09 August 2010

Putting an End to the Blocked Schedule

(Note: this post has been updated to reflect recent events pertaining to the IZOD IndyCar Series.)

Watkins Glen.  Toronto.  Edmonton.  Mid-Ohio.  Sonoma.  All challenging courses in their own right, but put them together over a seven week stretch, and they begin to blur together.  By August 22, when the IZOD IndyCar Series returns after its second straight two week hiatus, all I know is, as a fan of the series, I'm worn out on road and street circuits.

This isn't a knock on any of the courses or venues - far from it as
I believe that the series needs a balanced schedule in order to properly identify the best driver of the course of a season.  But to stack the schedule with five consecutive road/street courses and to follow with four similar ovals, doesn't create the most exciting racing conditions.

I fully understand what the IZOD IndyCar Series was trying to do when they went to the "stacked" schedule in 2009.  By pairing tracks and courses around each other, teams can save time and money by not having to convert chassis to road or oval configurations on a weekly basis.  At its most basic, it does make sense.

But, from a fan's point of view, I'm not necessarily interested in what is easiest for a team.  I want to identify the best team, whether that be Team Penske or HVM Racing.  Let's see who can adjust from a tricky 7/8 of a mile ring at Iowa to a road course in a week (or two).  The
2008 schedule started at Homestead-Miami and went to the Streets of St. Petersburg just a week later.

Over the course of the summer in 2008, the IndyCar Series went from a 1 mile (Milwaukee) to a 1.5 mile white-knuckler (Texas), back to a smaller course (the 7/8 mile bullring at Iowa), graduated to a slightly larger track (Richmond), before going road-oval-road over the next three weeks (Watkins Glen-Nashville-Mid-Ohio, respectively).

That kind of variety and mixing up of the schedule brings excitement to the series.  In that span, the seven races were won by five different drivers, from four different teams.  To the casual viewer, at least that looks exciting.  In the last four races of 2010 - all road/street circuits, three drivers from two teams have won (though that is indicative of the state of the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2010, too).

With different types of courses, mixed in throughout the year, fans can see different drivers near the front.  Unfortunately, by lumping courses together, the same drivers wind up being seen at the front of the field nearly every race.  Since the 4th of July, fans have been treated to the Will Power Show.  While that's well and good (watching a supremely talented driver is a fine thing), it gets repetitive over the course of six weeks.  Unfortunately, when five street/road courses, or even four-five ovals, are strung together, that's what the IZOD IndyCar Series begins to feel like - reruns.

Furthermore, given the recent announcements from NASCAR pertaining to their 2011 schedule, it reflects the IZOD IndyCar Series' need to remain flexible in its scheduling.  Blocking tracks together can put the series in a bind when it comes to creating the schedule.  Right now, the apparent best date for a race at Chicagoland Speedway in 2011 comes when the series is entering its annual five-circuit swing on road/street courses.  New Hampshire Motor Speedway, whose IndyCar race was originally slated for July 30, might not be able to hold that date if the rumors of a mid-July NASCAR race occur.

Breaking up the blocked scheduling allows the IndyCar Series to adjust to the whims of NASCAR and their track partners much easier.  Until the IZOD IndyCar Series becomes a bigger draw at those tracks (and that day is a long way off, in all likelihood), they can't command dates the way NASCAR presently does.

With the 2011 schedule due out in a few weeks, avoiding that feeling of sameness is exactly what the IZOD IndyCar Series needs to avoid.  Every race needs to feel fresh, exciting and new.  Solid venues like Chicagoland, which brings exciting racing on a year-in, year-out basis, need to be kept, provided that the track is willing to work with the series.  Mixing up the tracks, while more costly to teams, would go a long way to helping the series avoid some of the summer doldrums.

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