After what could be best described as an eventful 2015, a new year is finally upon us.
Gone are season reviews and days spent dwelling on the previous season. It’s time to move on, put in the work and prepare for the events to come in 2016.
According to The Huffington Post, 45% of Americans usually make New Year’s Resolutions at the beginning of each year. They range from big and bold to small and simple, but ultimately all push for the same goal: to better the quality of life for the person making the change.
Most New Year’s Resolutions are made for a single person or small group of people, but the same concept could be applied to racing organizations such as NASCAR, Formula One and the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Let’s face it, none of the racing series we watch are perfect. Each had a lion’s share of flaws in 2015. However, with a new year comes an opportunity to make changes and improve. Let’s see some fixes each of our favorites could focus on in 2016.
NASCAR’s New Year’s Resolution: Make Consistent Calls
There’s no other way to say it: NASCAR was a mess in 2015.
First of all, the series somehow managed to perform every live test of safety imaginable.
Seriously, how did they manage to have two machines hit the same stretch of pit wall at Pocono Raceway two days in a row? How did two drivers manage to get up into the catchfence, victims of violent crashes in back-to-back weeks at Daytona International Speedway and Kentucky Speedway? Was there a wall without a SAFER barrier that Jeff Gordon didn’t find?
All of the above goes without mentioning the harrowing moment that made champion Kyle Busch’s comeback so incredible. Safety was a major headline all season as drivers were involved in increasingly terrifying incidents. However, both NASCAR and the tracks they compete on have been working to remedy these issues, so we’ll give them a pass here.
In the same vein, the on-track product was… well… nonexistent at times, a’la the high-drag package experiment at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Michigan International Speedway. However, again, NASCAR’s making an effort to fix it, listening to the drivers and fans and implementing the low-drag package that worked to such success at tracks like Kentucky and Darlington Raceway last season in 2016.
With those two things adjusted, and the Chase for the Sprint Cup not going anywhere regardless of how many complaints flood in, there’s still one change that NASCAR can make to improve their product, and it shouldn’t even be that difficult.
Just make consistent calls, guys.
Anyone who watched multiple races or follows the various members of NASCAR media on Twitter knows exactly what I’m talking about here. Officials bounced around more often than a caffeinated child with their decisions last season.
Sometimes, beating the leader to the start/finish line on a restart was illegal. Other times, it was perfectly fine. Sometimes there was phantom “debris” on-track, other times drivers were left sliding around and screaming on the radio as races stayed green.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on the debacle at Talladega Superspeedway last fall.
For all of the issues NASCAR had last season, few shone as bright as their apparent inability to make consistent calls. Their split decision-making cost drivers races, disappointed fans and could have even changed the champion had Busch not been able to hold off Kevin Harvick on the season’s final restart.
Drivers can work through the other issues on-track as long as they’re equal for everyone. It’s up to NASCAR to make sure that their rulings, too, are consistent throughout the year.
IndyCar’s New Year’s Resolution: Make Competing Affordable
With the Mazda Road to Indy, the Verizon IndyCar Series has a surplus of young talent ready to make a step up and grow the series.
Sadly, no owner can afford to give them that opportunity.
With expensive costs associated with teams, tiny race purses and limited sponsorship availability, even top-tier organizations like Andretti Autosport are struggling to stay afloat.
“I’d like to make a profit someday. It’s been really difficult. We’re just keeping the lights on,” Michael Andretti told the Indianapolis Business Journal in May.
Talented drivers ranging from hotshots like Sage Karam and Conor Daly to veterans including Simona de Silvestro and Ryan Briscoe failed to secure full-time rides last season, and with sponsors including the National Guard, GoDaddy and others leaving the series to pursue other opportunities in recent years, things aren’t looking good for the sport’s financial future.
If IndyCar wants to stay afloat, it needs to make competing financially flexible. Otherwise, the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 might be the last marquee race the series holds.
Formula One’s New Year’s Resolution: Give the Fans Some Actual Racing for the Lead
“I wonder who’s going to finish third this week.”
If the above quote immediately brought thoughts of Formula One’s oft-dominated racing to your mind, you aren’t alone.
F1 had some great battles for position back into the field, but it was difficult to get excited for any of the year’s 19 Grand Prixs because everyone from the grandstands to the paddock knew that one of two drivers was likely heading to victory lane.
2015 saw a repeat of 2014, as Lewis Hamilton led a Mercedes monopoly on the top-two positions of the podium, dominating events and clinching the F1 World Championship two full events before the end of the season.
In the few moments Hamilton faltered, teammate Nico Rosberg was there to pick up the slack and make sure that Mercedes still found a way to victory lane.
In all, Mercedes claimed 16 of the 19 Grand Prixs on the year, with four-time champion Sebastian Vettel claiming the other three events for Ferrari.
Ferrari, Williams Racing, Force India and other teams made for many fierce battles in the back half of the points each week, but the drive to the victory in most of F1’s events was comparable to a late-afternoon Sunday cruise.
If the world’s most popular racing series can improve their battles for the lead in 2016, they may finally prove worthy of their worldwide acclaim.
IMSA’s New Year’s Resolution: Stay Relevant in the Summer
NASCAR’s fans are always quick to point out that the series’ biggest event is the season opener.
IMSA takes that philosophy and doubles it, starting the season with their two marquee events – the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Twelve Hours of Sebring.
The races, hosted in January and March, respectively, often give the series its biggest entries and ratings as other divisions lay dormant. However, they also lead to a severe drop in relevance during the spring and summer.
Sure, IMSA still holds events during the rest of the year, but they’re often companion events with IndyCar or other series, rarely bringing in the same quality of competition.
With the FIA World Endurance Championship starting to take over the sports car endurance section of the racing world, IMSA needs to make other events throughout the season hold the same prestige and early shows to give fans incentive to continue following along.
Having a few smaller events is okay – not every race has to be a showstopper – but going 10 months between marquee events makes for a difficult time marketing the series to fans. Perhaps a more balanced schedule could help fans continue to follow along as the heat of the summer arrives.
With all of the series’ individual resolutions revealed, there’s one final improvement that motorsports as a whole should push for. Here’s a hint – we discussed it earlier….
A Resolution for Everyone: Keep Pushing for Safety
2015 was a difficult year for the racing community.
Formula One’s Jules Bianchi and IndyCar’s Justin Wilson both passed away due to injuries sustained on-track. James Hinchcliffe would’ve been lost as well were it not for the life-saving efforts of IndyCar’s Holmatro Safety Team.
IMSA saw a nasty multi-car crash after the end of the race in Detroit. NASCAR tore down catchfences, saw their champion break a leg, and nearly reduced the summer winner at Daytona, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., to tears after watching Austin Dillon clear the wall in a vicious incident.
No racing series was safe this season.
Truthfully, they were never safe to begin with. Going at the speeds these drivers reach in such close proximity to each other will never be completely harm-free. It had just been a few years since a wide range of incidents seen this year had occurred.
Danger has always been an issue in racing and will continue to be one until the final driver hangs up their helmet. However, the amount of injuries and fatalities can be lessened with continual safety improvements.
If we all learned one thing from 2015, it’s that both series officials and tracks need to be proactive – not reactive – in regards to safety improvements for drivers, teams and fans. Hopefully that’s among the top priorities for everyone in 2016.
Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s to a better – and safer – year of racing.
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