Monday, February 20, 2012

Sarah Fisher Hartman (Ain't) Racing - How Did We Get Here?

The latest and possibly biggest yet hubbub of the 2011-2012 IZOD IndyCar Series offseason has been the ongoing struggle by Sarah Fisher and her crew at the newly re-launched Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing to get an engine to put in the back of their brand new DW12 Dallara IndyCar. As many other folks have documented (better than I could, I think, so I'll stop short on most of the particulars), SFHR seemingly has everything in place for this year: 2011 Indy Lights champion, all around hotshoe and sure-thing future superduperstar Josef Newgarden doing the driving, a new shop being built a mere couple of blocks south of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the aforementioned new chassis sitting in their existing shop, and, most importantly, an injection of cash from new part-owner Wink Hartman, which may (or may not, there are conflicting reports circulating) allow them to run the full 2012 season. The only thing missing is that noisy lump of metal for the back of the car. What happened? How did we get to this point?

Item #1: IndyCar estimated 25 cars as a rough upper limit for the 2012 season. In the middle of last year, who could have disputed such a thing? Or even in late-October, well into Chevrolet's, Honda's and Lotus's development cycle, could anybody have predicted 28-30 cars for the St. Pete race at the start of 2012 with a straight face? It seems hard to remember now, but only a few scarce months ago (six and change, to be exact) that aerokits for the new Dallara were delayed until 2013 because the team owners said that they could not afford the costs of developing their own aerodynamic packages (never minding the fact that most of the cost of developing them would have been carried by the manufacturers themselves, not the teams, and that there was nobody holding guns to the team owners' heads and saying "you have to purchase 15 sets of body work even if you can only afford two"...this is a totally different rant, though). Around about the same time, many of the team owners were claiming that with the introduction of new chassis and engines, and with the necessary turnover of spare parts, some teams would be in grave danger of even returning for 2012, aerokits or no. Fast forward five months...and we have a possible 30 teams for St. Pete? Wha? We'll come back to this in a few minutes...

Item #2: Chevrolet and Honda (and possibly Lotus) each commit to supplying 40% of that 25 car count. 40% of 25 is 10. Chevy and Honda quickly locked up 10 teams apiece. That's 20 cars locked in for 2012. Lotus...well, they did announce their program later than Chevy or Honda, but even though it wasn't that much later, it appears those crucial couple of months were more than their preparation abilities were able to stand, as far as being able to supply more than 5-6 teams for St. Pete (or, maybe it's that Lotus is having a devil of a time concentrating on any one form of motorsport, or even figuring out who owns them, but we'll ignore that for the moment). Anyway, Lotus is locked in for no more than maybe six cars at this point. That's 26-27 cars with engines at St. Pete, with GM and Honda recently saying that they'll take on an extra team or so.

Item #3: Related to Item #2, the budgets for the manufacturers were based on a set number of engines supplied from the outset. Yes, folks, it costs money to cast and machine extra parts, and it most certainly costs extra money to send extra support staff to each race to see after those extra engines (salary, airfare, lodging, food, healthcare, 401k, and on and on, multiplied by number of extra personnel). Take it from somebody who's been around various parts of the industry a bit, those incremental costs have ways of taking down entire projects. Two extra engines may equal an extra 20-25% out of pocket for GM or Honda, but when you're (allegedly, though I totally believe it) already supplying engines at a loss (not really a loss so much as what the manufacturers can write off as "marketing spend"), supplying a few more engines at an even bigger loss can get a program stricken by over-zealous beancounters in a heartbeat. Neither GM nor Honda want that, so they are sticking as close to their original budgets as possible.

Item #4: IndyCar and Randy Bernard are more or less out of room to negotiate. When the engine manufacturers are already doing you a solid by coming and playing at a reduced price that is allowing for even bigger car counts than last year's bumper crop, you can't really use a big stick to say "you have to dump even more money into this sport than we're already insisting you do before you even see the first dime of return on investment at the first race". Month Three of a (hopefully) multi-year arrangement is hardly the time to start calling in favors in the form of even more extra engines than what you've already done (Ed Carpenter getting an "extra" Chevy in the last couple of weeks and another potential "extra" Honda engine going to longtime Honda stalwart Bobby Rahal in a possible 3rd car TBA).

