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Invading America

May 2, 2012

The Mole and Penelope (Roedean) were in the Gallery Restaurant at the Hotel Holt in Reykjavik. It was lunchtime and, in need of a little “hair of the dog”, the pair had decided to try a bottle of Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand to accompany their “Gender Menu”. The chef at the Holt believes that the taste buds of the two sexes are entirely different and so Penelope was trying to revive herself with some lemongrass soup, accompanied by roasted coconut flakes and pineapple salsa, while The Mole was having his palate tickled by mushroom soup in the style of cappuccino.

They were both feeling decidedly fragile. The flight from Heathrow had arrived in Keflavik late at night and they had made the mistake of spending too long in the bar, which is famous for its whisky collection.

They were in Iceland for the annual meeting of a body called NAMSAP. The Mole could not remember why it is called NAMSAP, but he is sure that the acronym has something to do with “North America” and “Motor Sport”.

The one thing that they both remembered, as professional agents, was that the cover story for the meeting was that they were banana retailers, meeting banana retailers from the United States. This daft story was chosen because someone in MI6 mistakenly thought that Iceland was the largest European banana producer. In fact that honour belongs to the Canary Islands, which are part of Spain.

Penelope yawned.

“What time are the Septics coming?” she said.

“Septics?” said The Mole.

“Oh, sorry,” said Penelope. “It’s Australian rhyming slang. Septec Tank. Yank. American.”

“Ah,” said The Mole. “The Cousins are here already. They got in from Dulles at about six this morning. But they want to stay on their own time zone. So I agreed that we would meet them at teatime.”

“I might still be alive by then,” Penelope grumbled. “But I may shoot myself if I don’t feel better soon.”

“What are we talking about this year,” she went on, looking at her nails. Pistols are very useful, but they wreak havoc with a girl’s manicure.

“They want to discuss the forthcoming F1 invasion of the United States,” said The Mole. “They are worried about the implications of this on the IndyCar Series. They are also not very happy about the idea of the DTM having a US series, but I have explained that I am unable to control the Germans and that they need to speak to the Bundesnachrichtendienst.”

“That is a very long word,” said Penelope.

“It took some practice to learn,” said The Mole proudly. “But it is not up there with Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänswitwe, or, for that matter, hoechsgeschwindigkeitsbegrenzung.”

Penelope groaned.

“Waiter, I need two teaspoons of paraquat, please,” she said as blond man with a badge saying Jón Jónsson strode past.

“We have no paraquat on the menu,” he said, looking a little bemused.

The Mole waved him away, with a nonchalant smile.

“Come on,” he said. “Perk up. We need to be in tip top condition.”

Penelope downed her glass in one.

“That’s the spirit,” said The Mole. “Now, I have reminded The Cousins that NASCAR is welcome to try to invade Europe and that there should be a free market economy between allies,” The Mole went on. “I also mentioned that back in 2003 CART proposed merging with Formula One. As I recall Bernie Ecclestone turned it down, concluding that there were not sufficient benefits for a partnership between the two championships. Besides, Bernard does not like having partners who interfere. He does not mind rich city types who leave him in charge, but he has never liked having to discuss his management with anyone. At the time CART’s principal value was a number of established races, plus the potential for US teams, sponsors and drivers to expand internationally. It never happened. CART went bankrupt at the end of the 2003 season and the assets were used to create a thing called Champ Car but that was swallowed up in 2008 in a merger with the Indy Racing League. The current series became IndyCar in January 2011. It is owned by Hulman and Co, the company that owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and half of Indiana.”

“It is not very strong,” said Penelope.

“Not really,” said The Mole. “It is supposed to be an all-American thing but the cars come from Italy and the top 10 drivers include two Australians, a New Zealander, a Canadian, a Scotsman, a Brazilian, a Japanese, a Frenchman and two Americans.”

“And they lost their primary asset, Danica Patrick, to NASCAR at the start of this season,” said Penelope.

