on it. Had the INDYCAR of 1994 acted with an eye on the future as opposed to the present, many of the sport’s current issues would have never cropped up. Sigh….
But alas, harping on past failures is not what I intend to do in this column today. One of the cornerstones of Mark Miles’ new strategy as bona-fide head of INDYCAR has revolved around an “eye to the future”. Whereas his predecessors have failed by myopically acting in terms of the present, Mr. Miles has taken a surprisingly refreshing approach to handling the sport, one that is future-oriented, not present-oriented. Instead of needlessly messing with what has become a solid product this year, Miles and his team have instead been working in the background on future projects intended at growing and improving the sport, such as twin-turbo engines, increasing the speed and technology of the cars, and improving the series schedule. This is in stark contrast to previous INDYCAR leaders such as Tony George and Randy Bernard, who each seemed hell-bent on manipulating, changing, and toying with present-oriented facets of the sport in a feeble attempt to give the sport more “mainstream appeal.”
With a man who appears to be future-oriented now fully in charge, the next question that begs is, of course, what exactly will this sport actually look like in the future, say, five years from now? Well… when the series embarks on that 2018 season, the sport will likely look much different than it does today, and those differences will be most apparent in the cars. The IZOD IndyCars of 2018 will more than likely (finally) feature manufacturer specific aero-kits designed to enhance and vary the look of the cars on track. In addition, twin-turbo V6 engines will power the cars around the track. In terms of performance, Miles has stated on numerous occasions that he intends to raise the speeds of the current cars. That likely means the enhanced 2018-spec DW12 cars will be sleeker, more aerodynamic, and much more horsepower-intensive This will all lead to a discernible difference in the look of the on-track racing product, as these speed increases, coupled with the added variant of aero kits, will spread the field out quite a bit more, eliminating much of the parity we’ve seen in INDYCAR these past few years. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as hardcore Indy fans have been clamoring for more “driver-centric” racing for the last few years. Those fans will likely have their wishes granted to them five years from now as they watch the ultra-fast IndyCar vehicles of 2018.
As for who is fielding those cars, expect to see a somewhat thinner field of owners and drivers than what we have today. With INDYCAR ratings continuing to sink despite the racing quality at an all-time high, there is little reason to believe that any more money or sponsorships will be flowing into the sport in the coming years. Series title sponsor IZOD is likely gone after this year, and a lower-paying sponsor will likely take its place. The bigger teams, like Andretti, Ganassi, and Penske, will be mostly unaffected by the impending financial pinch that will continue to hit the sport. They will simply have to cut costs a bit to meet with the reality of a less financially viable INDYCAR. Middle class teams like KV Racing Technology, Panther Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and other such mid-level teams will also be ok, but they will also have to cut the fat if they want to get by.
The small teams, on the other hand, will likely start to financially starve to death these next few years. Outfits like Dale Coyne Racing, Barracuda Racing, and others of that ilk struggle to get by these next few years under the current financial structure of the sport. Unless Miles is able to make sweeping adjustments to the financial structure of the sport (which seem unlikely given Miles’ focus on technical innovation in the sport), the average field size will likely shrink by roughly 6 or 7 cars. This financial crunch has already begun to hit the lower levels of American open wheel racing, and as such it wouldn’t be shocking to see INDYCAR axe it’s INDY Lights Series at some point in the near future.
In terms of the drivers, the field will be comprised of many of the same faces you
see on track today. There simply aren’t many Indy-centric developmental candidates in the pipeline capable of taking seats, meaning that many new drivers in the sport will come from overseas. Former F1-ladder guys like Luca Fillipi will become increasingly common in the IndyCar Series, replacing soon-to-be-departing veterans such as Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, and Alex Tagliani. A base of still-youthful talent remains in the sport, led by drivers such as Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, and Carlos Munoz. These drivers will be the ones carrying the competitive torch as the sport edges closer to a new decade.
As for the series schedule, the balance of street / road / oval circuits will ebb and flow over these next few years. One can expect to see more ovals and natural road courses return to the schedule as early as next year, with Road America and Chicagoland both being prime targets for 2014 schedule expansion. Street circuits are not going away either, but since these events tend to be financially volatile, it is likely that there will be something of a revolving door of such events over these next few years. The Baltimore GP for instance is said to be struggling mightily, and there’s a good chance that it will be replaced by an event on the streets of Fort Lauderdale by at least 2015.
The big schedule addition that is almost certain to happen, however, is the addition of a race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. Insiders say that as early as next year, the IMS road course race will become a yearly event designed to kick off the month of May. Whether such a race will be successful is anyone’s guess, but the fact is that it is almost certain to happen due to increasing internal pressure from IMS officials to bring more buzz and ticket sales to the speedway.
This is obviously only a rough and somewhat speculative look at what this sport will look like five years down the road, but the important thing to take away from all of this is that much of this rests on the competence of Miles and his staff. There is little doubt that financial realities and the ever-declining interest in automobiles will have an impact on the sport’s future, but these things can be managed effectively such that the sport survives, so long as Miles and his team make the right calls.
Indeed, five years from now, we will be able to witness just what a Mark Miles led INDYCAR looks like. Given his tendency to keep the future of the sport at the forefront of his plans for leading INDYCAR, there is hope that such a Miles-led INDYCAR can flourish and survive. There will undoubtedly be bumps in the road, as financial realities (especially ones set in motion by past leaders) are impossible to side step, but if Miles can truly deliver on the promises he is making right now, the INDYCAR of 2018 may not look so bad after all.
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