IndyCar 2016: some good, some bad, but nothing out of the ordinary

By Josh Farmer, Journalist

When the upcoming IndyCar season’s schedule was released recently, the reaction was rather muddled.

The schedule features 16 races, 13 of which are returning events. The scheduling of the races is a little different from years past, including a few races being spread out and the season extending past Labor Day ending on September 18. The break between some of the races was much needed, given the toll it was taking on teams last year.

There are no big surprises that came from the announcement, but that is not to say that there are some positives and maybe some potential wins for IndyCar. Returning to Road America has been known since August and that is a win in of itself. The 4.048 mile road course has a strong road racing following and fans have been crying for IndyCar to return there since it was left off the calendar when Champ Car and the Indy Racing League merged in 2008.

Most of the teams tested there last month and the response was positive.

Phoenix returning was the lone “surprise” on the schedule, albeit a good one. Getting back to Phoenix has been on IndyCar’s radar almost since the race was taken off the schedule in 2005. A few ideas were tossed around, but it wasn’t until Randy Bernard took over the helm of IndyCar that interest grew. Talks with Bernard and PIR boss Bryan Sperber never materialized and it wasn’t until Jay Frye, chief revenue officer of Hulman and Co., came in that the ship was able to get off the ground as talks got serious at the end of last season and now the deal is done.

The inevitable question that is on the table right now is what we expect the fan turnout to be. The race was tossed off the IRL schedule in 2005 due to poor attendance and the races prior to that were in a bit of a decline, although the CART era drew huge crowds. The fans have been clamoring for IndyCar to return to Phoenix and now is the time to show that they care. With time and consistency, there is a chance for the event to grow. A crowd around 18,000-25,000 should be a good number for PIR to start with.

Given the track’s nature to produce great racing, there is no doubt that the racing will be just as good this time around with the racy nature of the DW-12/aero kit combination. The only thing that is questionable is the newness of the track with the dogleg being shortened in 2011. Tony Kanaan, who won at PIR in 2003-04, was quoted by RACER as saying that the track was not too different from what he remembered and that the racing should still be good.

“The corners are still the same and I guess if you had to change something, the kink and dogleg is fine because we won’t be dropping down on the flat part of the track like NASCAR,” said Kanaan. “You can still make a pass coming out of Turn 2 and going into Turn 3 even though the track is more narrow because there is a safer barrier all the way around.”

Boston is a race that either has the potential to soar or fall hard.

Boston not only deep rooted in its own history as well as sports culture but it also has a high population, including a high Brazilian population, which is something to latch on to. IndyCar’s last foray into the Northeast was the Baltimore Grand Prix which drew great crowds in its two year (2011-2013) running and had a great street circuit atmosphere, but the race struggled with a revolving door of promoters and it was the Labor Day scheduling realignment that killed the race. Given the success of Baltimore, the potential for a high fan turnout is there, and as Mark Perone, CEO Boston Grand Prix has hinted that they are targeting the vast amount of college students who will be returning to the Boston area by the weekend of the race, Labor Day weekend.

The pitfall is that the race is already meeting some opposition and having uncertainty looming over a race, let alone its inaugural event. The Boston Herald reported that the state Department of Transportation still needs to approve the race, the Massachusetts Port Authority does not want to pay the $500,000 in road improvements required by IndyCar and Fred Peterson, head Boston Convention Center Authority was quoted as saying ” we have a long ways to go.”

Phoenix, Road America and Boston will replace two historical tracks and a one and done race: Auto Club Speedway, Milwaukee and NOLA Motorsports Park.

The lone running of the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana will go down as one of the weirdest races being plagued by torrential rainfall which led to multiple crashes as well as political unrest between the promoter and the track itself. