A Schedule With Few Surprises

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As expected, the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule was announced this past Thursday. Also, as expected – there were no real surprises. Curt Cavin had already prepared us for what to expect, so that was one reason there were no surprises. I know in this day and age, it’s hard to keep a secret – but every now and then, I’d like to find something in some of these press conferences that catch me completely off guard and blow me away. That didn’t happen Thursday.

Curt Cavin wasn’t sure about every date, but he did an excellent job of speculating. I believe that everything he labeled last week as best guess, turned out to be correct. We all knew that the first half of the schedule was pretty well set, and it fell into place pretty well as expected. The only suspense was whether or not a race in Dubai would be in place with the new race in Brazil. Apparently, that race has fallen through.

We knew that Brazil was set for March 8th. We also knew that St. Petersburg was set for the last weekend in March, along with the new race near New Orleans at NOLA Motorsports Park. Then Long Beach and Barber fall into the same slots as last year. From there, the month of May is a carbon copy of last season; the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis will officially open the month on Saturday May 9th. The next day is the opening day of practice for the Indianapolis 500, with qualifying coming the following weekend before the race on May 24th. The month closes out with the only double-header on the slate, at Belle Isle in Detroit. That race is followed by the second oval race of the season at Texas Motor Speedway.

From there, the schedule takes on a different look, albeit an expected one. Toronto will move from its traditional July date to mid-June due to the Pan-Am Games. Presumably, Toronto will move back to its traditional date in 2016. Two weeks later, the series travels from eastern Canada to southern California and the 2.0 mile oval at Fontana. Labor Day weekend did not work so well at Fontana last season, so they will see if a move to late June will solve the attendance issue at Auto Club Speedway.

The month of July will also have a different look to it. After a packed May and June, there will be a few breaks for the teams in July. Milwaukee moves up from August, while Iowa keeps its July date from this past season.

The teams get two weekends off after Iowa before heading to Mid-Ohio the first weekend in August. From there they go to Pocono, which has moved from the Fourth of July weekend to mid-August. Then the season wraps up at Sonoma on August 30th.

Although there are the same number of event weekends as last year, this season has lost two races compared to last season. Houston and it’s double-headers is gone and the Pan-Am conflict with Toronto has caused that even to lose one of its double-headers. But the series has picked up races at Brasilia and New Orleans.

Since we had a good idea what was coming, there were no real surprises. That’s not to say there weren’t some positives and negatives in Thursday’s announcement.

First the positives: Although there are questions about the readiness of the facility, I see it as a positive that the series is returning to Brazil. I also like starting the season there as opposed to being there the first weekend in May. Although the two remaining Brazilian drivers, Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan, are both nearing forty – this series needs to be in Brazil.

The ApexBrasil partnership has brought a lot of US and Brazilian businesses together. The group has been a major supporter for the series for the past several years and it would be a shame to see that relationship suffer. There will soon be another wave of Brazilian drivers coming up. Yes the series needs good young American talent, but sponsorship dollars are sometimes more readily available in Brazil. The series needs an influx of money also. This race will help grow that seed.

It’s also a plus that there is not a huge time-zone difference. I believe that Brazil is only one hour ahead of Eastern time, so it should not be a problem with TV viewership back home.

The race in New Orleans is another plus. Barber serves those close to my part of the south, but it still isn’t close to those in the deep-south. The southeastern United States is one of the fastest growing areas in the country; both in population as well as commerce. Selfishly, NOLA is still relatively close enough to us (eight hours) that Susan and I can now drive to another race and add another track to our racing calendar for next season.

There are some minuses, as well. Most will think of me as a curmudgeon, but I’m not a fan of ending the season on a road course. I have no logical reason behind that, but that’s the way I feel. However, having the season finale at Sonoma will give some excitement to what is historically a boring race to watch on television. I know those that go to Sonoma rave about being there; probably the way I rave about Barber Motorsports Park being a “beautiful facility” every year. But to those of us sitting on our couch – Sonoma is a boring race run in a dust bowl. I understand that for the corporations entertaining clients, that wine country is a great place to do that – especially for the Championship Banquet. But to everyday fans like us, I think most of us would like to see the season end at Milwaukee, Pocono or another more exciting venue. Fortunately, this appears to be a one time thing.

