14 August 2009

Ovals vs. Street/Road Courses

The Indianapolis Star's Curt Cavin tackles one of the Indy Racing League-Champ Car World Series merger's final debates: ovals vs. street and road courses in his Pit Pass notebook (read it here).

Since the IRL was founded on the basis of helping American drivers on oval courses, the gradual addition of road/street courses at the expense of ovals has always raised a debate. The merger of the two series only added fuel to the fire, as CCWS ran exclusively on road/street circuits. So, in order to placate both the owners of those teams and try and bring the CCWS fans who used to follow CART into the fold, the IndyCar Series has continued to add road/street courses to its schedule.

With the announcement of the 2010 IndyCar schedule and its 9 street/road circuits and 8 ovals, the shift from a purely oval series was complete, and those fans of oval racing (I am among them) made sure there voice was heard.

Among the leaders of the charge has been Bruton Smith, whose Speedway Motorsports Inc., works with the ICS on several races has been the most vocal of the detractors, voicing his initial displeasure shortly after the schedule was announced at Kentucky. Now, while I agree with what some of Smith says, it should be noted that he has a vested interest in the ICS staying on ovals - he owns the tracks (New Hampshire and Las Vegas to name two) that would stand to benefit from hosting an IndyCar race.

Now, will continuing to add street and road courses put the IndyCar Series out of business, as Smith claims? Probably not. Low TV ratings, lack of sponsorship and low race attendance will put the series out of business first.

I maintain that should the IndyCar Series continue to demonstrate growth (a packed house at Mid-Ohio is a good start), then adding three ovals to the current schedule makes sense to me: New Hampshire, Las Vegas and Milwaukee (if the promoter up there can make it work).

I proposed several 2011 schedules in this post, but let me map out the basics: adding New Hampshire brings the IndyCar Series back to New England, where Jerry Gappens wants to run IndyCars. As he told Cavin:
"Remember what the NCAA did with its basketball tournaments? At places like the old Hoosier Dome, they curtained off the seats to get the best 40,000 seats they could get. That was much better than selling 17,000-seat facilities out. Over the years, they've grown into full capacity at those larger arenas."
So, basically Gappens is saying: we might not have a great show the first year, but give us a chance to grow. That makes sense to me (though if Gillette comes through as the series sponsor, as has been rumored, running a race at Gillette Stadium would be understandable).

As for Las Vegas, the president of the track simply did not see a fit with the IndyCar Series for 2010. Understandable. Though LVMS runs a late September Trucks race, so if they paired that with an IndyCar race, as Kansas does, then I think that would work. Pairing the two could also set up ICS to host their end-of-year celebration/banquet in Las Vegas should Homestead-Miami Speedway not pan out.

Milwaukee will be back if the new promoter can come up with the money to pay the IRL for the 2009 race. So the series could be at an even 10-10 split for 2010 just if Milwaukee comes back.

As for some other ovals, would it be nice to see Michigan added? Sure, but the decision not to race there anymore was acrimonious, so it's wishful thinking that the ICS will return there any time soon. It's more likely that Belle Isle will return to the schedule in 2011.

Phoenix would be another track that would be nice, but there's no real indication, other than Terry Angstadt's hoping, that Phoenix will come back to host IndyCar racing. With races in April and November for NASCAR, where can Phoenix put IndyCar in the schedule? Well, maybe in October, to conclude the season; check out this proposed 2011 schedule and let me know what you think:
  • Sunday, March 13 - Brazil (location TBA)
  • Sunday, March 27 - Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
  • Sunday, April 10 - Barber Motorsports Park
  • Sunday, April 17 - Streets of Long Beach, Calif.
  • Saturday, April 30 - Kansas Speedway
  • Sunday, May 29 - Indianapolis Motor Speedway
  • Sunday, June 5 - New Hampshire (would put 3 weeks between IndyCar, NASCAR dates - possibly feasible)
  • Saturday, June 11 - Texas Motor Speedway
  • Sunday, June 19 - Milwaukee (pushed back from traditional date/time but still in heart of oval schedule)
  • Sunday, June 26 - Iowa Speedway (new date, but just a week later)
  • Sunday, July 3 - Watkins Glen International
  • Sunday, July 17 - Streets of Toronto
  • Sunday, July 24 - Edmonton City Centre Airport
  • Sunday, July 31 - Belle Isle (return to Detroit market)/Baltimore (they've received approval to seek funding for a race, though possibly in October)
  • Sunday, August 7 - Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
  • Sunday, August 21 - Infineon Raceway
  • Saturday, August 27 - Chicagoland Speedway
  • Labor Day Weekend - Kentucky Speedway
  • Saturday, September 17 - Twin Ring Motegi
  • Saturday, September 24 - Las Vegas (an easy stop on the way back from Japan; paired with Truck Series event; can go at night if too hot during the day)
  • Saturday, October 1 - Phoenix International Raceway (season finale should Miami fail; 5 weeks ahead of NASCAR race at Phoenix)
  • Saturday, October 8 - Homestead-Miami (finale if the 2009 and 2010 editions go well)
Looking at this schedule, you have 10 road/street circuits. Some aren't the most exciting, I will concede that (personally, I'd like to see Road America come into play). And six straight road/street courses in the middle of the summer might not make for the most thrilling races. Though the crowds at Watkins Glen, Edmonton and Mid-Ohio have all proven to be solid events (attendance-wise) and I think it could work - the series could even promote it as the "Road Trip," or something hokey like that.

Furthermore, this schedule has 11 ovals, all across the country. It adds markets in the West (Las Vegas, Phoenix) and New England (New Hampshire) and returns to Milwaukee. Plus, 21 events throughout the summer looks much better than 17.

So, let's hope TV ratings and sponsorship increases, as do the crowds. Because with the new engine/chasis specs coming for 2012, the IndyCar Series could be poised to make a splash with the 2011 schedule and really make a push to reintroduce the series to parts of America that want it back.

No comments:

Post a Comment