The Mole nodded.

“I had Penelope (Benenden) do some analysis for me and she thinks that now is a great time for F1 to invade the US, starting off with Austin and New Jersey and adding a bunch of races in the US time zone,” he said. “This means that there is good case to convince a network to pick up coverage. It is new. It is different. It’s international and it’s not NASCAR.”

Penelope grunted.

“What we are trying to get out of them is whether or not they think there is a third US venue in the pipeline,” said The Mole. “I keep hearing suggestions that there is, but no-one is saying where it is. There was a plan for a street race in Chicago. That involved a bloke called Dennis Hastert, a Republican politician and a former speaker in the House of Representatives, who popped up in F1 a couple of times. I am not sure if that project is still around or not.”

“Could it be Long Beach?” said Penelope. “It is the obvious thing for F1 to do.”

“True,” said The Mole, “but where is the money coming from? The race this year drew a crowd on race day of 60,000. That is slightly less than watched the first F1 race there is 1977. The numbers went up to about 80,000 while F1 was there and then dropped back to 56,000 when it switched to CART. Anyway, the time zones are all wrong for Europe. Besides it is owned by folk who are still involved in IndyCar.”

Penelope drained another glass and refilled it, as The Mole ferreted around in his notes.

“Ah yes, here it is,” he said. “In June 2005, Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerald Forsythe bought the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach using a company called Aquarium Asset Management. They then signed a deal with the City of Long Beach to continue running races in the city until 2015 with an additional five-year option. And in May 2008 they agreed a five year deal with IndyCar, so that deal is in place until after the 2013 race.

“But IndyCar TV ratings are horrible at the moment,” said Penelope, with a quiet hiccough.

“Come to think of it,” said The Mole. “I’m sure someone told me that they saw Long Beach’s Jim Michaelian at an F1 race not that long ago. Was it Abu Dhabi?”

“Yes, but no-one is going to pay,” said Penelope. “We need to look at places where the real estate values are lower than they should be.”

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26 comments

  1. As a long time American F1 fan (I am old enough to have cheered on Phil Hill at Ferrari.) I would love for F1 to be embraced by the US. But at the current prices for tickets, and the restrictions on access to the “circus,” it will never happen.

    Multi-year “seat licenses” to be able to spend more money for tickets every year, when history has shown that any race can be discontinued at any time will not bring in the “American punters.”

    And, the idea of abandoning SPEEDTVs coverage by Varsha. Hobbs and Matchett by going to a network broadcast would be an umitigated disaster. They are the best broadcast team in all of US motor sport, regardless of how many “boogity, boogity, boogities you throw in.

    Bernies just does not get it. The US is a different market. Not better, or deserving more than other markets, just different.

    If he wants US dollars, sponsorship, and attention, things will have to be done differently. I am a huge supporter of the classic tracks in Europe, Spa, Monza, Silverstone, etc., I would much rather see F1 racing at the classics than the Tilkedromes in countries that he has shamelessly used for profit.

    It just won’t happen here that way. Still I hope to go to at least one race in New Jersey before it collapses.

    By the way, if any of the Penelopes need any assistance in the colonies, I would be happy to oblige. Tea and sympathy, or a nice white Burgundy, what ever is required.


    • Second this comment.


  2. Detroit


  3. Vierwäldstätterseedampfschifffahrtaktiengesellschaft to that.


  4. Interesting theory. Even if F1 gets all the rounds it wants, it will still only hit US timezones 6 races per year — so, would it be beneficial to F1 for IndyCar to survive to (attempt to) keep interest in single seater racing alive all year round?


    • No, all European races would be at comfortable times for East Coast viewers. The West Coast is a problem.


      • East Coast viewer here. 7 in the morning on a Sunday is comfortable? Since when?

        My usual deal is I DVR the race. Wake up. Fast forward through all the commercials and since no one in this country cares about F1, as long as I stay off two websites the result is not spoiled.