Then there is the schedule itself. A year ago, we were told that 2014 would be the “transition” year, and that 2015 would be the year that new things would fall into place. I think most fans were interpreting that as we would see some venues that we have all been screaming for finally show up on the schedule. It didn’t happen. Most fans want to see Michigan, Phoenix and Road America re-appear. Selfishly, I’d like to see something work out with Nashville. Instead, we got a race on another continent and one refreshingly new venue at New Orleans. Other than that – it’s the same old, same old. And as many fans have made perfectly clear, the schedule does not need to end by Labor Day. I was once in favor of avoiding the NFL at all costs, but I now think the season should at least run through September. So do most fans, but that apparently has not been heard in the bunker that holds IndyCar headquarters.

I know putting a schedule together is a tough job. I’m sure it’s tougher than most people think. There are so many variables in play – TV scheduling, track scheduling, what else is going on in an area, date equity, etc. Then there is the never ending problem of the IndyCar sanctioning fee and the age old problem that Curt Cavin likes to point out, that is so true – IndyCar can only go where they are wanted. Just because IndyCar and their fans may want to go to Road America, doesn’t mean that Road America wants IndyCar. It has to make good financial sense. No matter how much of an IndyCar fan the track president at Michigan may be, he has to make business decisions – not emotional decisions, or else he won’t keep his job very long.

These are just some of the issues that Mark Miles has to deal with in putting an IndyCar schedule together.

Do I hate the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule? No, not at all. Am I ecstatic about it? Hardly. Although there is much room for improvement, it could be worse. There have been rumors and questions about Fontana, Pocono and even Milwaukee returning for 2015. Fortunately, all three ovals will be back. But here’s a little advice – If you haven’t been to any of those tracks and want to go, I’d make your plans for now instead of waiting for 2016. Then, it may be too late.

George Phillips

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18 Responses to “A Schedule With Few Surprises”

  1. Apparently ending at Sonoma is a one-off because they couldn’t find a track willing to go on Labor Day weekend, something they think will be fixed by the next season. So okay, make the most of it and start working on the layout of that track to make for better competition. Unlike many, I’m okay with starting earlier and ending on Labor Day, and I’ll think they’ll add more races earlier as time passes. We may as well face it, Indycar will always be “in transition,” and I guess that’s okay.

  2. Its a tall order for IndyCar to blow people away these days. Its Nov. 3 and as we sit at home on a Sunday F1’s attendance in Austin looked very good yesterday tens of thousands of people from all over the place get all excited about a British driver winning another USGP and yet IndyCar is afraid to go up against NFL football. Apparently they think no one is interested in open wheel racing after Labor Day, yet look at Austin. I am just underwhelmed , ho hum, what ever you want to call it. It just pisses me off that NASCAR, F1, NHRA anything with a motor is still racing except for IndyCar.

    I hate to say it but the reason there are less races in ’15 for IndyCar is because they are having to adjust the season for less demand. No wonder they do not want to penetrate September and October. People don’t attend oval races. They are still looking for the next magic bullet for a street course. There are fewer events because when you have race after race with declining attendance, cuts have to be made.

    I am not trying to be negative here I just get really frustrated with IndyCar after being a long time fan.

  3. There are two statements that are made or quoted annually here and elsewhere that just make me crazy: One is “IndyCar can only go where they are wanted.” The other is “Gee, the stands at Milwaukee did not look full”. When owners, drivers, and a kzillion fans want tracks on the schedule like Phoenix, Michigan, Road America and others, is it logical to think that the owners and promoters of those tracks don’t want IndyCar? It all gets back to the sanctioning fee and IndyCar needs to adjust their business model to get those tracks back on the schedule. Otherwise, the schedule will continue to feature tracks like Houston, Baltimore, etc. with a 1-3 year shelf life.