Item #5: Wait, what did you say about car counts again? Seriously, how did that happen? Yep, that's right. Breaking this down just a tad further, we did have several teams drop off the grid over the off season (two cars from Newman-Haas Racing, one from Andretti Autosport, probably one from Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, though the jury is still out on that last one), but we had several teams step up and shore up the car counts even beyond where we saw them in most of 2011. Ed Carpenter Racing (Chevy), Mike Shank Racing (yet to have an engine locked down, though it's believed that they'll be in the six or so Lotus count at St. Pete), Dragon Racing (locked in at Lotus, going from one part-time car in 2011 to two full-time cars in 2012) and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (locked in with Honda, going from one part-time car in 2011 to two full-time cars in 2012) have seen to that. I'd argue that back in October, Carpenter, both Dragon cars (or, at the very least, one) and at least one of the Rahal cars were not even in the picture. Take any of those cars out of the equation, and SFHR has an engine to flog around Sebring or Texas today.

OK, so are we blaming people, then? Well, people love to blame other people, so here goes. As you can tell from above, I'm more or less absolving Randy Bernard and IndyCar from blame. They made the best guess they could at a 2012 car count with the info at hand in late 2011. GM and Honda have done their best to not just hold to their respective contracts with IndyCar, but to step up and handle extra teams. It's hard to get mad at them (though that certainly hasn't stopped the folks at TrackForum, in other blogs' comments and on's comments sections from doing just that...don't let the facts get in the way of your rants, people). Lotus certainly stands to take some blame here, since they're struggling to supply even 20% of the grid (though like I mentioned earlier, it's thought by some that they didn't sign to the same 40% deal that GM and Honda which case it's their call to do whatever they want). There's a rumor floating around (from the source that's always beyond reproach, TrackForum) that SFHR turned down a Lotus engine because they wanted a Honda or Chevy, in which case they might have wanted to do their homework just a bit better before losing Lotus's number (if this rumor is untrue, then my sincerest apologies to the folks at SFHR, because I am certain that you made the call you thought was best at the time, whatever the situation).

That's a whole pile of non-blame, huh? OK, OK, fine. For real now, two targets for blame here...

The IndyCar Team Owners. By playing the whole "we're so broke we might all go under before May 2012!" card, they caused IndyCar to underestimate the field size for 2012. The ICONIC Committee tried to make the sport cheap enough that people could come play. It worked, just apparently too well. The team owners plead poverty anyway, and now one of their own is without an engine as a direct result. Shame on them. The biggest target for blame, though...

$%^& Happens. Bad things happen to good people. Sometimes there really is no good reason for it, other than a confluence of about 20 factors that results in good times for everybody but one person or small group of people, who instead get an anvil falling out of the sky square on their noggin(s). The most popular personality in the sport gets the shaft yet again, through no fault of her own and the fans and the Series as a whole lose out.

There you go. It's not satisfying in any way, but it's the truth. Here's hoping Sarah and Wink can yet make this thing work out and we see them on the grid at St. Pete. We are all pulling for you.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Is the Patriots' dynasty over?

A thing just popped up on ESPN2 asking if New England's dynasty has ended.  You know... the dynasty that hasn't won a Super Bowl since 2004?  The dynasty that plays in the AFC, losers of four of the last five Super Bowls?  No way!  The Patriots clearly still dominate the NFL.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Bowl XLVI: The Tecmo Super Bowl Prediction

So my Tecmo Super Bowl prediction is a little late this year, but you'll still have enough time to place your bets.  If you've been keeping up, our Tecmo Bowl system has now correctly predicted the outcomes of the last three Super Bowls.  Now it's time to see if we can improve that record to 4-0.

