Why Buy When You Can Lease

Posted by Iannucci | 9/28/2006 | 2 comments »
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The testing on the road course at Daytona is complete, and the word from TrackSide Online is the Indy Racing League would love to schedule an actual race on the circuit. With addition (or at least the intended addition) of non-ovals in Daytona, Montreal, Detroit, Southern California and who knows where else, Tony George’s new strategy appears to be the creation his own “unified” league without actually unifying.

This may or may not be a good strategy, as it remains to be seen just what percentage of America wants to watch all this brake-induced racing. But still, if the policy for the near future is to add more of these types of courses then I suggest the league go ahead and take another page out of Champ Car’s playbook.

The last CCWS race at Road America had a mere 17 cars on the grid. In an effort to combat the dwindling car counts in their series, Kevin Kalkhoven and the Champies have devised a plan to lower the cost of fielding an entry. Prospective owners may now lease both the engine and the chassis from the league instead of forking over the cash for purchases and praying they stay crash free. Hey, Paul Tracy is still in the league, so it’s a losers bet.

I know it’s a series of parades marketed as races, but if it lowers the cost of parade participation then it’s still a good idea. As such, the IndyCar series should try to the same thing in a more limited capacity.

Somewhere out there is a Panoz chassis graveyard, as the Dallara proved to be vastly superior ride for oval racing in 2006. In 2007, no one save Arie Luyendyk Jr is considering a Panoz for a fulltime ride. However, the Panoz was still used by some teams on the road courses, where it was considered the equal or better vehicle.

Panoz also seems to be at home with road courses since they will serve as the sole provider for Champ Car next year. Keeping this in mind, it may be in the IRL’s interest to keep a working relationship with the manufacturer, just in case financial considerations force a merger.

Here’s my idea: If the IRL were to purchase those new or gently used Panoz cars and work a deal with Honda for limited leasing, then they could offer very low priced “rentals” to teams who wanted to compete only on the road and street courses, which are obviously growing beyond the three in 2007. There are several motivations from the driver or team end for this:

1. The rental would conceivably be less than a full series Champ Car ride, thus undercutting the budget conscious crowd leaning towards CCWS.

2. The playing field is leveled as drivers otherwise known as “road course specialists” could compete favorably, as road course have shown to feature more than just the Penske and Ganassi teams.

3. The road courses would allow for partial series runs (read: auditions) from developing drivers seeking a full-series sponsorship – primarily but not exclusively those from the Indy Pro Series.

And what does the league get from this deal? More cars in the field, which is especially important for races in major metropolitan areas like Montreal, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Twenty cars or less doesn’t seem like such a problem when featuring races at smaller tracks like Richmond or Milwaukee, but it’s visually obvious on two-plus mile road and street courses. If you want people to come see the races again, then show them more cars and more racing.

Who knows, you may even get some “name” drivers who are trying to play their options in multiple series. You could even attract drivers who would love to race in the series but don’t particularly like racing on the high-speed ovals.

If the Indy racing league is indeed looking to add a race at an historic location like Daytona, then it makes even more sense to leverage the event by getting more drivers who would love to drive on that track but might not otherwise have the backing or inclination for a full-season IndyCar series ride to participate.

You want to see higher TV ratings? Put 33 IndyCars in a race at Daytona.

With or without Daytona, the league needs to keep exploring ways to add more cars. If they are committed to adding more road courses, this Panoz rental idea makes that possible.


  1. Anonymous // September 28, 2006 9:23 AM  

    I'm telling you, the Champ Car Panoz DP01 chassis is a brilliant move. 40% cheaper with all the safety and the same speed. That's a concrete step towards cost reduction that the IRL should try to follow. I'd say CC has their heads way farther out of their butts on cost reduction than the IRL.

  2. Anonymous // September 28, 2006 10:06 AM  

    Sure, the cheaper chassis is a brilliant move, but the biggest cost has been & always will be people - drivers, crewman, etc. Controlling that cost is much, much harder, though ChampCar tried a few years back with some sort of limit that was quietly dropped IIRC.

    My problem with ChampCar is their schedule. Races in Holland & Germany? China? What, exactly, are they thinking? They're a North American series, and if they'd focus on that (and having more North American drivers), the series might actually grow. They'd be better off with a 11-14 race schedule that focused on North America and was more condensed.

    This from a guy who wishes the IndyCar Series would move Motegi from a points-paying event to some sort of non-points event that takes place after the season ends.