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Young drivers give IndyCar solid foundation
Question of the Day
James Hinchcliffe, the 2011 IndyCar rookie of the year, has won twice already this year and could emerge as a championship contender if he can become more consistent. And the 26-year-old Canadian has become a huge part of selling the sport _ engaging fans at the track and on social media, coaching drivers, even agreeing to those mind-numbing interviews when nobody else wants to. He’ll start ninth for the Andretti team.
Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro, age 24, wowed Indy fans with her courageous qualifying run in 2011. She is currently ninth in the points and qualified 24th with KV Racing Technology.
“Who can’t see the future?” said Derrick Walker, who will become IndyCar’s new head of competition following Sunday’s race. “We need more of them. We need to make sure that when they come up through the ranks, there’s a future for them. It takes a lot to get in the sport, to stay in the sport and we need to make sure they’re with us like the Al and Bobby Unsers and the Mario (Andrettis) of the past.”
Since opening the series to new engine manufacturers and giving the old cars a new look last year, the racing has never seemed closer or better. Drivers throughout Gasoline Alley insist Brazil was the best road or street course race they’ve even been a part of.
New faces are now challenging the grizzled vets _ Helio Castroneves, Franchitti and Tony Kanaan among them — and it’s given the series a new look.
But those same drivers understand that if this sport is going to grow, there’s more work to do. Most IndyCar races are now shown on NBC Sports Network and while ratings have shown some improvement, overall viewership remains a fraction of the Cup ratings.
Drivers such as Castroneves, who won “Dancing With The Stars,” or Franchitti, who was married to actress Ashley Judd, have appeal outside the racing world. The others, outside of Andretti and Rahal, are hardly household names.
“We’ve tried a lot of things, double-file restarts, different cities and street courses, and those are the things I think are right,” Castroneves said. “One thing I don’t believe is right is a little bit of the marketing. We have a great product and while we don’t have guys that go out and punch guys, what we do have are fast cars that can do a lot of things. Fans, when they come to the tracks, they love it, but they don’t know where to watch it. I believe if they you know where to watch it, then I believe the interest will increase.”
Most, if not all of today’s new drivers, are regulars on social media and that helps. The bigger change may be what Andretti, Rahal and the other twentysomethings can provide going forward _ entertaining races, compelling personalities, and, yes, some of the old rivalries that have been lacking in IndyCars for two decades.
“I don’t feel the pressure to do it, but I have a desire to help to help IndyCar because it’s my passion,” Rahal said. “I just want to help the series grow whatever way I can because it’s a great product.”
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