The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule was released today and it has the positives we have all been dying for and negatives that we were all hoping IndyCar would be missed after years of making the same mistakes over and over again.
St. Petersburg will kick off the season on March 13th followed by two weeks off, one because of Easter Sunday. The week after Easter is when IndyCar gets it's chocolate egg and returns to Phoenix International Raceway for a night race on Saturday April 2nd. After another week off, the series will have a back-to-back with Long Beach and Barber to close out the month of April.
The Grand Prix of Indianapolis will be on Saturday May 14th with Indianapolis 500 qualifying the Saturday and Sunday after that and the 100th Indianapolis 500 will take place on May 29th. The Belle Isle doubleheader will be June 4th and 5th and close out the first half of the IndyCar season.
Texas kicks off the second half of the IndyCar season on Saturday June 11th and will be followed by an off-weekend, allowing IndyCar drivers to potentially drive in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The first race of the summer will be at Road America on June 26th and that will be followed by an off-weekend on 4th of July weekend. Iowa will be Sunday July 10th with Toronto the week after that on July 17th.
After a week off for the Brickyard 400 weekend, the final quarter of the IndyCar season will begin at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 31st. IndyCar teams will then get a two-week summer vacation before returning to Pocono Raceway on August 21st. IndyCar is scheduled to make its debut on the streets of Boston on September 4th, Labor Day weekend. Sonoma Raceway will close out the season for the second consecutive season on September 18th.
Phoenix is back.
Road America is back.
Pocono is back.
Season starts a little earlier.
Season ends a little later.
Teams get a little more breathing room in-between races.
No Milwaukee, a staple to the IndyCar calendar. It is to IndyCar what Monza is to Formula One.
Phoenix is the same night as the Final Four, which means people will likely choose that over the race and if Indiana, Butler and/or Arizona are playing, that will kill the event in terms of attendance and TV audience in its return.
Iowa is going to be on a Sunday at 4:00 p.m. local time even though there is not NASCAR race that day.
Toronto and Mid-Ohio will be getting the CNBC treatment.
Sonoma is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET on a Sunday, the very narrow window between the end of the 4:05 p.m. ET NFL games and Sunday Night Football, also known as the most-watched television program in the United States.
I have sounded pretty negative about the schedule but just looking at the races, it is as close to great as IndyCar has been since reunification. Phoenix and Road America are finally back. Both were gone way too long. The losses of Milwaukee and Fontana are cancelled out on paper but are not cancelled out emotionally. Boston is still up in the air and if that falls through (I think it will), IndyCar will be left scrambling for a replacement.
The television times are what I am most irked about. I like the idea of Phoenix as a night race but not against the Final Four. IndyCar can't always avoid other sporting events but there are certain events you definitely should avoid. The Super Bowl, the Daytona 500, the Final Four, the FIFA World Cup Finals. Those are the five you avoid and two of those aren't yearly events. We will have to see how year one goes but I bet Phoenix is going to be using a whole lot of hindsight come the morning of April 3rd.
Iowa is on Sunday because NASCAR is at Kentucky the Saturday night of that weekend. In a perfect world, IndyCar would flip Iowa and Toronto so Toronto would be the Sunday after Kentucky and Iowa would be the Saturday night before NASCAR at Loudon. That is a simple fix for 2017 that IndyCar and NBCSN should make. However, seeing as how every IndyCar event that isn't the Indianapolis 500 is on life support, could one bad Sunday afternoon kill Iowa? It absolutely could and then IndyCar will be caught with their pants around their ankles once again.
Pocono is starting too late at 3:00 p.m. ET on a Sunday. If a 500-miler takes around three hours, it would not be over until 6:00 p.m. ET and most people won't get home until after 8:00 p.m. ET. I know the day of the Pocono race is the final day of the Summer Olympic Games from Rio de Janeiro and had these Olympics been in Europe or Asia, this wouldn't have been a problem but, once again, every IndyCar race is on life support and a 3:00 p.m. ET on a Sunday to help TV is screwing Pocono Raceway over royally.
IndyCar got the Sonoma finale wrong. I understand what IndyCar is trying to do but it makes no sense to try and squeeze in before the final football game on Sunday. What IndyCar should have tried is to start the race at 5:00 p.m. ET like this year, after all the 1:00 p.m. ET games are over and right around halftime for the 4:00 p.m. games.
Head-to-head conflicts are going to happen so it's not that big of a deal that Toronto and Mid-Ohio are going to be on CNBC but it would be nice if IndyCar considered my "brunch series" idea of having races around 11:00 a.m. ET so they could end and lead into NASCAR races.
This could have definitely been better but it's not horrifically terrible. If IndyCar let me get my paws on the schedule I would have made sure Milwaukee and Fontana stayed, put Milwaukee the week after the Indianapolis 500 where it belongs, moved Belle Isle back to Labor Day weekend because Boston is not going to happen, flipped Iowa and Toronto, moved Fontana to the Saturday night after Petit Le Mans (October 8th) and work out a deal with Circuit of the Americas and the FIA to have the IndyCar finale be the Saturday (October 22nd) of United States Grand Prix weekend after Formula One qualifying because it would be the largest crowd for an IndyCar race outside of the Indianapolis 500.
Of course, we don't live in a perfect world.