In the game between the New York Giants and New England Patriots, I chose to play as the Giants.  I am a fan of all Mannings and, as a Saints fan, am enjoying the NFC's recent trend of winning.

1st Quarter

The Patriots handled my accidental onside kick, but failed to make a first down.  After a punt, quarterback Phil Simms found wide receiver Mark Ingram for an 80-yard classic Tecmo Super Bowl touchdown.  The Giants jumped out to a 7-0 lead.

New England got its running game going on the next drive, thanks to powerful back John Stephens, but quarterback Steve Grogan was intercepted by Mark Collins, giving the Giants the ball again.  Simms hit Stephen Baker for a 50-yard touchdown, and the Giants led 14-0.

2nd Quarter

Another accidental onside kick gave the Patriots a short field and John Stephens took advantage of it.  After a couple of runs and a 10-yard reception, Stephens then ran for a 20-yard touchdown, cutting the New York lead to 14-7.

Phil Simms responded by handing the ball right back on an interception by the Patriots' Fred Marion.  Fearing a momentum shift, fortunately the Giants held their ground and forced the Patriots to punt.

While Simms had looked slightly unstable up to this point, the fact that both Dave Meggett and Ottis Anderson were in the dreaded BAD condition, I had no choice but to stick with the passing game.  After a 25-yard grab by Baker, Simms got Mark Bavaro involved with a 60-yard score.  Giants led 21-7 at the half.

3rd Quarter

Ingram started the second half with a 60-yard bomb and the Meggett proved to be effective as a receiver, scoring on a 20-yard dump-off pass.  I finally remembered how to kickoff properly, backing the Patriots deep in their own territory.  Grogan threw his second interception (to Gregory Jackson) and Meggett caught another short touchdown pass, giving the Giants a 35-7 lead.

John Stephens and the Patriots put together a decent drive on their following possession.  Then I remembered the secret weapon... Lawrence Taylor!  Taylor broke into the backfield to stop three consecutive plays to end the quarter.

4th Quarter

Taylor single-handedly backed the the Patriots up to midfield, but since it was now the 4th quarter, the Patriots, of course, elected not to punt.  After a turnover on downs, Ingram got back into the mix with a 50-yard score.  Giants led 42-7.

After another decent Patriots drive ended with a turnover on downs, Simms threw to Ingram one last time for an 80-yard touchdown, leading to a final score of 49-7.

While Stephens rushed for an impressive 99 yards, Simms was surely our game's MVP, posting 454 passing yards and seven touchdowns.  Ingram scored on all four of his catches and totalled 270 yards.

So everyone call your "guys," place your bets, and send me a cut.  The New York Giants will win Super Bowl XLVI.


Edit: It turns out that New England Patriots running back John Stephens was tennis player Sloane Stephens' father.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Sometimes Unseen Measure of Encouragement that IndyCar Now Has Much More Of

A lot has been going on across all of motorsports that is quite encouraging for fans, participants and stakeholders these days. However, a lot of people (especially on the internet) would have you believe everything, especially for IndyCar, is pins and needles; teetering on the tip of doom and success when it couldn’t be more the opposite if you just pay attention to the most important factor for any racing series. The incorrect assumption is a result of putting too much emphasis on symptoms thinking of them as causes, or another metaphor, not seeing the forest through the trees.

This week specifically there were two big things and two seemingly small/unseen/unrecognized things that all went a long way in proving IndyCar is really solidifying this most important yet somewhat invisible measurement, one IndyCar hasn’t held this strongly for quite some time:


Credibility is simply how one is perceived directly as a result of their presentation and resume. Any smart marketer will tell you that the most important thing any product, service or entity needs is credibility, and that the more of it you have, the easier it is to sell, partner or expand. You basically equate credibility to two things: performance and presentation, and right now IndyCar has them growing in spades. How do we know? Let’s look at the 4 events from this week cited above (keeping in mind they are just 4 of many things):

Credibility With Outside Entities: Those fabulous Super Cars and the NFL Media Party have been HUGE. I can’t state this one enough: the NFL has NEVER before this allowed another sports entity to partner NFL logos with their product. The Super Bowl visits a lot of cities and has plenty opportunities to put its logos on other things, I’m sure they get pitched on it all the time. For some reason IndyCar was the first one to get in, and I guarantee you it wasn’t because the NFL got lazy with saying “no.” On top of the Super Cars, the NFL also held its annual Super Bowl media party at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week. Again, something the NFL had total say in, and could have done anywhere, but the reason IndyCar and IMS were asked/allowed to participate is because the NFL trusted IndyCar to perform to the level and standards they needed.

