My impressions of the venue will be included as we break down each and every one of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series races.
- March 27 - Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
A natural choice to open the season. It was always fun when the series opened with Homestead and St. Petersburg on back-to-back weekends, testing teams on both their oval and street prowess, but with the party-like atmosphere of both IZOD and Tampa-St. Pete, this should be fun. Plus, the series might catch a spring breaker or two in the crowd.
- April 10 - Hondy Indy Grand Prix of Alabama
After a week off, the "Southern Swing" continues; Birmingham will hopefully be warm enough on April 10 for the race, but the crowd at Barber was promising in 2010. If the weather cooperates, there will be plenty of road course enthusiasts in the crowd once again.
I'm traditionally not a fan of weeks off, and this one is no exception. On baseball's opening day, I find it ridiculous that teams take the day after off, though I understand the reasoning. When the IndyCar Series is running just 17 races, it seems like you immediately blunt an momentum gained on March 27 by saying, "Welcome back. Now wait another two weeks until we're back again."
- April 17 - Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
Given the hype and marketing IZOD put behind the race in 2010, it stands to reason that the marketing machine will be back in business the week following Barber. The 37th Annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach may not feature much passing, but the activity off the track should make viewing and attending worth the trip.
- May 1 - Sao Paulo Indy 300
The first road/street course swing of the season ends in Brazil. Last year, the track required last-minute changes, but produced some of the most thrilling racing of the season. Give Tony Cotman and NZR Consulting a full year to develop the circuit, and it should deliver exciting racing once again.
Plus, given Will Power's proficiency at the road/street courses, he might have a 100-point lead heading to Indianapolis.
- May 29 - Indianapolis 500
It is the 100th anniversary of the world's greatest race, at the world's most popular track. One driver will be going for his fourth 500 win, and another his third. I really don't have to say much more.
- June 11 - Firestone Twin 275s
Two weeks after the Indianapolis 500, Texas Motor Speedway was guaranteed the first date following the historic race, presumably to promote the hell out of the 500 winner and also to begin promotions for its return to an historic format.
Open-wheel racing has not staged a dual set of races in nearly 30 years; while the format of the Twin 275s has not been set, the uniqueness of the setup alone should make the race intriguing.
- June 19 - Milwaukee Mile
Having been on site for the announcement that the IZOD IndyCar Series would be returning to the Wisconsin State Fair, I can vouch that the fans in attendance were certainly excited to bring IndyCar back to the Mile.
Talking with some of the promotional team, they were excited not only about the future and buzz surrounding the IZOD IndyCar Series, but some of the promotional possibilities at the Mile. With a multitude of bars around the facility, watering holes could be sold as corporate tents, for instance. Camping lies just a short walk from Turn 3, allowing patrons to tailgate at least a day before the race.
With aggressive promotions, an open market (given the absence of a race at Chicagoland), a starved fan base, and a drivers' track, Milwaukee should be a success.
- June 25 - Iowa Corn Indy 250
The series moves from a 1-mile oval to a .875-mile oval in Newton, Iowa. Fortunately, this isn't a situation where the IZOD IndyCar Series runs consecutive road/street courses. According to Ryan Briscoe, Iowa drives more like a superspeedway, leaving it on the opposite end of the scale from Milwaukee.
After a series of exciting races, Iowa takes the next step forward - adding a night race to the docket. Should make for an excellent time in the Hawkeye State.
- July 10 - Honda Indy Toronto
In the IZOD IndyCar Series' two editions in Toronto, the racing has been riveting; with as much, if not more contact than on an oval, Toronto has featured plenty of passing and frayed emotions. Kicking off a string of three straight road/street circuits, Toronto should keep growing in popularity.
- July 24 - Honda Indy Edmonton
In the last two years, Edmonton has run concurrent to the Brickyard 400. From a television standpoint, who knows how much going up against one of NASCAR's signature events hurts the ratings for the IndyCar Series.
