By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
In a perfect world where the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires gets the maximum exposure for its top tier series, the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, one would think that having the series race on each of the premier types of tracks that the Verizon IndyCar Series visits would be a necessity.
On the ovals, you have the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, site of the Freedom 100. On the road courses, you have Road America’s doubleheader weekend.
For street circuits you have Long Beach… Err, no you don’t, actually. At least not in 2017, or in 2016 for that matter.
Indy Lights, or some form of open wheel support series, had been a part of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach since 1978, with the exception of 1983 to 1988.
In 1989, Indy Lights and the Atlantic Championship ran side-by-side until Indy Lights was no longer sanctioned by CART after 2001. The Atlantic series ran from 2002 until the final Champ Car Long Beach race in 2008, at which point Indy Lights took over from 2009 through 2015.
Yet for some reason, Indy Lights is not on the calendar for 2017 which makes zero sense, especially from a weekend scheduling perspective.
Looking at the schedule from St. Petersburg, there were 1,365 minutes of hot track time scheduled. There were 50 minutes on both Friday and Sunday dedicated to promotional rides while there were 400 minutes dedicated to breaks between sessions from Thursday through Sunday. It must be noted that on Thursday we saw 215 of those minutes run with PWC practice, USF2000 practice and PWC qualifying.
All the track time was run with all of the Mazda Road to Indy sessions (three series), Pirelli World Challenge (two series), Stadium Super Trucks and IndyCar.
For Long Beach, there are 1,225 minutes of hot track time scheduled. But what’s on the schedule for the weekend?
IndyCar is scheduled to receive ten more minutes of track time at Long Beach owing to the broadcast window with 390 minutes. PWC is running with 75 fewer minutes of track time for its GT category, owing mainly to having one race at Long Beach instead of two at St. Petersburg and only having one practice session. They have 155 minutes on the streets.
IMSA’s Weathertech United Sports Car Championship has 310 minutes of scheduled track time, Stadium Super Trucks and Can-Am have an hour each while Super Drift has 240 minutes of hot track time.
Meanwhile there’s an exotic car parade on Sunday for 10 minutes.
But what’s really striking is that with the reduced track time of 140 minutes, there’s 25 fewer minutes of break time and there are 225 minutes dedicated to two seater and promotional rides.
I understand sponsors have to be entertained at the biggest street race of the year, but can the promotional rides be handled a bit earlier in the weekend or within a tighter time frame? After the track walk on Thursday that ends at 4:00 in the afternoon, there’s no on track activity or any activity at all until Thunder Thursday at 6:30.
Cutting 30 minutes of breaks and moving the vast majority of the promotional rides to Thursday, we could easily have an Indy Lights weekend with one practice session on Friday (maybe two if the schedule were re-written well enough), one qualifying session and one race as the open wheel undercard series used to have.
That way Indy Lights would truly have a marquee event at a street circuit to go along with road courses and ovals.
Overall, the Grand Prix of Long Beach is one of the crown jewel events on the calendar for IndyCar. With a wealth of sponsors and potential partners coming out, it makes all the more sense to lure Indy Lights to Southern California. The racing industry as a whole is always healthier with more sponsors and more money being pushed into it, and having the event back on the tour can help bolster the series to new heights.
An ultra-competitive series already, Indy Lights is proving to be a top place for the next generation of IndyCar stars, so wouldn’t it make sense to sell the product to the IndyCar market?
It just seems to make too much sense to not have Indy Lights return to Long Beach. Hopefully, it’s just a matter of time.