A Schedule With Few Surprises
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.