The airport circuit is unique solely to the IZOD IndyCar Series and Edmonton airport. Given how the 2010 race ended, you can be sure that attention will be paid to this race.
From a scheduling standpoint, the series enters into a portion of its schedule in which it alternates racing and taking a week off; from a momentum-building standpoint, running four races in a seven-week stretch blunts the excitement built from the Indianapolis 500 through Iowa.
- Aug. 7 - Honda Indy 200
The IZOD IndyCar Series takes another week off, this time to trek from Alberta to the middle of Ohio. With Honda's strong support of the event, given their plants in the area, and the strong history of the circuit, the stop in Lexington, Ohio, is one of the series' top stops.
Yes, the racing is often lacking at Mid-Ohio. Whether or not that changes in 2012 with the new IZOD IndyCar Series chassis remains to be seen. But from a spectator standpoint, Mid-Ohio brings plenty to the table.
- Aug. 14 - New Hampshire Motor Speedway
The series takes a brief respite from the road/street swing to make its way back the northeast for the first time since 1998. Drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series politicked to have more drivers' tracks added to the 2011 schedule, and with New Hampshire Motor Speedway begging for an IndyCar race, the match between the two was easy to put together (albeit a year late).
Last year prior to the Indianapolis 500, IZOD took the drivers to New York and Boston for a promotional tour prior to the race; with the series heading back to New England, another large marketing swing through Boston is in order.
- Aug. 28 - Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma
Let the criss-crossing of the country begin. Getting haulers from Loudon, N.H., to Infineon Raceway will take close to five days as is, making a week break in between necessary. Of all the events at Sonoma in 2010, the IZOD IndyCar Series was the only one to show growth.
IZOD put on a huge marketing push in the San Francisco area, while major sponsors like Target bring out large numbers of employees to the track. With that kind of support, plus the scenery around Infineon, the stop should continue to grow in popularity.
- Sept. 4 - Streets of Baltimore
Back across the country for the IZOD IndyCar Series. And for the first time since the series visited Dover (yikes), IndyCar returns to the Mid-Atlantic. With the course running through Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the visuals should be amazing. While the layout has changed, it still looks to have plenty of the long straights and sharp turns to promote passing.
Will Power and Mario Andretti should be meeting following the race, as odds are Power will pick up his second consecutive Road/Street Course Trophy.
- Sept. 18 - Indy Japan 300
Once again, Japan will play a role in the countdown to the IndyCar championship. Being in Honda's backyard, the stop is a huge hit for the series. The egg-shaped track also provides a unique challenge for the Indycars.
Unfortunately, the placement of the race also serves as a major impediment to establishing interest and momentum in the championship. With the race telecast beginning near midnight on the east coast, and with the IndyCar Series' ability to create a close race for the series title, having races air at a time in which the most eyeballs can find them is imperative. Motegi does not come close to accomplishing this, unfortunately.
- Oct. 2 - Kentucky Indy 300
Another impediment of staging the Motegi race late in the year is that it sucks three weeks from the calendar - one week for teams to pack for Japan and another for them to return from Japan. Once again, when staging a championship (or playoff), taking weeks off does not help in the build up.
Kentucky should once again be able to put on an excellent show, but the question is whether or not it will be enough to help create enough momentum for the IZOD IndyCar Series heading into its series finale.
- Oct. 16 - series championship
This race will be either at Fontana or Las Vegas, with Las Vegas being the betting favorite. In either case, the marketing powers of IZOD should drive interest in the race.
Personally, I'd rather see the series go to Fontana on Oct. 9 and close in Las Vegas on Oct. 16. Fontana allows the series a second stop in the Los Angeles area, bookending its stop in Long Beach. It would also give the series three races in three weeks, allowing for story lines to be continued in a relatively normal time frame.
My only quibble with the schedule is the number of weeks off throughout the year, but until the IZOD IndyCar Series finds more tracks that want to host and market the series (which it appears to be building momentum towards), it makes sense to limit it to 18 races on 17 circuits.