Chat with John Oreovicz
Oreovicz attended his first Indianapolis 500 as a teenager in 1978 and still hasn't broken the open-wheel racing habit. He has covered nearly 300 Indy-style races for National Speed Sport News and many other publications around the world and co-authored "A Winning Adventure," a history of Honda's successful Champ Car engine program. "Oreo" resides in western Indiana within earshot of his home track, the Putnam Park Road Course.
Send your questions now and join John in The Show on Friday at 1 p.m. ET!
Oreovicz Archive: Columns
John Oreovicz (1:01 PM)
Howdy everyone and greetings from Kentucky Speedway. It's a spectacularly pleasant day here in Sparta and the first IndyCar practice session is just wrapping up. What a surprise - Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon ran 1-2 for Ganassi Racing, Dixie over 220 mph. That makes Kentucky the fastest 1.5-mile track in the ICS.
John Oreovicz (1:01 PM)
Let's move on to the questions! Thanks to everyone for participating.
John, Who are your top five IndyCar/CART drivers of the last 20 years?
John Oreovicz (1:03 PM)
Let's see, that goes back to 1988. So I'll say Rick Mears, Michael Andretti, Alex Zanardi, Paul Tracy and Sam Hornish Jr.
Hey John - so can we officially say that Danica's improved road race results last year can directly be attributed to the "experimental" steering system? Any word of anyone getting special equipment for this year? Maybe a collision avoidance system for Marco?
John Oreovicz (1:07 PM)
Ryan, thanks for providing me with a much-needed reason to laugh! The IRL was very secretive about the "variable ratio" steering system last year and clearly Danica's road racing performance improved dramatically when she was allowed to secretly use this technology. Now that everyone has access to it this year she is qualifying 10th to 20th at road courses. Frankly, I just don't think she is driving hard enough in qualifying; she rarely uses the curbs or looks like she is hustling the car (can I get away with saying that about a female driver?). Back here on a 100 percent throttle oval she is P3 in practice. Gotta admit I laughed when Marco nerfed her out of the way in Edmonton and In dearly wish someone made a covert recording of the postrace AGR driver meeting.
Justin (Pella IA)
How will the schedule evolve post merger, any whispers about the future of the series?
John Oreovicz (1:09 PM)
Hi Justin, hope you enjoyed the race at Iowa Speedway this year. I think there is a strong desire to get Cleveland and Elkhart Lake on the slate for 2010 but because of existing contracts the IRL was unable to make room for them this year. I suspect that Homestead and Kansas could be on the chopping block if they don't attract better crowds next year. Homestead's attendance is always embarrassing and it makes the series look bad.
Lets get right to it. Is anyone beating Dixon this weekend?
John Oreovicz (1:10 PM)
Actually, I think Wheldon will win this weekend. He is at his best on 1.5-mile ovals and given Dixon's position in the championship, Wheldon will be more willing to take risks. Finishing second won't hurt Dixon's points lead because I don't see anybody beating the Ganassi cars this weekend.
Collision avoidance for Marco. I'm not sure the technology is there for that guy yet.
John Oreovicz (1:11 PM)
Yeah, Marco seems to be the driver who can't stay away from other cars or walls. Say what you will about Danica, she's not a crasher, except maybe in the pits.
What does a title sponsor do for the Indycar Series?
John Oreovicz (1:13 PM)
It brings credibility, promotional power and about $10 million to the IRL coffers, making a dent on the estmated $500 million Tony George spent to keep it afloat until he could finally put CART/Champ Car out of business. Let's say the rumors about Subway come true: That would represent 29,000 places where the IndyCar Series could get "free" promotion.
Nathan (Fairfield, CA)
Hi John, What are your inital thoughts on the IRL package with ABC/Versus? Good deal or bad deal?