        Also, Chicago street race: NEVER! Chicago city politics are truly something marvellous to behold and if Bernie keeps all the stuff that makes money how is said race supposed to just break even? Austin got a massive taxpayer subsidy, track’s being built, and they paid Bernie all his money and we’re less than six months out and there’s still skepticism on whether it will take place. I still want to see the books for there and Joisey.

        Formula One is a nice series. I as an American racefan that consumes a lot of auto racing just does not think it’s worth what a bunch of Europeans and foreign governements elsewhere does. I went to the 2004 U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis and that was by 30% more the most expensive race I ever attended, and apparently that was the cheapest ticket on the circuit and there were 100000 people there (a good number of which were Colombians and they were only there to watch Montoya, unless Mexicans take to Perez that factor does not exist anymore). And they couldn’t make it work financially with those attendance numbers multiplied by that ticket price. Meanwhile Formula One itself did everything they could to destroy the event with Schumacher letting Barrichello pass him by to win as a big FU to all the paying fans and then the tire debacle in 2005.

        And in the meantime the value of an F1 race has been inflated insanely far more than the Las Vegas housing bubble by foreign governments and dictators buying F1 as their route to legitimacy. I don’t give a rat’s ass about legitimacy or politics or team orders or exploding tires when watching an F1 race, I just want to watch a good race. Provide good races, F1 could work here. If they don’t and revert back to political bullcrap, F1 will fail for about the 10th time. American auto racing is not a country like Britain where if F1 disappears the country disappears off the racing map because they don’t support anything else.


        • Austin or CoTA in this case did not get any subsidy. The Major Events Trust Fund collects sales taxes ” Generated” from the major event, thus, no event no sales taxes. No tax dollars are coming from any bodies back pocket. Please stop spreading the lie…


        • The Schumi letting Rubens by was 2002. I was there myself for that embarrassment…

          Oh, and while I agree upon much else, I think you’ll find motorsport in the UK spreads far, far beyond F1. They design & manufacture in the UK for loads of different series worldwide…


  5. Low real estate values… meaning, low enough that someone could buy up the rights up to run a race for a relative song?

    Detroit? There are a bunch of possible routes for a nifty 5 km semipermanent track a la Albert Park or Montreal on Belle Isle — and the the city government is so strapped for cash that they might even cough up the rights for nothing as long as they don’t have to spend anything…


    • That already exists. It’s called Belle Isle (in Detroit). They used to race F1 there in the ’80s and it’s been an on again/off again race venue for CART/Indycar promoted by Roger Penske (This year it’s on again).


      • F1 did not race on Belle Isle.


  6. Moley,

    It’s important to remember that it was the split between CART and IRL that essentially killed open-wheel racing in North America. Prior to that it had higher ratings than NASCAR. The Tony George vs the Team Owners battle allowed NASCAR to become the dominant player in this market. F1 is fortunate to have Mr. Ecclestone who seems to manage the competing interests of the teams, the F1 Group and the FIA.

    IndyCar is quite weak now, and the new Dallara makes the stepped-nose current-spec F1 cars look positively gorgeous. Not only that, but the ALMS is looking decidedly second rate at the top (the GT class, OTOH, is exceptional).

    With two venues confirmed for 2013, F1 has a huge opportunity to grab the share of mind of those that like open wheel, and those that enjoy the high-tech of ALMS (compared to Grand-Am, which is lower-tech but at least offers balls-out racing in the prototype class).

    I think a fourth race on NA soil is optimistic. In 2013 we’ll have Austin, Jersey and Montreal. If one added in a Mexican race and one in the Caribbean (as has been suggested elsewhere), that would give seven in this area, including Brazil.

    -k-


    • “It’s important to remember that it was the split between CART and IRL that essentially killed open-wheel racing in North America. Prior to that it had higher ratings than NASCAR.”