    Milwaulee will now have its third date in three years. How the hell can a good promoter like Andretti built an event when there is no continuity? In addition, due to reasons involving the almighty TV scheduling, the starting time will be 4:30. Fans from surrounding states have traditionally made up almost half the crowd at Milwaukee. With a late afternoon starting time, some of those fans will now stay home. So, once again I will hear fans watching from their couch saying “Gee, the stands at Milwaukee did not look full.”
    Different dates each year, starting times getting later and later in the day each year…………..Dumb and dumber to.

    • I thought when they did the same thing to Kentucky (3 dates in the last 3 years) that it was just poor management/marketing. With it happening to the other ovals now, it looks more like deliberate.

      This schedule is an outrage. They sent me their online schedule proudly saying

      6 ovals/6 road/5 street courses
      One Champion

      I emailed them back street that road courses are essentially the same and to be honest they should have shown

      6 ovals/11 road-street courses.

      A schedule severely out of balance.

      They even showed the qualification days at Indy as separate oval races in order to make it look like more ovals than it really was.

      When is the Indycar war against ovals going to end? It is deliberate.

      “There have been rumors and questions about Fontana, Pocono and even Milwaukee returning for 2015. Fortunately, all three ovals will be back. But here’s a little advice – If you haven’t been to any of those tracks and want to go, I’d make your plans for now instead of waiting for 2016. Then, it may be too late.”

      Here is a little advice for Indycar. If those races are gone, alot of us will be gone.

  4. My sources in Brazil continue to tell me that sponsorship dollars for Indycar remain scarce. From the point of view of a typical Brazilian firm, the TV contract remains an issue…so they don’t see adequate ROI in sponsoring a driver when 95% of the races are out of the country and are preempted for futbol on a third-rate TV network that most folks don’t get. That seems to be backed up by the inability of both TK and Rubens to generate enough funding from Brazilian firms in recent years to support full-season Indycar rides. The increasing popularity of StockCarBrasil…where sponsorship dollars go much further and the races are televised on Globo…isn’t going to make it easier for Brazilian drivers to convince firms there that a full-time Indycar sponsorship is a good value.

  5. I watched the F1 race at Austin yesterday even though I have no interest in F1. Why did I watch? Because, like another of your readers, I like shiny things that go fast. The few cars that raced sounded like a cheap leaf blower. The race was flat out dull. Listening to Leigh Diffey drone on and on trying to make the race look interesting gets old in a hurry. Since this is September I can only assume that all the fans at the track were watching football on their phones. I kept thinking that an IndyCar race there would have been much more entertaining. How could the IndyCar sanctioning fee be any higher than all the bars of gold that Bernie gets to race there?

    • I have to agree, Ron…there were a few good battles but as a TV event, it wasn’t scintillating by any means. I’d bet it was a lot more fun for those who were there, though.

    • The Austin USGP, like its USGP forerunner at Indy, has one big thing going for it that no IndyCar race (even the Indy 500) has going for it: it’s the only time that F1 races on American soil all year. With that being the case, I don’t think it’s a huge shock that a big number of American F1 fans (and Mexican fans, due to Austin’s relative proximity to Mexico as well) choose to turn out for Austin that would not travel long distances to go see an IndyCar race in October/November. I think for most IndyCar fans, they’ll choose to go to the 1-2 races closest to their home (should they be within 5-6 hours drive), and just watch the rest on TV. For the bulk of American F1 fans, you’ve got these choices: 1) go to Austin, 2) go to Montreal, 3) pay gigantic money to go to a race in Europe, Asia or Brazil, or 4) just watch all the races at home.

  6. I’ve decided (as I commented the other day on Pressdog’s post about the schedule) that like most things related to IndyCar, the schedule is a total Rorschach test: you can see anything you’d like to see in it. If you want to believe that it’s a sign that the Series is down to its last year or two before extinction for some reason, you can believe that. If you want to believe that it’s a sign that 1.5+ TV numbers are on their way, you can believe that. If you want to just say “well, it’s a schedule, which means that I get to watch IndyCar for another year”, you can also say that, too.