John Oreovicz (1:15 PM)
Gotta be careful what I say, because after all I am employed by ESPN. But I would say it is a step backwards, simply because Versus does not enjoy the name brand recognition ESPN has earned with the average sports fan. I wrote some analysis about the deal yesterday but it has not been posted yet...maybe it's too sensitive to post on ESPN.com.
How is this TV agreement with ?Vs? different from the one that was made with Spike TV? I didn?t see any improvement of Champ Car recognition when they were in a small channel. I did enjoy the pre-race show with Bronte Tagliani.
John Oreovicz (1:17 PM)
I was there for the Spike TV debacle in Champ Car and that lamentable deal was one key reason why Champ Car fell out of the public consciousness as quickly as it did. Versus is carried in 74 million homes compared to 96 million for ESPN/ESPN2, but how many hotels or non-Comcast cable operators feature Versus? Also, any bartender will know where to look for ABC or ESPN on the dial, but finding Versus will likely require a bit of research on their part unless they are rabid Tour de France fans.
What's the word on PT doing anymore races this year?
John Oreovicz (1:19 PM)
It's gone pretty quiet on that front and frankly I don't see it happening. I would think that Paul's performance at Edmonton - he truly showed what he is capable of if given an opportunity - should go a long way toward persuading a sponsor or team owner to get him on board for '09. I understand that AJ Foyt IV has family ties to the Hulman George family, but if TG wants to turn Vision Racing into a winner, PT is a much better bet.
What is the Priority in Indy Car racing right now, expanding the schedule, getting higher car counts, or something else that is eluding me? Also with no F1 race at Indy, any chance for a 2nd IRL race on the road course?
John Oreovicz (1:22 PM)
The "merger" produced higher car counts this year and now the key is maintaining at least 26 cars for next year. Sponsorship is still a tough sell for teams - witness the difficulty Newman/Haas has had getting a backer for Graham Rahal's car. He's a marketable American star and Ralph Hansen is the best sponsorship salesman in the business, so obviously it's a lean market. The schedule should grow again in 2010, so I would say the #1 priority right now is to secure an aggressive title sponsor for the series.
How's this for a pipe dream...a second Indy Race on the road course, especially with no F1...any appeal to that if it's not practical?
John Oreovicz (1:24 PM)
That's two good questions from JD. A few years ago I suggested that the IRL should close its season on Labor Day weekend with another big-money event on the IMS road course. It seems like a natural to me but the IMS folks I have talked to gave the impression that it will never happen. I'll keep beating the drum because it strikes me as the perfect place to crown the champion and if it is promoted as a premium event, I think they would have no problem attracting 100,000+ fans for it.
Marc (Malden, MA)
Versus??? Has nobody paid attention to what happened to the NHL the last few years?
John Oreovicz (1:25 PM)
I haven't. What is the NHL? Handball?
Any opinions on the new TV arrangement?
John Oreovicz (1:27 PM)
The one positive I could see coming from the Versus deal is extra promotion. With all due respect, ESPN has not done a lot to promote IndyCar racing, especially since they got a piece of the NASCAR money pie a couple of years ago. I don't think I would be out of line in saying that IndyCar is a poor second cousin to NASCAR at the Worldwide Leader in Sports.
Kevin (Boston, MA)
What changes are being talked about with the car for the next couple of years, anything big?
John Oreovicz (1:28 PM)
Not for the next couple of years, though an all-new chassis and engine package should be in place for the 2011 season. I think the biggest change next year will be that the league will FINALLY equip the cars with some sort of a muffler system that will make being at the track a little more bearable for the fans and participants. There are rumblings of some aero revisions for some of the faster oval tracks as well, especially Indy.
Patrick (Agawam MA)
If Turbos return to the car package, will that be counter to the economics that Tony George used to eliminate them, or will they provide a better show and encourage growth?
