Monday, July 3, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Long Beach's Future

Canada celebrated its 150th birthday and a Canadian won on the joyous day. Unfortunately, Canadians couldn't sweep the weekend in Germany. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., driver of the #17 Ford won the 17th race of the 2017 NASCAR Cup season on the first day of the seventh month of 2017. A German came close to winning in Germany in MotoGP. There was a photo finish in Moto2. Wayne Taylor Racing did not win the 6 Hours of the Glen but an undefeated season is still alive in IMSA. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Long Beach's Future
I hold off on talking about future schedules, IndyCar in particular, until the calendar switches to July. We got to get halfway through a year before we can consider talking about next year. The 2018 IndyCar schedule seems pretty solid. Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles has already said IndyCar has agreements with all 16 existing events to return for next year. Most events probably aren't thinking about 2019 just yet. However, one event's future is being fought over.

Since 1984, the Grand Prix of Long Beach has been a staple on the IndyCar schedule. The famed event hosted Formula One for eight years before switching to CART. After over three decades and five other U.S. venues visited, Formula One is the closest it has ever been to returning to the street of Long Beach. Last October, the city of Long Beach requested proposals on how to increase revenue and media exposure for the race while among other things minimizing cost.

While Kevin Kalkhoven, who along with Gerry Forsythe runs the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach and holds the contract for the Grand Prix of Long Beach through 2018 with options to extend the deal to 2020, dismissed the rumors of Formula One bumping IndyCar off the ticket, there is an opposition waving the Formula One flag. The World Automobile Championship of California, led by founder of the Grand Prix of Long Beach Chris Pook, believes it would be best for the city to bring Formula One back.

Both sides had editorials published by the Press-Telegram, Long Beach's daily newspaper. Jim Michaelian, president/CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, stressed that the event is healthier than ever with IndyCar and provides a fan-friendly event at an affordable price that is community-driven. He warned of the possible costs it would take to upgrade the facilities and alter the race track to host a Formula One race, as well as the significant increase in sanctioning fee switching from IndyCar to Formula One.

In Pook's editorial, written with WACC legal counselor Richard J. Foster, he argued the race has lost its luster and IndyCar does not provide the same economic bump for the city as a Formula One race would. Pook wrote that Formula One would sell more hotel rooms and increase restaurant patronage around the city while hosting a Formula One race wouldn't cost anymore than hosting an IndyCar race, the facilities and race track wouldn't need to be altered and tickets would cost "between $75 and $150 per day."

Both Michaelian and Pook have an argument but both have their flaws. While Michaelian is happy with the fan-friendly event, the city needs to make money and do all it can to fill its coffers. Pook slyly suggests that tickets would be reasonably priced by throwing out figures such as $75 and $150 and even saying that is on par with a day at Disneyland or a Taylor Swift concert but when you are shelling out $75 to $150 per day over a three-day race weekend the ticket prices actually range from $225 to $450, which Pook kindly admits because presenting the numbers that way doesn't really help him win the debate.

From the way I see it, there are three scenarios for the Grand Prix of Long Beach.

The first one has the quickest explanation and that is IndyCar continues as the series of choice for the event and everything remains unchanged.

The second is Formula One replaces IndyCar at the Grand Prix of Long Beach, which leads us down another path lined with hurdles. The first hurdle is would the Grand Prix of Long Beach adapt to the Formula One schedule or would Formula One adapt to the event's traditional date? Thirty-eight of 43 editions of Grand Prix of Long Beach have taken place during the month of April, including every year since 1985. The 2018 Formula One schedule tentatively has races in China, Bahrain and Azerbaijan during the month of April with Canada scheduled in June and the other two North American rounds in Austin and Mexico City scheduled for October. Azerbaijan wants to return to June in 2019 but its date has been taken by the returning French Grand Prix. Barring some seismic shift in the Formula One calendar, Long Beach would have to find a new date because I am not sure teams would want three separate trips to North America. The race would either have to be paired with Canada in June or moved to autumn with Austin and Mexico City.

