Auto Racing: Grading the Series at Mid-Year

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Auto Racing: Grading the Series at Mid-Year

It is the middle of the summer and most racing series have reached their mid-season point.  I have decided to grade the major racing series on their performance to date in 2008.

 

Formula One: B

Halfway through the season, three people are tied for the lead in the World Driving Championship.

Lewis Hamilton is coming off a decisive win in the rain at Silverstone.  The underrated and unappreciated Felipe Massa continues to impress.  Kimi Raikonnen just keeps on plodding along and is sure to be there at the end.

Robert Kubica is only two points behind the leaders and retains an outside chance for the title.

The BMW/Sauber team finally broke the Ferrari/McLaren stranglehold on the top podium spot but have seem to have lost some of their performance since their Montreal win.

Red Bull Racing has improved their performance dramatically with Toyota making modest gains as well.

Super Aguri folded to nobody’s surprise, and Honda has fallen even further back, notwithstanding Rubens Barichello’s tire strategy podium finish at the British Grand Prix.

Formula One has survived the ugly “Stepney-Gate” matter and the Mosley sex video has only been a minor, albeit prurient, issue. Controversy and politics have always been important parts of the sport.

It still remains the most watched and most advance form of Motorsports on the planet, and the 2008 Formula One season earned a solid B.

 

WRC: A-

If you had a series in which one driver has won five of the first eight events, you would think that driver would be comfortably in the points lead and running away with the Championship.

That is not the case, as four-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb has notched up two DNF’s along with the five wins and finds himself in second place, three points behind championship leader Mikko Hirvonen. 

The World Rally Championship continues to be one of the most popular forms in the world, and TV ratings and live attendance continues to increase.

The WRC can even claim the title of most attended Motorsports event, with over 1 Million spectators lining the course of the Rally Argentina.

Mikko Hirvonen has admirably taken up the challenge of team leader for the Ford team with the retirement of the great Marcus Gronholm. His young teammate Jari-Matti Latvala has impressed the doubters with consistent finishes and a win in Mexico.

Subaru has found some of their lost performance with Chris Atkinson scoring four podium finishes and the great Petter Solberg had a fine second place in Turkey with the new Impreza WRX STI.

The only disappointment this year has been the Suzuki Factory Team which garnered points in the first two races of the season, but since then has had one mishap after another.

This year shapes up to be another epic Citroen vs. Ford duel to the end as the WRC continues to be the most exciting form of Motorsports around. For this, the WRC rates an A-

 

NASCAR: C

NASCAR CHECK LIST:

Full grids?  Check!

Driver the fans love to hate (Kyle Busch) Check!

Cars that if you removed the decals and paint would all look the same?  Check!

The “Big One” at Super-Speedway Races? Check!

Green/White/Checker finishes? Check!

Mysterious “Debris Cautions”? Check!

Sponsors up the wazoo? Check!

Strong TV ratings (in the USA) Check!

NASCAR continues along its merry way of being the dominant form of auto racing in the USA.  The only downside this year has been less than stellar fan attendance at some races due to the economy and gas prices. Also, NASCAR has ticket priced itself out of some fans' budgets.

All in all, NASCAR is having another average NASCAR year.  That is why they get a C for average.

 

IndyCar Series: D-

The war is over. The Open wheel Split is no more. Now the fans will return and pack the stands. The TV ratings will skyrocket. Sponsors will be banging down the IndyCar Series team’s doors.

Well? What is the problem?

TV numbers and attendance for the most part remain flat. The Indy 500 did show improvements, but that is more likely due to the weather compared to last year.

The cars remain unattractive and sound horrendous.  The flat-out oval racing fails to inspire.  The dubious victory of Danica Patrick along with the incessant marketing of this average racer has turned off many fans. 

Consecutive races at Richmond and Watkins Glen were comedies of error in which drivers looked inept and yellow flag caution periods seem to drag on more than necessary.

The expected return of Champ Car fans to the merged series has not materialized, as most of them do not consider it so much a merger but a sellout by the owners.

The IndyCar Series is not planning on having new cars or engines until 2010 at the earliest, when the current Dallara design will be 10 years old.  That is ancient in racing terms.

The same people who were so jubilant early this year and optimistic that Open Wheel racing would return to its heyday this year now spout the "patience" line.  It will take time, they say.  Well it has been 12 years of the IRL’s IndyCar Series.  They have no more excuses left. 

The IndyCar Series rates a D-, and I am being generous.

 

Rally America: C-

Two years ago, Rally America was on the cusp of greatness.  The sport was added to the ESPN X-Games.

They had a driver with name recognition outside the sport in Travis Pastrana.  They announced a TV package. The highlight of Colin McCrae rolling his Subaru at the X-Games was all over TV and the Internet.

It looked like the exciting sport of Rallying was finally getting the audience it deserved in the U.S.

Then nothing.  Where is the marketing?  Where is the press? 

In Rallying, you have an exciting sport with some of the best drivers in North America.  It is the kind of sport that is made for TV, as it can be edited down to action-packed shows.

North America has lost its premier racing series with the demise of Champ Car.   This was the chance for Rally America to step up and fill a void for the race fan.

Rally America rates a C-, barely, and this is only because it is the most exciting form of Motorsports in North America.

 

ALMS: A-

The American LeMans Series has quickly and seamlessly stepped into the shoes as America’s premier road racing series that was vacated with the demise of Champ Car.

This year has seen a rise in both race attendance and TV ratings boosted by the entrance of new teams in both the prototype and GT ranks.

The only downside has been the lack of entries in the LMP-1 Category to challenge the all-conquering Audi’s. Intersport Racing has announced that starting at Mid-Ohio they will campaign another Lola in the class.

The LMP-2 class has been helped by firm factory support of Porsche and Acura and has been the class to watch, as it has become common for cars from this lesser class to not only challenge for wins but actually dominate the more powerful LMP-1s.

Look for at least two more well-funded, big-name teams to join before the end of the season.

The GT 2 class keeps growing with another Ferrari team and the Ford GT-R.  The recent announcement that BMW will return in 2009 with Bobby Rahal’s team will bring the number of manufacturers in this class to seven.

The GT-1 Class continues to be the private domain of the factory Corvettes with an occasional Aston-Martin appearance, but there are some rumors floating that even that might change.

Technologically, the ALMS cars are the most advanced in North American Motorsports.  Four distinct and competitive classes during each race ensures that there is always some action going on the track.

Combine that with the fact that the cars actually look different from one another. Also, their times on road courses are almost equal to those of the IndyCar Series. 

Mix in a little cache and glamour that only this type of racing can provide, and you have the makings of series that will continue to grow in popularity.

 

NHRA: F

The NHRA remains mired in the '60s in both the style of racing and safety.  The totally avoidable death of Scott Kalitta, by continuing to run these 300 mph beasts while still using a Tube-Frame chassis (instead of embracing a Carbon Fiber monocoque design) is one of many examples of its unwillingness to move forward.

Basing the engines of their top series on models that haven’t been available to the public for decades, the NHRA has also failed to accept that the tastes of the American car owner is changing.

Last year, the NHRA announced that they were handing over the Sport-Compact series to NOPI.  NHRA was quick to realize that the Sport-Compact segment was the future but then insisted on running it the same way they ran their other classes.

NHRA was even openly antagonistic towards some of the grass-roots competitors.  With NOPI now running the series, at least now you have an organization who understands the market.

Stagnant TV numbers and attendance, along with the inability to adjust to changing times, give the NHRA an F.

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