IndyCar executives address issues on team money, docuseries, hybrid, third manufacturer Jordan Jarvis knows how tough it is to blaze a new trail in SuperMotocross
ST. SAINT PETERSBURG, Florida. The day before the opening of the NTT IndyCar season, the series executives addressed some of the big questions as we move into 2023.
During a press conference on Saturday after training Firestone Grand Prix in St. PetersburgPenske Entertainment President and CEO Mark Miles and Series President J. Fry, along with representatives from Firestone (which introduces the “green” guayule tyre), NTT and Shell (which will supply 100 percent renewable racing fuel), celebrated the series’ sustainability efforts.
Fry and Miles then answered questions for 30 minutes on a wide range of topics, including last month’s pre-season testing and the possibility of a race at The Thermal.
OPEN SEASON: Details for watching the St. Petersburg Grand Prix this weekend
Club, new marketing strategies for the series (and resulting cuts in bonus money for the teams that pay for them), new IndyCar documentary series (“100 Days to Indy”), future hybrid engine, search for a third engine manufacturer, and upcoming vehicle updates:
Q: Did the thermal test generate interest from new sponsors and team owners?
Miles: “From my point of view, it’s probably too early to tell. Its meaning for me was perhaps twofold. It’s already there.
“The first is from the point of view of especially earned media. It was like another race, the 18th race. Next, the audience was fantastic in this context.
“Secondly, the investments that have been made (in St. Petersburg with multimillion-dollar landscaping) to really start a serious program to improve the quality and professionalism of the facilities. We’re trying to tell all of our promoters, “We’re all taking a step forward.” The first step among many steps.
“And I thought the thermal facility was a great example. So we could just say, “That’s what we mean.” They didn’t cut anything when they built this place. Their customer service, they just did back flips to figure out how to solve problems and make us all feel very welcome. It was a really great example of how we continue to improve our experiences in the IndyCar series.”
fry: “Obviously there’s a member, Don Cusick, who’s already involved, so that’s a good thing.
“It was amazing to see at night when we return from the paddock to another part of the facility. They said that if the participants’ doors were open, it was an invitation to enter, and that was true. It’s amazing how hospitable they were.
“We weren’t sure. We knew that the Thermal management was excited about our arrival, but we were not sure about the participants. The circus is coming to town. We invaded their space. But they were off the charts, happy to see us. They went above and beyond to make us feel at home which was great.”
Q: The Thermal Club owner is interested in running the race. Is there any potential?
fry: “Having an open test was perfect because the weather is great. This is a great time of the year. It filled a big need because we can’t visit too many places during the year because of the weather. So I don’t think there will be a race as such, but in terms of open testing it was great.”
Question Racers demanded more from the marketing of the series. Are they and their teams receptive and do you think they have faith in this year’s new campaign?
Miles: “I do. I understand that we are past the planning period and could we do (100 Days to Indy) in a way that is reliable and could we pool the revenues, the money to fund the investment to do all of this? So we kept quiet, so people wondered what was going on.
“Once we were in a position that really started with the riders meeting at Indy on December 8th, I saw nothing but support. I think the riders are definitely aligned and I think the team owners are too.
“Another thing – I’ll save someone the question – yes, we asked the teams (to help fund the marketing costs). It wasn’t voluntary, but we kind of asked the teams that we could cut about $150,000 in Leaders Circle entry fees (bonus money), for a total of $3.3 million, to further increase our investment. . This is a minority share of our investments as a whole.
“We heard some comments that maybe not everyone agrees with this idea. Again, from our point of view, nothing is absolutely universal, but I think it was really positive. I think everyone agrees with the development of the series and wants to do their best to be a part of it.”
Q: With Leader Circle’s $150,000 cut in money, it seems like the team owners weren’t sufficiently warned that this was a possibility. Can you solve this problem?
Miles: “Perhaps that’s fair. As we finalized our plans and considered how much we thought we could invest and ways to increase spending in this area, we came to the conclusion that perhaps the teams would contribute or be able to. So, within a couple of days, we called all the team owners and said: “This is what we want to do.” No one I know has ever said “no” or “don’t” or “please don’t.”
“So, yes, we were moving forward one way or another, at least with the investment that we already kind of circled internal funds, and to be able to add another useful amount of money, we thought it made a lot of sense, and I didn’t get what I would call opposition.”
Q: On 100 Days to Indy, do you plan to watch drafts of the show, and will you have final editorial control and approval of what goes on the air?
Miles: “Yes, and yes. But before we ask your question, for the moment we are partners, helping them with the paddock to identify possible storylines. Interesting stuff that we think could turn into great storytelling.
“So, even yesterday we heard about their thoughts going forward on how these episodes could initially set up the rest of the series. Obviously, to some extent it will depend on what happens on the track in the run-up to and during the 500th. But we’re talking very closely with them to see what they think about it as we go.
“Ultimately, yes, Penske Entertainment will see – I wouldn’t even call it a rough cut – we will see the proposed sequence and we will be able to say whether it will or not, but we don’t expect it to be an issue.
“I love everything I hear from them about how they want to portray IndyCar, the drivers and the paddock. They are very sensitive not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and somehow, even unintentionally, reveal nothing that is really ownership and competitiveness for the teams.
“So a lot of people might worry that this is all about controversy. I don’t think that’s what it is. I think there are so many really great stories to tell. I don’t really worry about having to say no.
Q: Do you pay Vice or CW for shows?
Miles: “Basically, the economy is between Vice and CW. We get a little compensation.”
Q: How are things going with Honda and Chevy hybrid-ready for 2024?
Fry: “So we are very happy that Honda and Chevrolet have taken on this project. So Molex has done a great job of developing the technology. We are excited about how it will look. It will be completely different. It will be exclusive to IndyCar.
“So we have reached a certain point. Now Honda and Chevrolet are going to make it racing. I think in the next month or so there should be some things here. You will start to see more and more track tests.
“Everything is going very well. Again, this is really different. It will be light. He has a lot of horsepower. It is safe. You know, it’s low voltage, something like that. So it will be very cool. Full speed ahead. Everything goes well”.
Q: There are a record 27 cars in this race. As the grid continues to expand, will there ever be a time when you start considering some sort of cap on full-time participation in order to create a charter system similar to what NASCAR uses?
Fry: “In the 16th, we planned to get new owners, new records and stuff like that. So the plan worked.
“Part of the goal of the plan was to have more manufacturers. It was the biggest piece of the puzzle to get it done too. So we’ve exceeded the number of records we thought we’d get with this plan, but we obviously don’t have a third producer yet and we’ve been working really hard on it.
“Becoming a third (manufacturer) becomes a necessity rather than a luxury. We are working on this every day. Something good will happen someday.”
Q: Any news on a new chassis for ’25 or ’26?
Fry: “People ask us all the time about a new car. If you look at the DW12 compared to what it is today, it’s not the same car anymore. It’s not even close to the same car.
“One of the things, if we’ve missed something because we’ve been through these years, is that we don’t rename it like we did. The chassis is completely different than it was in 2012. The car is completely different than it was in 2012.
“Today in this car there is nothing like it was then. So next year there will be quite a big evolution of the hybrid, so the car will look different. Then there will be gradual changes in 25 and 26 years. Is this a brand new car? Yes it. Now it’s a brand new car.”
Q: Is it more of a necessity than a luxury to get a third manufacturer because there are more cars on the Indy 500?
Fry: “Both Chevrolet and Honda are doing a phenomenal job, but they are depleted and we have come to a point where their stocks are above expectations.
“So the hybrid part will add to that. Indy is part of that. I think we’ve come to a point where 34, 35 cars…