The Verizon IndyCar Series is embarking on a legendary season in 2016, which has Mark Miles eager for it to unfold.
In an unofficial “State of INDYCAR” discussion during Media Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Feb. 2, the CEO of Hulman & Company – the parent of INDYCAR and IMS – said, “In broad strokes, I would say we are all about as excited as we could be about the 2016 season.”
The centerpiece of the 16-race Verizon IndyCar Series schedule is the historic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. It is drawing worldwide attention.
“One of the things I think is very cool is to show (series stakeholders) the plans for how we view the year from a communications perspective,” Miles said, “which basically is to design, to leverage the absolutely unique, important, pivotal hundredth running of the Indianapolis 500 and to draw the connections to that legend and to that history, to that epic moment to all our races.
“We intend to use that moment, that historic moment, for the benefit of the promotion of our drivers and our promoters and events throughout the year,” Miles added.
Miles believes the milestone Indy 500 will be key to continuing the trend of increased ratings and viewership with television partners ABC and NBCSN.
“We increased ratings and viewership on average over the last two years by 25 percent (in 2014) and another 13 percent (in 2015),” Miles said. “I think we'll get over 50 percent in total increase over the three years by the end of this year.”
Part of that boost will be tied to changing race start times to potentially draw even larger viewership numbers.
“I think there are half a dozen surgical scheduling moves like (starting the season-ending race at Sonoma Raceway later) that I think will help us get over 50 percent (increase) in television audience over the three years, including at the end of the 2016,” Miles said.
While long-existing race venues are as important as ever, the return of Phoenix International Raceway and the addition of Road America and the streets of Boston to the schedule will further expand the series’ reach. Not only from a fan numbers standpoint, but also in introducing or re-introducing markets to the INDYCAR brand and style of racing.
“We are still maybe more than ever as we get closer, really excited about the prospects for being back at or for the first time in Phoenix and Road America and Boston,” Miles said. “All of them are really excited. All of them are making great progress.”
Miles also summarized several key technical updates that will be in place for 2016:
* Cars will be required to use tethers at all tracks for the rear beam wing and rear wheel guards. “They won't just fly off when there's an incident. At superspeedways, there will be tethers to the nose and front wing main plate. We think that will be helpful from reducing debris and a safety perspective.”
* Dome skid plates are being added to the bottom of each race car at superspeedways. “That means increased stability, which I think is really important for the superspeedways,” Miles said.
* New rear beam wing flaps that Miles called “NASCAR-esque” will help prevent cars from going airborne when spinning backward on superspeedways. “They are meant to kick in and have effect at 15 to 20 miles per hour if the car is going backwards, basically to keep it on the ground. It was tested at the Texas A&M wind tunnel up to 230 miles per hour in the tunnel. There was no mechanical failure. It adds 500 pounds of downforce to a car going backwards, which we think will help prevent cars getting in the air in that condition.”
* The overtake assist on road courses, or push-to-pass, “has been increased by 20 horsepower, so it would go from 40 to 60 horsepower, which makes a big difference,” Miles said. “Things like the fuel probe sensor … will now work much better and basically will have more effect more quickly on an engine in gear when the fuel probe is detected.”
Miles stressed that INDYCAR remains cost-conscious when it comes to making changes.
“We have to be very careful about adding costs,” he said. “I think the aero kits contributed a little bit of angst in that regard last year. I think they're getting a handle on that. What matters most is more fans paying more attention. I think that's happening. … I think about attracting more fans and I think the direction is good for us.”
Overall, Miles, who took over as CEO in December 2012, sees INDYCAR trending in the right direction, saying it is “ascending.”
“I think in one of my first opportunities to talk to fans three years ago, I sort of felt like INDYCAR maybe needed to apologize because we put our fans through a lot,” he said. “We're not perfect today, but I think the fan metrics are improving.”