      CART was done for as a top series when Jeff Gordon became a mega star in NASCAR. He went to every CART team, all of them shut the door in his face, and in his 2nd year in NASCAR he became the biggest racing star in the country. I’ve never thought a more fitting moment that showed CART’s time as top series was done than Jeff Gordon winning the inaugural Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis in 1994. A racetrack Gordon wanted to race at in CART but could not because they all expected him to buy his ride. The split obviously did not help, but NASCAR had passed open-wheel by 1995.

      “IndyCar is quite weak now, and the new Dallara makes the stepped-nose current-spec F1 cars look positively gorgeous.”

      I thought the new Dallaras looked ugly and then I saw the new F1 cars. -Robin Miller 😀

      “With two venues confirmed for 2013, F1 has a huge opportunity to grab the share of mind of those that like open wheel.”

      I just don’t see it. Too many races too early in the morning or middle of the night and they’re on Speed TV which is a niche channel. People decry Indycar on NBC Sports but that channel is far larger than Speed.

      You want to break into the American market? Get an American driver in a top car that has a chance to win. And don’t bring up Scott Speed. No one here gave a rat’s ass about Scott Speed.


  7. Paraquat eh…??

    He only needs one teaspoon unless he was going to share it……

    http://www.pan-germany.org/download/fact_paraquat2.pdf

    The Mole broading my mind in ways i would’nt have though of…..


  8. “We need to look at places where the real estate values are lower than they should be.”

    So anywhere in Europe or America?

    regards,


  9. Miami.


    • the one place I always thought fit F1 to a tee


  10. Just watched a recording of the Indy race from Sao Paulo. Appeared very amateurish on all levels. I hope the 500 brings back some polish otherwise I can see the series going down hill.


    • Yeah, my thoughts exactly. I guess they think the cars look cool but they really . . . dont. They look like an 8th graders imagining of a modern Speed Racer.


  11. Detroit is so obvious a conclusion that I almost doubt it. The problem with the road races run by indy car is you can just tell how little the series spends on planning and laying out the tracks; the road surfaces are always so bad that they have to set up the cars to recover from sideways midcorner aerial excursions. These tracks would be more fun to watch a group of Caterhams race on.

    There are so many fantastic old F1 tracks in but the US it is a shame. The road tracks we have here are fairly short laps and there’s no way the money will be invested to make them happen. Watkins Glen was great but that shape would no longer be interesting. I’m interested in seeing something happen at Monticello.

    Detroit though is really intriguing. It is the beating heart of the (sorry) US auto industry. You will have racing fans there. There is a lot of cheap real estate. The city would welcome the jobs that construction of a real race track would bring. In the winter they could cover the track with ice and race snowmobiles.

    Yeah, I like it. Bring it.


  12. What a shame the meeting was not in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Perhaps next time.

    Bananas? Still scratching my head on that one.

    Although it will never happen, F1 at Road Atlanta would be spectacular.


  13. If Bernie is serious about the American market (which I doubt), then he needs someone explain to him that it is not sufficient to have more races in a suitable time zone. While more races south of the U.S. would be fine with me, they will do ~zilch to increase F1 interest within the U.S. If he wants Americans to care (which some of the teams want) he needs more races within the nation. (It is a rather large place.)

    Too bad he didn’t buy CART when he had the chance. Whatever it cost Tony George, I bet they’d have sold it to F1 for less, just to spite Tony.


  14. Bernie’s Las Vegas dream? Or Miami? IndyCar has Long Beach, rumors of Chicago’s streets, a street race in Las Vegas, and Ft. Lauderdale. Is the Mole thinking an IndyCar/F1 alliance is in the works?


  15. New Orleans? The punters could sit on the levees …


  16. Anywhere from the Carolinas south to Florida would be an idea and warm enough for any time of the year.The idea of a Texas, Florida, Brazil, & Argentina leg….

    But when it comes to Bananas perhaps one of the islands or “north” South America?



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