A Schedule We Can Live With

The 2019 IndyCar schedule was released yesterday with few surprises. Most of us by now had deduced that the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas would be joining the slate. And it had already been confirmed that Laguna Seca was added to replace Sonoma as the season finale. So the only real suspense was on what dates would next year’s races take place.

Although we thought we knew everything, it’s always nice to get confirmation. A couple of months ago, there had been talk of possibly adding Homestead to replace Phoenix. That talk cooled off and it didn’t really upset me. IndyCar and CART had both been down that road and it just hasn’t really worked, so I was not excited about going down that road again.

Recently, we heard that Richmond might be in play. That talk did excite me because Richmond had been a good race in the past, when IndyCar raced there from 2001 through 2009. But the most recent race there was a dud due to the restricted aero package and the event lost SunTrust Bank as a sponsor – so the race was not renewed for 2010. From what I hear, Richmond may still be in the discussion for 2020, but things had not progressed enough to get Richmond on the schedule for next season.

But the big news on the new schedule is COTA. This is the first time that this incarnation of open-wheel racing has raced on a track that Formula One also uses. If F1 races there, you know it would have to be a world-class facility – especially since it’s so new, having opened in 2012. From what I’ve heard, it is.

Unlike most road courses on the Formula One and IndyCar schedule, COTA runs counterclockwise. On the 2018 IndyCar schedule, no road or street course runs in a counterclockwise direction. For 2019, COTA and Laguna Seca both run in the non-traditional counterclockwise direction.

I’ll admit that I am somewhat lukewarm about Laguna Seca joining the IndyCar schedule next season, but I am ecstatic about COTA. Susan and I had talked about attending the season-opener at St. Petersburg next season, but

I’ll be honest – I’m tempted to forego St. Petersburg for COTA. We can’t afford to do both.

There have been a few tweaks to the calendar for existing races. Barber moves up to the April 7 weekend, the slot held by Phoenix when it wasn’t being moved for the Final Four, then they go to Long Beach the weekend after Barber. Another change sees Iowa thankfully moving to a night race on Saturday July 20, which is a couple of weeks later than it was this year.

One tweak that I don’t like comes at the end of the season. This year, we had Portland this past weekend over Labor Day. There is a one weekend break before the season finale at Sonoma on September 16. Next season, the finale at Laguna Seca comes three weekends after the Portland Labor Day race. That’s too long and I don’t understand what their rationale is.

Many of us are football fans as well as IndyCar fans. With College Football kicking off on Labor Day and the NFL the following weekend, a lot of attention is diverted away from the championship for a lot of casual fans. We die-hards will watch both, but with no IndyCar races at all for three weeks, it’s easy for a lot of people to forget about the championship being decided, no matter how compelling the battle is.

The full schedule is as follows:

Mar 10:  Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida
Mar 24:  Circuit of the Americas, Austin, Texas
Apr 7:    Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Alabama
Apr 14:   Streets of Long Beach, California
May 11:  IndyCar Grand Prix, Indianapolis Motor Speedway (road course)
May 26:  Indianapolis 500, Indianapolis Motor Speedway (oval)
June 1:   Belle Isle, Race 1, Detroit, Michigan
June 2:   Belle Isle, Race 2, Detroit, Michigan
June 8:   Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, Texas (NIGHT)
June 23:  Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
July 14:   Streets of Toronto, Canada
July 20:   Iowa Speedway, Newton, Iowa (NIGHT)
July 28:   Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio
Aug. 18:  Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, Pennsylvania
Aug. 24:  Gateway Motorsports Park, Madison, Illinois (NIGHT)
Sep. 1:    Portland International Raceway, Portland, Oregon
Sep. 22:  Laguna Seca, Monterey, California

But if that’s the only complaint I have of the entire schedule – I’d say Mark Miles and Company did OK…for this season. But next year, I want at least six ovals on the schedule. Where it comes from is a good question.

I think IndyCar would do well to distance themselves with International Speedway Corporation (ISC) owned tracks. Technically, there are no ISC tracks on the schedule next year – although Iowa Speedway is owned by NASCAR and NASCAR owns ISC.

I realize that ISC owns Richmond International Raceway, also – and that means that IndyCar would have to jump back in bed with them as well. But ISC has done IndyCar no favors over the years – and why would they? What would be their motivation to help out a competing series to NASCAR, the parent company? As long as they make a little money (or don’t lose any money) with an IndyCar race at their venue, do they really want to see IndyCar succeed?

The schedule over the years is littered with poorly promoted and poorly attended races at ISC tracks, when IndyCar has had multi-year deals in place and failed; Fontana (twice), Phoenix (twice), Watkins Glen (twice), Michigan (twice), Homestead, Chicagoland, Kansas and Richmond have all hosted IndyCar events for multiple years and have all failed. The common denominator for all of the events was a total lack of promotion reported in the local area. They have also purchased two one-time existing IndyCar venues – Nazareth and Pikes Peak – with the sole purpose of shutting them down and taking them out of circulation.

Anyone who thinks that ISC is a friend to IndyCar is either naïve, stupid or both.

So that’s my little editorial for anyone who will listen; when setting up future IndyCar schedules – avoid doing business with ISC as much as possible. But since they own or control the majority of oval tracks in this country that are capable of hosting an IndyCar race – it’s hard to avoid them completely.