Credibility with Outside Media: All in this week Ellen DeGeneres used IMS as a backdrop to her show, Graham Rahal was on a CBS Super Bowl roundup show, and Marco Andretti was on a fabulously hilarious sketch for Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night show. And this is a full two months away from any kind of racing and on 3 channels that do not have IndyCar races (though NBC obviously connects to NBCSports). That’s 3 A-list networks and two very A-list TV shows that wanted to work with IndyCar.

Credibility Inside Motorsports: I’m not sure if you heard, but a fellow named Rubens Barichello was testing an IndyCar earlier this week. Rubens has 19 years in Formula One, he’s easily the most popular current driver in South America, and he’s not exactly the type of guy who tries out an IndyCar out of boredom or by random happenstance. He could test out cars in any series he wants right now, but because of his best friend Tony Kanaan helping build that credibility up for IndyCar, Rubens is willing to give it a shot. That in itself has a domino effect on fans (at the last count Rubens ad over 1.6 million followers on twitter) because Rubens himself has credibility and brand and standards, people who associate those things with Rubens will associate them to IndyCar by default. That means more people might be willing to check out a race, follow the series or be pressed to learn more about it… and that is the kind of growth IndyCar is looking for, something from outside their normal sandbox.

But while Rubens was the big cannonball splash this week for IndyCar news within the motorsports driver circle, there was a 2nd small thing this week that has mostly been missed that I think may say more volumes about the state of the Series credibility within motorsports.

Dean Stoneman: I will be testing for @FollowAndretti down in Houston for 2 days next week. This is such a great opportunity & I thank all @FollowAndretti

For those who don't know who Stoneman is, he’s a young upcoming British driver, he won Formula 2 in 2010 and afterwards signed to the ISR team in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series to become teammates with Daniel Ricciardo (who is now in F1). Unfortunately before the season began, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. So Stoneman had to take the 2011 season off, but very fortunately he’s beaten the disease, and he’s ready to go racing again. Stoneman’s team in Renault 3.5 held his ride for him in 2012 if he wanted to return, but it now looks Stoneman is going to continue his career with Indy Lights.

Some might say this is nothing new, that European racers always come over when their money or opportunity runs out over there (and they would be right to a certain degree because it has happened before). But Stoneman is not a mid/back-pack journeyman racer; in his last 4 years of racing between Renault 2.0 and F2 his championship finishes have been 1st, 4th, 4th and 2nd with 13 poles won and 15 race wins. I’m not saying he’s guaranteed to set the world on fire, but as far as scouting goes, he's near being a slouch.

Personally I think he would be a huge steal for Andretti Autosport to land, but more importantly as the Series, it just shows that magic measurement of credibility that more and more drivers are looking at IndyCar as a wanted career path.

But before you start writing me angry comments, let’s be clear, 4 small little things do not a great credibility make. But a credibility resume takes into account everything, and those 4 things both big and small just got  added to it. It’s not just when good or bad things happen singularly, it’s also how things are reacted to and learned from and how they all look together. While internet trolls would like to point out the few things that have gone wrong and pretend they are the only things that happened, they refuse to acknowledge the numerous things gone right and the things the Series is encouragingly showing it has learned from what went wrong.

We know that things are going right, we know the credibility is looking good these days, because without it, none of the above 4 things happen, because those 4 things above happened after someone evaluated the overall accumulation of credibility that many people remain unaware of… the forest through the trees.