  7. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    I’ve been around just long enough to have heard the words ’20XX is a transition year’ more than not. Every year is a transition year when you’re not atop the sports pylon. People are working hard at improving the sport, I have no doubt.

    That being said, the primary reasons for consistently struggling year after year, I’m fully convinced, are direct functions of TV ratings and, to a lesser degree, ticket sales.

    I’ve said numerous times that, it appears without a significantly more compelling/captivating product, Ratings and Ticket sales will remain flat.

    It is true that: Without venues, you have no product.
    Without teams and cars, you have no product.

    BUT: With insufficient people compelled to see the product, you have insufficient demand. Sufficient demand will create the supply (Teams and Venues).

    Focus on what product creates the demand for a minimum of 2-3 million people to see in person/watch on TV, and the watch the supply concerns regarding the other two issues (Teams and Venues) melt away.

  8. If you like oval racing/close racing it’s just really hard to get hyped up about the 2015 schedule. As someone who started watching Indycar due to Chicagoland and Kentucky their continued absence makes it at times a bit hard to be excited. The lack of long road courses hurts as well. If nothing else being with PWC when they’re at Road America and COTA would be nice… as would a race at some sort of longer road course. I’m actually sort of looking forward to NOLA as long as that long, long straight away is kept. So yeah… 2015 isn’t that different from 2012, 2013, or 2014. Some people enjoy that, and for the rest of us, 2015 will just be one more transition year.

  9. billytheskink Says:

    Like most of the schedules in recent years, it has its positives and negatives. The New Orleans race is a particular positive for me and I will do my best to be in attendance. As for negatives, I am admittedly still struggling to let the series’ idiocy surrounding the death of the Houston race go. That the series gave a up full sanctioning fee-paying, title sponsored event because of their date inflexibility remains utterly baffling.

    I do think Indycar should be striving for a different log-term status quo, a longer schedule with more consistent dates and an oval/road-street balance much closer to 1:1. Retaining all of the oval races for a third straight year is one step in that direction.

  10. I too remember thinking last year when Miles said the 2015 season was supposed to be the break out year while 2014 was a transition year. Attending in person the Indy 500 with my brother I kept thinking, just get through 2014 and the 15 schedule will be a welcomed surprise. Well, the ’15 schedule is now out and…. well let me just put it this way- you know what they say about expectations and happiness. Happiness is inversely proportional to expectations. Therefore- if you have no expectations, you will be happy. Conversely- if you have expectations, you are setting yourself up for possible disappointment. Well.. I’m guilty of having expectations and I should have known better.

  11. Thanks for your commentary on the 2015 schedule. I agree with most of your points, including the advice to rather go to a venue now than later. I’m already looking forward to you posting some trackside photos from one or two of those places next season, George.

  12. I love that Brazil is back on the IndyCar schedule. Brazilian fans deserve it.

  13. My trust that Miles and crew will make intelligent decisions on the schedule is nil, so I wasn’t disappointed. Just business as usual.
    On one hand I am thrilled Fontana made the cut and that it is earlier in the summer. Maybe we won’t fry in 2015. Overall though I am quite blasé about the schedule. Having Brazil back is good, as is not losing Toronto completely. I too think letting Houston slip through the cracks is quite a shame.

    I am expecting your excellent coverage of NOLA, George. If Long Beach wasn’t the next weekend (it’s my home race) I would seriously consider attending.

  14. I love the avoiding College and Pro football at all costs mentality, but I really wish they started in late January so the gap is not so long. That would be a perfect time for a race in Dubai.

    The Bad:

    Providence, Fort Lauderdale, and I am sure a few others remain mythical events.

    None of the Ovals we all loved in the past remain off the schedule.

    No COTA

    The season needs to end on a Superspeedway, even if it is the Indy 400 at IMS.

    The Good:

    I love Cafe Du Monde
    I love drinking in the middle of the street
    I love French Architecture
    I love topless….Cars:)

  15. You know what would spice the bore fest that could happen at the season finale race at Sonoma next year? Double points race, just like F1 at Abu Dhabi this year.

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