John Oreovicz (1:31 PM)
I'm one of the leading advocates for a return to turbos. The Champ Cars sounded SO SWEET and you could actually have a conversation at a CART or Champ Car race. A turbo package is only marginally more expensive than a N/A engine and if rules for common components like ECUs are properly written and enforced, additional manufacturers could be brought in and the cost difference would be negligible. Turbos give a lot more flexibility in terms of regulating power levels and you could easily take away power for fast ovals and give the IRL cars the extra 200 horsepower they need for road courses. The key is to test in advance so that an unacceptable situation like the one CART created at Texas in 2001 does not get repeated.
Isn't there really a trade-off going with the ESPN vs. Versus (get it?). I mean, name brand of ESPN trades off to additional coverage of Versus (pre-race, post-race, etc.)?
John Oreovicz (1:33 PM)
Do you think pre- and post-race shows are really going to increase ratings? maybe the hard care fans will like it, but they are going to be watching anyway, no matter what network the races are on. Maybe it will open up some TV work for people like me...
So is Kanaan gone? Will AGR take Wheldon back if so?
John Oreovicz (1:35 PM)
They are having a press conference in 30 minutes to announce TK has signed a contract extension. I think he's an idiot for doing it, unless AGR told him that Marco and Danica are going away at the end of this year. And I certainly don't see that happening. As long as Michael is involved, AGR will always favor Marco, even though he's still not the star a lot of people have tried to make him out to be. That's a dysfunctional organization that is unpopular with the media and other teams so I really don't know why TK would stay unless there are a LOT of zeroes on the correct side of the decimal point on his checks.
I read your piece on Sarah Fisher (shameless plug) and got to thinking: what do you think the results would be if Sarah and Danica switched teams? Would Sarah do better in AGR equipment than Danica and would Danica be anywhere close to competitive in Sarah's car?
John Oreovicz (1:38 PM)
Are you pluuging my piece or the fact that you read it? Either way, thanks. I think Sarah would run pretty well on ovals for AGR because they have better cars than she has had access to for the last few years. But it is impossible to say whether she would run better than Danica. BTW, Sarah was P16 in the first practice and Danica was P3, separated by 0.25 second or 2.2 mph. Danica is a more versatile driver than Sarah because she trained on road courses.
Does Scott Dixon even have a pulse or are his interviews elaborate pupet shows put on by Chip?
John Oreovicz (1:39 PM)
Dixon is actually not a bad interview. You'd like him better if he could down a couple of beers before the post-race interview.
Why isn't the premier open wheel series in North America in ESPN?
John Oreovicz (1:41 PM)
Well, 5 of 18/19 races will be on ESPN or ABC. But the fact that they didn't want to pick up the full schedule demonstrates to me that the IndyCar Series' market value has decreased since the last TV contract was negotiated. ABC obviously still strongly believes in the drawing power of the Indy 500 and if they put the kind of promotional effort into Indycar that they do for NASCAR (read: ad nauseum) then the IndyCar races might achieve better ratings.
Nathan (Fairfield, CA
How's this for a Versus channel slogan for the IRL. "Indycar Versus Nascar. Why drive a taxicab when you can ride a rocket"
John Oreovicz (1:42 PM)
Send that in an e-mail (along with an invoice) to Terry Angstadt at the IRL.
With all he's accomplishing, don't we have to start thinking Scott Dixon could hit that legendary driver status if he keeps it up? If he hadn't run out of gas on the last lap in 2007, this would be his 3rd championship, wouldn't it?
John Oreovicz (1:43 PM)
Dixie, is that you blowing your own horn? That's a good point. And his record would be even more impressive if he hadn't been saddled with a slug of a Toyota motor in 2004 and '05.
Mike - Chicago
Any chance Australia gets back on the schedule?
John Oreovicz (1:45 PM)
It's on the schedule this year with a new and recognizable title sponsor (Nikon). But still I don't think the IRL has clarified the status of the race. Non-points? Bonus points? It's still a bit of a mystery. I think they are working hard to retain it for '09 and when the IRL folks go down there in October and witness the crowds and enthusiasm, it will be a lock. I remember flying back from Long Beach this year on the IRL plane and all the marketing people who had never been to Long Beach before were blown away. I told them 'Wait till you see Surfers...it's 10 times bigger and better.' Having the V8 Supercars there (what NASCAR should be) is an added bonus.
