It was another season in which the Verizon IndyCar Series could claim momentum and although its growth remains small, it was growth nonetheless.
IndyCar appears to be solidifying its foundation, but there are still disgruntled old-timers who long for the days of yesteryear.
With an exciting product on the race track, a cheaper alternative for sponsors and the development of young talent, the Verizon IndyCar Series enjoyed its share of thrills and excitement.
Much of that progress can be attributed to the bold leadership of Jay Frye’s, IndyCar’s president of competition and operations, who completed his second full season in that position.
Frye has solidified the sanctioning body’s foundation and that has allowed IndyCar to grow.
He recently sat down with SPEED SPORT and discussed all things IndyCar.
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Q: IndyCar seemed to have a lot of momentum this year. What were the high and low points of the year?
Frye: We had 11 different winners in 17 races and that is quite spectacular. To have six drivers and teams eligible for the championship going into the final race at Sonoma summed up how the entire season went. It was very competitive every week. Anybody could win at anytime and it was a very exciting season.
Q: With the new universal aero kit, do you expect to see some additional teams figure it out early win some races?
Frye: In 2017, to have 11 different winners in 17 races will be hard to beat. Having the universal kit creates a reset so everyone starts out from an even platform and position, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out right off the bat. In 2016, we tested the current kit and took some components off and left some components on at Phoenix and Mid-Ohio and that is how we came up with the conclusion of the car we have now. We think it will race better and identifies with what an Indy car looks like. The testing went very well. Teams and manufacturers are enthused about it as well as the fans. The next thing we did was some aesthetic things to make the car have a historical feel to it. The reaction from the fans was very good. We did some scale-model wind-tunnel things. The tests came back and exceeded all of our expectations. Now the track testing has done the same thing. The cars seem to be fundamentally very sound. It seems to be a good race car.
The teams will get better and better with this car as the year goes on and every time they get on the track they will learn something new. So, mission accomplished.
Q: Has the IndyCar portion of the universal kit testing exceeded your expectations?
Frye: It has certainly exceeded expectations. Every test we went to we were able to get through our test matrix that we had outlined. It was more of a signoff than anything. We weren’t testing to go fast. Whatever the car was doing was not what we were doing. That’s more of a team exercise. Every test we went to we were fortunate enough to get through early because the car did everything we hoped it would. So that definitely exceeded expectations.
Q: Did the success of IndyCar’s return to Gateway Motorsports Park surprise you?
Frye: It seems like an overnight success that took two and a half to three years in the making. Curtis Francois and the Bommarito guys certainly put the bar very high for a new event and did a phenomenal job. The coolest thing is on race day coming into the facility at 11 a.m. for a night race and there were already lots of fans tailgating. I’m sure it was a good learning situation for them. It was an electric event and we very excited to be back. The future is very bright there.
Q: How important is Gateway as an anchor oval race for the series?
Frye: I’m a huge fan of ovals. The IndyCar Series being the most diverse in the world with ovals street and road courses on the schedule, ovals are very important. To come back to Gateway and have the incredible fan response and effort that Curtis and the Bommarito guys put into it was huge. The repave was borderline whether it needed to be done and the fact it was an issue they went out and had it all repaved.
We had high expectations for them and they exceeded all of our expectations.
Q: Does Gateway represent another chance to give fans near Indianapolis a chance to go and watch you race?
Frye: The Midwest is a great market and St. Louis is a great city. It all came together. Curtis purchased the facility and had continued to improve it and engage the community. The Bommarito guys have been around the city for 60-some years. They put together a neat plan and program. They engaged the community and people came. Again, it exceeded all of our expectations for a first-year event.[caption id="attachment_251270" align="alignleft" width="300"] Jay Frye is hopeful IndyCar will return to Watkins Glen in the future. (IndyCar Photo)[/caption]
Q: Is it a disappointment that IndyCar will not return to Watkins Glen (N.Y.) Int’l in 2018?
Frye: Michael Printup and Watkins Glen really came in and saved the day for us when we were able to take the Labor Day weekend event to them (after the Boston street race was canceled in 2016). Ultimately, we all made a great effort. We all love Watkins Glen and want it to be part of the future. The date was pretty tough. It wasn’t the date the Glen thought would work or wanted in the first place; it was the opportunity we had open. They were very gracious and good hosts and agreed in 2016 to take the event just a few months before the race.
We will revisit this. It’s not the end at all. We need to collectively figure out where we need to go with them. Michael and his staff do a great job. This is part of the whole scheduling process — what is the correct date? How does it work? What do they have scheduled? What do we have scheduled? What can we do to make it a successful, long-term event? That is the obvious goal.
Q: Is it a struggle to re-establish this series in that part of the country?
Frye: That’s part of it. Maybe the last couple of years we tested it. It’s a great venue and very well operated. Our paddock and competitors love going there. Again, we put it together very late in 2016. They were great to put it on in such short notice. That is probably not an optimum weekend to run there. What we need to figure out for 2019 or 2020 is what weekend would work and revisit it at that point.
Holiday weekends work for some venues and not for others. This was a collaborative decision with Watkins Glen figuring out the best way to go forward and this is what we decided to do.