Twenty-five days have past since the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season concluded and today we saw the 2018 schedule released. It has the same number of race weekends and the same number of races as the 2017 schedule but there is one notable changes in venues.
Portland International Raceway will return to the calendar for the first time since the 2007 Champ Car season. The return of Portland comes at the expense of Watkins Glen International, as the track exits the calendar after two seasons.
St. Petersburg will host the season opener on Sunday March 11th. This will be the eighth consecutive season where St. Petersburg will be the opener and it will be the tenth time overall St. Petersburg has started the season. Phoenix has moved up a few weeks and it will lead off a three-week spring stretch of races. Phoenix will be Saturday April 7th with Long Beach following on Sunday April 15th and Barber caps off the stretch on Sunday April 22nd.
The Grand Prix of Indianapolis once again takes place on the second Saturday in May, May 12th to be specific and the Indianapolis 500 remains Memorial Day weekend, Sunday May 27th. The Belle Isle doubleheader follows the Indianapolis 500 on Saturday June 2nd and Sunday June 3rd. Texas ends a stretch of five races in five weeks on Saturday June 9th.
The first race of summer will be at Road America on Sunday June 24th. Two weeks later, IndyCar returns to Iowa Speedway on Sunday July 8th. Toronto takes place a week later on Sunday July 15th. Mid-Ohio ends the month of July on Sunday July 29th. IndyCar will take a two-week summer break following the Mid-Ohio race.
There will three consecutive weeks of racing start with Pocono Raceway on Sunday August 19th. Gateway Motorsports Park will be the final Saturday of August, August 25th, and it will be an hour earlier than this year's race. Portland slots into the vacated Labor Day weekend and will race on Sunday September 2nd. Sonoma closes out the 2018 season on Sunday September 16th.
The only place to start is with the one change to the calendar and I am going to go more negative than most. I was really happy for 2017 because the schedule remained 100% intact from 2016 and that is something IndyCar had not achieved in a decade. I was hoping IndyCar could put together four or five seasons of 100% retention rate with an addition or two.
That didn't happen and I know Watkins Glen said it wasn't enamored with the Labor Day weekend date, even though the track president Michael Printup said he wanted a race in September, and I wish the series and the track could have worked something out. Watkins Glen is a proper race course and a track IndyCar should want to be at because it shows off how spectacular the car is on the racetrack.
Obviously 2018 was set but I would have hoped IndyCar and Watkins Glen could have held out for one more year and found a better date for 2019. I was thinking could Watkins Glen and Gateway flip to get Watkins Glen off Labor Day weekend and pair it with Pocono to reduce travel costs for the teams but that brings in another issue in moving the race a week closer to the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen. There aren't many other places Watkins Glen could go. The track has the 6 Hours of the Glen in July. IndyCar is busy April through June. That narrows when Watkins Glen can be and it can't be in March and it could be pushed back to the end of September but IndyCar doesn't want to end the season any later than it currently does.
If there is one thing we should learn from Watkins Glen, and it is something we should already know, is that it takes more than two years for a race to be a success. I don't know what expectations were set for the Watkins Glen race but the 2016 race pretty much gets a pass because it was added at the 11th hour. This year should have been seen as a proper year one and then the race builds from here.
As for Portland, this seems a little out of nowhere considering there was a lot of talk about it at the end of last year, all went quiet through the 2017 season and in the last few weeks it came back up and here we are with it back on the schedule. We are all wondering what kind of reception IndyCar gets after abandoning the track a decade ago. When Road America returned to the schedule fans flocked to the racetrack. I am not sure Portland will have the same kind of euphoria surrounding the event. However, Portland is a race in the Pacific Northwest, a part of the country that hasn't had a race. It will be a race that hopefully attracts not only the citizens of Portland but people from the Seattle-area and maybe even from Vancouver.
I am skeptical that Portland will be a great success. Let's face it; we don't see the Pacific Northwest as a hot spot of American motorsports. It is the Midwest, the south and California. Portland had a long history with IndyCar but how many people are still hanging on a decade removed from the most recent race?
Mexico City was not included on the schedule despite the months of rumors of a potential return. However, a Mexico City race has not been entirely ruled out and there are two rumored dates. It has been linked to a race either in late-March between St. Petersburg and Phoenix or in early-August either the week after Mid-Ohio and creating a back-to-back or the week before Pocono and creating a four-week stretch of races from Mexico City to Pocono to Gateway to Portland.
If Mexico City were to be added to the schedule, I think it makes the most sense to add the race in March, as there is a three-week gap between St. Petersburg and Phoenix.
Overall, I don't think you can be disappointed in this schedule. Yes, it is tough to see Watkins Glen fall off the schedule after two good years in terms of what happened on the racetrack but we aren't seeing three races drop off and only two come on. A replacement was available and the schedule remains the same length. Now we wait on start times for races and all I can say is I hope they are all an hour, and in some cases two, earlier than expected.
With 2018 set, we can now look to 2019 and speculate if IndyCar ends on an oval and what oval could that be.