Patrick (Agawam, MA)
Not to be a suck up but I do feel presence on ESPN is automatically better for brand recognition than VS., but I have to admit, at least it seems that the races will be on TV and available. Having no TV coverage is worse.
John Oreovicz (1:47 PM)
The current IRL marketing crew seems to have their act together so I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and wait and see if the new package performs.
Any idea what the other races no ABC/ESPN are going to be? Texas would seem natural, wouldn't it?
John Oreovicz (1:48 PM)
I think they'll take St. Pete, Long Beach, Kansas and Texas in addition to Indy. But that is just a wild guess, picking the most prestigious events. Scott Guglielmino of ESPN said yesterday that they hope to capitalize on the run-up to the 500 and "the massive audience it brings."
Does the Japan race still exist after additional engine makers come in?
John Oreovicz (1:50 PM)
I think so and frankly I hope so. Honda pretty much saved the IRL's hide when it agreed to supply the whole field beginning in 2006 and the IRl may feel a bit of gratitude or debt in that regard. On a personal level, Motegi is my favorite oval track in the world and I find it richly ironic given the fact that most of the world ignores oval racing that two of the finest ovals on the plane (Motegi and EuroSpeedway Lausitz) are not in America.
Patrick (Agawam, MA)
Just 1 guy's opinion...stay in USA...don't compete with F1 yet! No vote on Australia.
John Oreovicz (1:53 PM)
The USA versus (no pun intended) international debate has been raging in American open-wheel racing for the better part of 20 years. I would prefer to see a true IndyCar World Series, mainly North American based but with a small selection of races in Europe, Asia, and South America. Incidentally, there is a NASCAR story up on ESPN.com by Ryan McGee that states that NASCAR has the most diverse schedule in the world. That's a load of crap. Now that it has embraced road and street racing, the IndyCar Series truly is the most diverse form of motorsports anywhere.
After TK story, is Wheldon signing a new contract with Chip Ganassi? Right?
John Oreovicz (1:55 PM)
I wouldn't be too sure of that. Wheldon's results have faded since 2006 and he's not that good of a road racer. I'm just not sure there is a better alternative for Chip to hire.
Mike - Chicago
Go one time and you will change your mind on Australia!!!!
John Oreovicz (1:55 PM)
I agree totally. Surfers is one of the best race experiences you will ever have. And it's a hell of a place to go on vacation.
With Kanaan staying will there be any driver shuffling for next year or will all the teams that can afford to stay running remain the same? In addition to PT any hope for a Scheckter siting?
John Oreovicz (1:56 PM)
One brilliant result would be Luczo Dragon operating as a Penske satellite team with full-time cars for Tracy and Scheckter. They would be volatile and entertaining as hell.
Do you get the sense that the IRL folks have a plan to grow the series, or is it a fly by the seat of the pants situation?
John Oreovicz (1:56 PM)
They seem to have more of a plan than they did a couple of years ago.
Mike - Chicago
And get back to EuroSpeedway, loved that race, except for the last 15 laps or so.
John Oreovicz (1:57 PM)
I just found my piece of notebook paper on which I documented the 13 exhibition laps Zanardi drove in a Champ Car in 2003. I'm going to get him to sign it and frame it. That was the most moving experience I ever had at a race track and I'm getting goose bumps right now just thinking about it.
Peter , NYC
Do you see PT driving for Chip?
John Oreovicz (1:58 PM)
It's not totally out of the question. Chip takes chances every now and then, albeit usually on young drivers.
John Oreovicz (1:58 PM)
That's it for today. I need to head to the AGR/Kanaan wake...I mean press conference. Keep smiling everyone - Oreo