Then there comes the issue of the track and facilities. The current track layout is 1.968 miles (3.167 km) in length while the FIA states that to host a grand prix event a circuit must be at least 3.5 km (2.17 miles) in length. Monaco, of course, is grandfathered in at 3.337 km (2.074 miles). Although two-tenths of a mile doesn't sound like much when increasing the track length, it would extend the disruption of the race further into the surrounding area as more streets would have to be closed and it would force even more people to take detours not only during race week but in the weeks leading up to the race because of track construction.

The third scenario is what if IndyCar and Formula One could both run at Long Beach? What if IndyCar ran the traditional date in April and Formula One ran in October? It seems like a lot to close down the streets twice a year and having a race hassle Long Beach residents not only for mid-March to mid-April but for all of October as well but what if the potential revenue from two race weekends about six months apart proved to be too much for the city to say no?

Two weekends seems very unlikely because it is going to disrupt the city too much but could IndyCar and Formula One run on the same weekend? An issue could be deciding how the weekend would be scheduled. Unlike my suggestion of IndyCar running on Saturday of Canadian Grand Prix and United States Grand Prix weekends and joining existing Formula One events, this would be the opposite, as Formula One would join IndyCar. Then comes the issue of time zones. The IndyCar race starts at 4:00 p.m. ET, which is 10:00 p.m. in Central Europe. Perhaps something could be worked out where the Formula One race could be held at 11:00 a.m. in Long Beach, which would be 8:00 p.m. in Central Europe and the IndyCar race could follow 30 minutes or an hour after the Formula One race was finished.

Lost in the muddle of IndyCar or Formula One being the future of the Grand Prix of Long Beach is the futures of IMSA and Pirelli World Challenge at the race as well. As it currently stands, Long Beach gives spectators a diverse weekend of action and a mixture of some of the best drivers North America has to offer. If Formula One takes over the Long Beach race, I can't see IMSA and PWC continuing as support races. For Montreal, Porsche GT3 Cup Canada, Ferrari Challenge, Formula 1600 and historic racing were on the undercard. For Austin, the only support series currently lined up is Formula 4 United States Championship... and a Justin Timberlake concert but that's not the point. In its current iteration, Long Beach provides three top U.S.-based series. If Formula One takes over, it would turn into a weekend with Formula One and maybe one or two single-make series with not much to get excited about.

We know there will be another year of IndyCar on Shoreline Drive but what happens come 2019 should be decided relatively soon. If you are wondering can IndyCar live without Long Beach, the answer is yes. IndyCar has found a way to live without Langhorne, Trenton, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Michigan, Laguna Seca, Springfield, Syracuse and Surfers Paradise. Losing Long Beach would be a tough pill to swallow but even through the toughest times in IndyCar it has found new locations to plant its roots.

Regardless of what is decided and what it means for the futures of IndyCar, IMSA, Formula One and Long Beach, it will work itself out and we will all be able to carry on.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. but did you know...

Marc Márquez won MotoGP's German Grand Prix. Franco Morbidelli won the Moto2 race by 0.066 seconds over Miguel Oliveira. Joan Mir won the Moto3 race, his fifth victory of the season.

William Byron won the Grand National Series race at Daytona, his second consecutive victory of the season.

The #5 Action Express Racing Cadillac of João Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Felipe Albuquerque won the 6 Hours of the Glen. The #38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca of James French, Pato O'Ward and Kyle Masson won in Prototype Challenge, the team's fifth consecutive class victory. The #25 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing BMW of Alexander Sims and Bill Auberlen won in GTLM. The #93 Michael Shank Racing Acura of Andy Lally and Katherine Legge won in GTD, the team's second consecutive victory.

Bruno Spengler and Maxime Martin split the DTM races from the Norisring.

Thierry Neuville won Rally Poland.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar heads to Iowa with Indy Lights and U.S. F2000.
World Superbikes comes to the United States, specifically Laguna Seca.
Formula One returns to Austria.
NASCAR runs another Saturday night race, this time at Kentucky.
IMSA turns around and crosses the border for a round at Mosport.
Super Formula runs the third round of the season at Fuji Speedway.
Supercars will be at Townsville.
TCR International Series will be at Oschersleben.