Is That Really The 2014 Schedule?
Late last week, Robin Miller tipped us off as to what the 2014 IndyCar schedule would look like. This was certainly not official, but Robin Miller is usually dead-on accurate when it comes to stories like this. Whenever the IndyCar Series announces the official slate in the (hopefully) near future, I don’t expect there to be any deviation from what Robin predicts. At first glance, it was very unremarkable – but there were some subtle enhancements.
First, the bad. There were no new tracks added. The same sixteen facilities that make up the 2013 schedule are the same ones that comprise what Miller said we could expect for next year. There is no triumphant return to traditional venues like Phoenix, Michigan or Road America. Nor is there even a reviving of the race at Chicagoland, as has been rumored.
Now, the good. There will be as many as twenty-one individual races for next season. The three sites that featured double-headers for this year – Belle Isle, Toronto and Houston – will all be back for 2014. Added to that mix will be the season opener at St. Petersburg.
If you’re keeping count, that only adds up to twenty races. The extra race is based on the assumption that the series and IMS decide to follow through on a plan to kick off the Month of May with an IndyCar road race on the very unspectacular infield road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Another plus is that the powers-that-be have apparently decided that the series is best served to end the season by Labor Day, in order to avoid going against the all-powerful NFL. I agree. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any change to the start of the season meaning that there could be a seven-month long offseason between next season and the 2015 season if they don’t change anything by then.
Oh, by the way – the race at Pocono has been extended to 500 miles next season, so the triple-crown will feature three 500-milers.
The overall reactions I read on Twitter were not positive. Many wondered what Mark Miles has been doing all these months. I’m much more inclined to give Mark Miles and the board a pass for next season’s schedule. I feel quite certain that Mark Miles has been working diligently to add more races, but it isn’t as easy as it sounds.
First of all, there was a longer than usual transition time between the questionable firing of former CEO Randy Bernard and Mark Miles announcing he would be the one to take the reins of the series. For months, there was speculation if Miles would hire another CEO to fill the position Bernard held. Many names were tossed about before Miles finally confirmed he would be making the tough calls. Instead, he hired Derrick Walker as Competition Chief with a commercial division head still to be named.
It really wasn’t until into the summer before the organizational chart took shape. By that time, it was fairly late to be entering into negotiations for new tracks. So, the most prudent thing to do was to shore up the tracks on the existing schedule and insure their return for next season.
After two double-header weekends, it looks like the idea is a commercial success. The teams and drivers don’t like them, but the tracks love the idea. Supposedly, the tracks that did not have double-headers this season were clamoring to host them next year. The only one to get their wish was the Honda Indy Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
I still hear whispers that a street race at Ft. Lauderdale is still a possibility for next year, but we’ll see. I expect Mark Miles is in serious talks with several new venues for the 2015 season, including all of the tracks I mentioned earlier as well as the Circuit of the Americas at Austin. These things take time and I think it would have been miraculous had Miles been able to add any new track to next year’s schedule. I think by this time next year, we’ll see his efforts pay off with new tracks added for 2015.
The biggest question mark for 2014 is the proposed road race at IMS to kick off the Month of May. Most probably think I look at this as nothing short of blasphemy. Actually, I’m not sure how I feel.
One side of me says that the Month of May at IMS is so wonderful that it doesn’t need to be jump-started. I attended Opening Day at IMS this past May and had a blast. But I could have been there by myself with no cars on the track and still be in heaven. I’m realistic enough to know that only the die-hards share my passion about being at 16th and Georgetown in May. There aren’t many of us left.
Today’s sport fan has many choices and today’s leadership at IMS has a tall order to regain the momentum that existed there twenty years ago. Tom Carnegie called his last race there in 2006. The sound of his voice still brings goosebumps to a lot of us, but for today’s teenagers at the track – they don’t care who he was. Maybe one day, they’ll come to appreciate the legacy of Tom Carnegie an all the other traditions that come with the event, but for now – we just need to focus on them having a memorable month right now so they’ll want to keep coming back.
Most know that I live by the mantra of “change is bad”. Unfortunately, it is sometimes necessary. So if Doug Boles and the brain trusts at IMS think it is a good idea to hold an additional IndyCar race in May, who am I to question it? They have a lot riding on it if it fails, so this isn’t some half-baked idea they might try on a whim.
There will be a test with at least one car on the road course shortly after Labor Day. The test will be run in both directions. Personally, I would prefer to see them run in the clockwise direction that Formula One ran during its time at IMS. That would give everything a different feel to differentiate it from the 500 to be run at the end of the month. This test is a feasibility test, but I have an idea that announcing the race for next May is just a formality.
That means that the race at São Paulo would have to be moved, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. I think it was taxing on the teams to get their equipment off of the plane and get it to IMS so quickly.
So to all of my fellow traditionalists that were expecting me to blast the thought of such a race to kick off May, I am sorry to disappoint you. As much as I hate to admit it, these are changing times and what was once considered to be unthinkable must now be tried.
And to those that are unhappy that there are so few changes to what we think is the 2014 schedule – just wait ‘til next year.