But kudos to Mark Miles, Jay Frye or whoever is most responsible for putting this schedule together. It was just a couple of months ago that Phoenix and Sonoma fell off the schedule and Texas appeared to be hanging by a thread. Texas has now resigned for four years, without the geographic exclusivity clause. That cleared the way for COTA to be on the schedule for next season. And while I’m not sure that IndyCar really gained anything by swapping Sonoma for Laguna Seca, at least they didn’t lose anything.

So while we lost an oval (hopefully only temporarily), IndyCar remained at seventeen races at fifteen different venues. But a note to Mark Miles; Start working on that sixth oval…now!

George Phillips

17 Responses to “A Schedule We Can Live With”

  1. Hmmm, that’s a bummer. We are coming over in ’20 and Barber in the 3rd week of April fitted perfectly. Now not really viable with other commitments if it stays on that weekend for 2020. Dang!

  2. Hi George. Listen, hate to do this to you, but: Nixon resigned, Texas Motor Speedway re-signed.

    Now folks (read Ron Ford, lol) don’t jump on me for being the spelling police! George’s mother was a school teacher, so he’s used to it! Lol!

    Hope to see you all at the BC39 dirt races at the IMS today and tomorrow!

    Phil Kaiser

  3. BrandonWright77 Says:

    I’m with Marshall Pruett on this one, as much as I look forward to seeing IndyCars at COTA (likely on a different configuration from what F1 runs) the crowd will probably be very poor and this could very well end up being another one that disappears from the schedule after a few years of poor attendance. Hope that’s not the case, but outside of F1 COTA does not draw much of a crowd.

  4. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    I’ll be honest…other than Indy I’m not a big fan of the poorly attended ovals. Iowa and Gateway are fine but unless crowds pick up at Texas and Pocono, I’m not enthused. Portland showed what a great race can be with an enthusiastic crowd. It was a road race and it could have been an exciting final race of the season. We really don’t need an oval to close with. Just an enthusiastic crowd.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    COTA is a first-class facility (with prices to match) and a nice place to watch any race. It is reasonable to be concerned about attendance there, as the track has struggled to draw for anything besides F1 and MotoGP, but I cannot complain about another race within driving distance. I plan to be there for certain sure.

    In fairness to ISC, Fontana, Watkins Glen, and Homestead all suffered from ill-advised dates as much if not more than they suffered from poor promotion. Fontana was killed by its move to June, Homestead by its move from spring to fall and near the NASCAR date, and Watkins Glen by continuing to place it on holiday weekends.

    I will be curious to see how Laguna Seca draws. Venues with nostalgic appeal and long Indycar histories (Portland, Road America, Gateway) have a recent track record of success in the series and Laguna Seca certainly qualifies as that. Almost makes me think Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Michigan would be gangbusters if they returned. Almost…

  6. Chris Lukens Says:

    Phoenix & Richmond out, bad news for the IndyCar series.
    COTA in, good news for the SonomaCar Series.

  7. Another oval that was added is the BC39 dirt track race tonight and tomorrow night in the IMS infield featuring many midget and sprint car stars, nascar drivers, and one IndyCar driver-Conor Daly. I am more excited about this event than that COTA deal. The race will be streamed live on pay per view. Robin Miller will be there (you can take that to the bank) providing his usual great coverage, More than anything, I hope it is a safe race and that it is a success with the fans and not a one and done. I imagine that Sarah Fisher played a behind the scenes role in making this event a realty. I hope to see her participate. She can still wheel a midget! with the best of them.

  8. I am planning to go to COTA too. I had fun at the first F1 race there in 2012. I will be curious on how the track will be set up for IndyCar.

    I have to agree with Billy that F1 was expensive to attend and add that hotels were gouging race fans with crazily expensive rates. My friend and I stayed in north San Antonio and drove in to save money.

    We wanted the season to finish in later September, but another long break between Portland and Sonoma wasn’t what we had in mind.

  9. Mid-Atlantic remains an IndyCar desert Go back to Richmond

  10. The schedule of the current 2018 season was praised as very good given the circumstances. The new 2019 schedule replaces the 2 events which were known to provide the least interesting racing of the entire schedule with 2 new events. So next season can only be better, right? I hope the new events will pleasantly surprise fans, sponsors, organisers and actual racers combined.

    When COTA entered the F1 circuit, I had already largely stopped watching so I can’t really comment. But my guess is the track near Austin/TX will favor Chevy teams at first because they have data from when there when they first tested the DW-12 chassis in the winter of 2011/12.

    Laguna Seca’s new management must have given IndyCar a very sweet deal, and it’s likely that sponsors (who were the main reason for Sonoma’s retained presence on the schedule) will also love the place because it’s located in the same region. Here’s hoping the track upgrades will be enough to make this a safe and exciting season finale for the duration of its contract.

    It’s likely that I as a fan from Europe who cannot watch IndyCar trackside, won’t miss Phoenix and won’t miss Sonoma, unless they will stage an absolute stonker of a race next week.

    So there are no complaints at all, except for the fact that there is one less short oval on the schedule next year. These short oval events are usually very interesting to watch because of how drivers deal with lapped traffic. IndyCar really needs to look into viable short ovals to add for 2020’s schedule.

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