Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles says business at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and within the IndyCar Series has “palpable momentum,” and he’s promising to build on that in 2015. He's optimistic that new aero kits that will debut next year will ramp up speeds and excitement in Indy next May.
Attendance at the Speedway was up significantly in May this year compared to May of 2013, Miles told IBJ on Tuesday. And although about half of that increase was due to the Jason Aldean concert the night before the Indianapolis 500, Miles noted that attendance for the 500-mile race was up about 8 percent.
The IMS doesn’t release exact attendance figures for the Indy 500, but the usual estimates are around 300,000. Another 8 percent would be 24,000 people. The debut of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis—which took place on the Speedway’s road course and kicked off the “Month of May” festivities—added to the attendance increase. IndyCar sources estimated attendanceat 25,000 to 30,000 for the new race.
“May was terrific,” Miles said. “The Jason Aldean concert drew about 40,000, and that’s 40,000 people who wouldn’t have been here otherwise. Overall we think we’ve taken it to the next level of buzz here in town.”
Speedway officials will begin planning next year’s Indy 500 eve concert in late November with event sponsor Firestone, and Miles hopes to announce who the headline act will be in early 2015.
He is confident that a new Angie’s List title sponsorship of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and momentum for the concert and Indy 500 will help attendance “grow incrementally” in May 2015.
Miles is also promising series-wide growth.
“IndyCar for years has been challenging financially, but it is growing now and will continue to grow,” Miles said.
IndyCar officials have said previously that the open-wheel series hasn’t been profitable since its founding in 1996, and Miles gave no indication that has changed. But he added: “We’re pleased with where we are with Hulman Motorsports [IMS and IndyCar combined], and I’m bullish about the future.”
Three things on Miles’ front burner are tweaking the schedule to add races in February and March, rolling out new aero chassis kits this spring, and re-working the series’ television schedule with partners NBC and ABC.
“The strategy is to shift the season earlier,” Miles insisted, “not to shorten it.”
Already, Miles has added a road race in Brazil in March and is looking at other potential international races. He hopes to announce the 2015 schedule by the middle of next month.
Race fans early next spring will get their first look at the much-ballyhooed aero kits, which have been touted since the series’ new chassis came out in 2012. After multiple delays, Miles said teams will finally get their aero kits—which will be made by series engine manufacturers Honda and Chevrolet—in early March in time for spring testing.
“I’m led to believe the aero kits will not just change the look, but will create some differentiation between Chevrolet and Honda,” Miles said. “Everyone I talk to says the cars will go faster with the new aero kits. We think they could go at least a couple miles an hour faster at [the Indianapolis Motor Speedway].”
Despite the added speed, Miles also said the cars should be safer with the new aero kits. Cars in several recent crashes have gone airborne. But Miles said changes made to the chassis in conjunction to the aero kits will “introduce changes to the bottom of the car” making them less likely to take flight.
The IndyCar Series currently has deals in place with the NBC Sports Network cable channel and ABC to air its races through 2018. Miles said he was pleased with the series’ broadcast partners but added that he’d like to get more of the NBCSN races on NBC—which has much better reach than the cable channel.
If that’s going to happen it will have to be with the blessing of ABC, which currently has an exclusive deal to show IndyCar races on network TV.
The deals with NBCSN and ABC could be revised at some time in the next year, Miles said, paving the way for races to air on NBC as early as 2016. Miles said there’s also a possibility that both pacts could be extended beyond the 2018 season.
“The discussions we’re having on that front right now are constructive,” Miles said.
TV ratings across the series’ races on ABC and NBCSN were up 12 percent this year over its televised 2013 races. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that NBCSN reaches more than 15 percent more homes than it did just two years ago.
Still, many IndyCar races are still viewed by far fewer than the 1 million U.S. households that series sponsors would like to see.
“We wish we were starting from a larger base,” Miles said, “but it’s going in the right direction. And with the momentum we’ve built, I’m confident they’re going to continue on that path.”