INDYCAR has been thinking hard about new ideas and new ways to spice up the show, but by far the idea that caused the biggest splash (negative or positive) was the doubleheader weekends. There are three on the schedule this year, on the street courses at Detroit, Toronto, and Houston: a full race on Saturday and a second full race on Sunday. Both count as full individual events for full points. Each weekend will see two race winners.
Team owners and drivers said they loved the idea. Race promoters said they loved the idea. Both saw it as a way to get more value out of the weekend for their commercial partners. Critics were a bit mixed about how it would work, though. Would it really give more value to the weekend and draw more fans or would it just cut the already questionable crowds (and television ratings) in half as people chose one or the other but didn’t stick around for both races. Was it just a cheap way to get to the 19 races INDYCAR really wanted to have on the schedule even though they didn’t have enough tracks willing to host them?
My fellow open-wheel writers here at Frontstretch didn’t like the idea much. I wanted to see for myself how it would work before making any judgment. I’m all for anything that makes the show more appealing and helps the series grow when it comes down to it. And honestly, while some complained it was gimmicky, it sure seems less so than push-to-pass in my book.
So here we are the week after Detroit and how did it go? The answer is that by all indications, the first of the doubleheader weekends was a great success. Race promoter Roger Penske was happy with the at-track attendance, noting a definite boost in the Saturday gate by having a second race as opposed to just qualifying sessions and support series races on that day. I imagine if Roger Penske is happy, the corporate sponsors who backed the event probably are happy, too. So it would seem it did not simply split the at-track crowds into two.
It didn’t seem to split the fans watching at home either. Overnight ratings for Sunday’s race were 0.8, up from 0.7 last year. Saturday’s race was new but scored a 0.7, which equals the performance of the Sunday event last year. Not stellar, but respectable in the sense that it does seem to indicate IndyCar Series fans tuned in for both events.
The races themselves were not a disappointment. In fact, it could not have worked out better on several fronts. It most definitely ended up being two entirely different races. Saturday’s race was fast and smooth and relatively incident free. Sunday’s race featured a lot of on track contact, tighter racing, and strategy.
Perhaps the improvements made to the track since last year, resurfacing and tweaks to a couple of corners to make the circuit racier, are mostly responsible, but it was not the Belle Isle snoozefest that it might have been, not once and, so thankfully, not twice. We probably wouldn’t be talking about the success of the weekend if it had been two boring races back to back. To be blunt, let’s just all be thankful that neither race was anything like last year’s.
Maybe the track and the improvements they made deserve a little bit of credit for those television ratings too. Fans tuned in for Saturday, possibly riding a little bit of Indy 500 buzz still, and this time were pleased enough with what they saw to come back again on Sunday. If that’s the case, they were rewarded with a completely different and yes, even exciting event on Sunday.
Maybe just the topsy-turvy, extremely competitive nature of the season, which continued at Belle Isle, is what brought the audience in and kept them. The races didn’t disappoint in that way either, producing upset winners both days in Mike Conway and Simon Pagenaud. Two races in two days is a lot to ask of teams and drivers and yet the small teams prevailed while the larger ones struggled. Face it, fans love that kind of thing. Everyone loves to see an underdog take the win and it seems to be the norm and not the exception so far this year.
So whether it was an Indy bounce that Belle Isle didn’t drive away this time, improvements to the track that made these events better, the amazingly competitive nature of the IndyCar Series, the novelty of two races in two days, or just a fortunate combination of all of these things, the first of the doubleheader weekends looks like it was a success. There are two more on the schedule and that’s enough to tell if this success is the result of curiosity, a magical combination of factors, or a true desire of fans to see more racing. But here’s a thought—if the racing continues to be as competitive and unpredictable as it has been so far this year, why wouldn’t fans want a double dose of that?
Connect with Toni!
Contact Toni Montgomery
©2000 - 2008 Toni Montgomery and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!