We’ve had dialogue with Dorna and talked through issues they had. One of their biggest concerns is the track and what we’re going to do with it in the future. If we are going to continue to invest in MotoGP, we want to make sure there will be an opportunity to keep motorcycles at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway beyond 2014.
Over the next two-and-a-half years, we’re going to invest about $100 million in the facility. One of those pieces will be the racing surface, in particular, the road course. So, we’ll definitely see changes to the track before next year. Elevation changes are probably on the outside of the possibility.
We’ll be using a fund from the state, as well as our own investments, to make improvements for the facility. The bulk of the improvements will relate to fan experience—seating and other things fans will notice right away. But we want some more flexibility with the facility to look at other events. We are going to make this a more active location and try to bring more people to the city of Indianapolis and into the central Indiana region.
Part of that, we think, may come through the road course. So, this is a good time for us to look at how we can fix the road course in a way in which the MotoGP riders feel comfortable, as well as make it more useful to us long term for other types of motorsport.
All indications we’re getting is that the surface has gotten better. This year, it produced some really great racing. Part of that may be because we’ve used it more. Formula 2000s and Star Mazda Indy Lights run on it, and we had a Grand-Am race a few weeks ago. We had motorcycles through Kevin Schwantz’s school and a wildcard-rider test. Aging may be the other part.
From the riders’ standpoint, if the grip level were consistent, even if it were still difficult, they would be more comfortable. There are just too many different types of surfaces, and it’s hard to engineer around that.
We’re looking at lighting. That’s a $25 million project. We have to look at the amount that it costs to not just light the racing surface but also light restrooms, stands and parking lots. Then, we need to look at the return. Unless we think it’s going to make a big impact on the NASCAR race, for example, and then sustain it over a period of time, it’s harder to justify making that kind of investment.
The Indianapolis 500 started in 1911. We started with NASCAR in 1994, and it’s still here today. We want to be a showcase for the top level in motorsport. We have our IndyCar series, which is the top level in open-wheel oval racing. We have NASCAR, which is the best stock-car racing in the world. And MotoGP is the top motorcycle racing in the world, so it fits well with our brand. The very first race that this place hosted was a motorcycle race, so there’s history and heritage. We want to keep motorcycles around.
We’ve thought a bit about AMA and World Superbike. Motorcycles are important, but we have spent the last six years trying to educate a market that doesn’t know a lot about MotoGP. So, to change course now and bring in another series as the top billing, it’s essentially starting over. Folks here in Indianapolis are beginning to learn the names of the riders and how good they are. So, we feel like we’ve got a lot of equity in MotoGP, and it’s really important to continue that relationship.
Our fans are extremely passionate about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and they aren’t afraid to say when they have an issue. We get feedback from Indianapolis 500 fans, traditionalists, who believe the Indianapolis Motor Speedway should be used one time a year—for the Indianapolis 500. And then, we have others who believe that a NASCAR race is okay, but we shouldn’t do anything other than oval racing here.
Our media says, “There aren’t many people in the grandstands.” Well, there aren’t. But there are probably more people in the infield experiencing the event. We’ve seen a lot of growth this year in our Moto Midway. We put our vendors in the IndyCar garages. We spent a lot of time trying to invest in that component, because it is as important to us, financially, as a ticket sale component.
Of our three events, MotoGP is most dependent on walk-up traffic. When people begin to look at the long-term forecast, especially when they’re outside our market, and make decisions to ride in on their bikes, that’s when our numbers tend to spike. We also get a lot of people who just ride or drive up to the gate and buy a ticket.
You experience MotoGP much differently than you experience a car race that lasts three and a half hours. The best seat is not a seat; it’s a General Admission ticket. You wander around. You sit on the spectator mounds and watch the riders go through Turns 6, 7 and 8. You watch them go through the north end of the track. Maybe walk out and see folks go through the infield and Turn 1. Spend time in the Moto Midway and the vendor marketplace.
One of the things we’ve learned is that the fans who come to the MotoGP event love this race as much as our Indy 500 fan loves the 500. Obviously, the crowd is smaller for MotoGP, but the fans are really enthusiastic and engaged in the product, and we want to cater to that. That’s the kind of fan we want to develop here.
There’s some crossover with our Indy 500 fans—not a lot, but there’s some. So, we’re trying to get Indy 500 fans to experience MotoGP. I’ve never brought a new fan to this race who hasn’t walked away saying, “This is one of the coolest events I’ve ever seen in my life.” Hopefully, we can make IMS a permanent home for motorcycles.
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