Monday, July 1, 2013

Halfway Through 2013, Halfway to 2014

Six months down, six months to go. Ten races down, nine races to go. That is where IndyCar sits as Canada celebrates Canada Day and the United States just celebrates July 1st. With the back half of the IndyCar schedule remaining including a return to Pocono in six days, two more doubleheaders, two more legs of the triple crown and two, two week gaps with a full month off from Baltimore September 1st through the first practice at Houston October 4th, there is still plenty to talk about in 2013 but it seems the right time to look towards 2014.

Many look at the 2013 schedule with disgust. They are mad Milwaukee isn't the week after Indianapolis, they are mad that Iowa was head-to-head with Sonoma when it didn't have to be scheduled that way, they are mad about the long gaps in the summer, some are mad over the amount of street course and lack of ovals, some are mad there aren't enough street course and there are too many ovals. We IndyCar fans have to be the worst with unrealistic expectation and a sense of entitlement to get everything we want like spoiled suburban teenagers and I bet those at 16th and Georgetown running IndyCar just want us to shut up.

Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles will not have an easy task with the many rumors of international races, a race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, trying to figure out whether doubleheaders return and his hopes of ending the season by Labor Day. Miles' first goal should be to retain every race currently on the schedule, something IndyCar has failed to do in a decade, when the IRL retained all fifteen races from 2002 for 2003 and added Motegi for a sixteen race schedule.

The current schedule has sixteen events, nineteen races due to three doubleheaders. While most drivers were not in favor with doubleheaders when they were announced, the Belle Isle weekend seemed to be a success and it appears that at least one doubleheader is likely to return for 2014. The biggest problem in 2013 was eight straight weeks at a race track from São Paulo to Iowa. On the June 25th edition of Trackside with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee, Cavin mentioned Iowa or Milwaukee moving to August, filling a undesirable gap in the schedule. There are problems with either of those races moving back that far:

1. Unless it's during the Wisconsin State Fair, moving Milwaukee to August would make fans angrier that the race is not the week after Indianapolis and it would probably kill any possibility of IndyCar returning to Road America, especially with the sports car weekend scheduled for the second weekend of August.
2. Iowa has a jam-packed schedule in the summer. NASCAR moved their first Nationwide race at the track from the Sunday after the NASCAR All-Star Race (Bump Day at the Speedway on IndyCar's schedule) to the Saturday before Pocono (Texas on the IndyCar schedule) two week before the Iowa IndyCar race. Iowa host either a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series or Nationwide Series race in the three following months with the Trucks races July 13th and September 8th and the second Nationwide race August 3rd. IndyCar is no longer the only show in town at Iowa Speedway and the amount of races dilutes the market, making fans choice one race over the other. Unless Iowa drops a NASCAR race or two, IndyCar should keep it's ground in late June.

Returning Milwaukee to it's traditional date the week of the Indianapolis 500 isn't as simple as flipping it with Belle Isle. NASCAR is at Michigan International Speedway Father's Day weekend and it makes no business sense to move Belle Isle any closer to Father's Day than it is now. With United SportsCar Racing uniting sports car racing in the United States in 2014, Belle Isle could be losing it's sports car race. This year the Belle Isle Grand-Am race was the same weekend as the Le Mans test day. Next year, Father's Day is the same weekend as Le Mans making any idea of a Belle Isle-Milwaukee swap even less likely. Could Belle Isle move to fill the August gap and potentially keep it's sports car race? Maybe but that has not been mentioned as an option.

Road America has expressed interest in IndyCar returning but we have been waiting for Road America to return since reunification. However, Road America president George Bruggenthies has mentioned the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series joining the Nationwide Series at the track. The Nationwide Series runs the same weekend as NASCAR at Sonoma but this could open the door for Sonoma becoming a Chase race. If Sonoma were to enter the Chase it would probably take the Dover date, one of three tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule not owned by Speedway Motorsports, Inc. or International Speedway Corporation and a track that has struggled to draw a crowd the last five years. Could Road America run separate, successful NASCAR and IndyCar weekends? That could be a problem.

One race to keep a close eye on for not only 2014 but 2015 is Toronto. The race has seen the all-time highs during the CART-era and the all-time lows after losing 2008 due to the merger and having to try and rebuild the once great Canadian date. Should Toronto keep the same date on the schedule for next year the race would be the same date as the FIFA World Cup Final. Though IndyCar's international footprint is not as large as it once was and the global game of football is not on top the totem pole in North America, you CANNOT go head-to-head with the biggest sporting event in the world. The 2010 FIFA World Cup Final earned an 8.1 on ABC and I only expect that number to go up in 2014. Putting a race head-to-head would be SUICIDE! However, moving the Toronto doubleheader a week back is not an option either. The current American Le Mans Series date at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (formerly known as Mosport) is the week after Toronto and I have a feeling United SportsCar Racing will keep a race in Canada and will go to Mosport especially after all the upgrades that have been made by the new owners led by two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner Ron Fellows. However, IndyCar could work out a sweetheart deal for Toronto in 2014. The 2014 FIFA World Cup Final begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on July 13, 2014. If it's still a doubleheader, IndyCar should lobby for the Sunday race at Toronto to be at noon on ABC and lead-in to the pre-game for the World Cup Final. Hell turn the paddock at Toronto into a giant World Cup viewing party post race with drivers on hand. The Saturday race could lead-in to the third place game at the World Cup as well. It could benefit IndyCar to lead-in to an event that will be watched by nearly ten million people in the United States and IndyCar should capitalize on the opportunity.

However, 2014 could be it for IndyCar on the streets of Toronto, leaving IndyCar with out a Canadian race in 2015. The 2015 Pan American Games will be held July 10-July 26 in Toronto and will use three venues within Exhibition Center. Could the IndyCar race just be pushed to after the games? Yes but seeing as how attendance has dwindled down since 2009, IndyCar needs really turn it around in 2013 and 2014. IndyCar can't take a sabbatical and not go to Toronto in 2015, that would kill the event once and for all but it could be dead after 2014, the final year of the deal with Green Savoree Racing Promotions. What would that mean for IndyCar in Canada? Could they return to Mosport and run a doubleheader with sports cars? What about the yet to be constructed oval, Canadian Motor Speedway in Fort Erie? Who knows. IndyCar has raced in four of the six Canadian cities with populations over 1,000,000 people (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Edmonton. The only two they haven't been to are Ottawa and Calgary.) and three great permanent Canadian facilities (Mosport, Mont-Tremblant and Sanair). The rumors of a street race in Québec City have died down and IndyCar has to stay in Canada. There is a great Canadian fan base that has supported the likes of Tracy, Villeneuve, Moore, Carpentier, Goodyear and now support Hinchcliffe and Tagliani and it is not the fan bases fault IndyCar has struggled to retain races in Canada. IndyCar needs to secure a home in Toronto long-term or find a permanent facility willing to do so.

International races have been mentioned as opening up the 2014 season at an earlier date with many believing São Paulo could lead the way but moving São Paulo is much easier said than done. The sambadrome which is used as the front straightaway for IndyCar is the main drag for the Carnival parades in São Paulo. Carnival takes place the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which falls on March 5th in 2014 and needs it's own time for preparations. Could IndyCar run two and a half weeks prior on February 16th and there still be enough time for Carnival to be set up? I don't know and that is why the IndyCar race in Brazil was pushed to late April/early May because it is a time of year that will never conflict with Carnival. As for other international race, there hasn't been any strong rumors about any where and instead of speculating and listing place after place, we will leave it at that.

To come and think of it, there has been no strong rumors about any new races in 2014. Yes, Road America has been mentioned and everyone throws out Phoenix but there has been no reports of strong, progressive talks between the tracks and IndyCar. Fort Lauderdale talks have been quiet since last fall but it's still out there as a possible venue.

Mark Miles has mentioned ending the season by Labor Day and with Houston and Fontana in October, that doesn't make his job any easier. Many say just move Houston to March. Well the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo will take place from March 4th-23rd in 2014 and they use the whole Reliant Park where the IndyCar race takes place. Trust me, there is no room for an IndyCar race during the whole three weeks of the Livestock Show and Rodeo and they aren't going to make room for IndyCar. They're doing just fine and have been for over eighty years. Fontana was September 15th in 2012 and it was hot. Fontana is a great place for the season finale, I just hope they keep the dates consistent and keep Houston and Fontana in October.

As mentioned above, IndyCar must focus of retaining all sixteen events for 2014. Maybe push Iowa back a week to give the teams a much deserved week off and so it's not head-to-head with NASCAR at Sonoma and scheduled for an open Sunday when NASCAR is scheduled for Saturday night at Kentucky. As I said before, if you are going to race Toronto the same weekend as the FIFA World Cup Final, get it on ABC and be a lead-in. Don't end by Labor Day. You can't race for seven months from March to October and then race for seven months from to February to September and say IndyCar has expanded there schedule. That's just moronic. IndyCar needs to be out there at least eight, if not nine months of the year.

What do we know about 2014? The Indianapolis 500 will be Memorial Day weekend. Long Beach will be April 13th, the same day as the final day of The Masters but they were in a catch-22. April 20th is Easter and races on Easter have never done well. April 13th was the right date to choose. As for the rest of 2014, it's up in the air. Who knows what will happen but we are half way there.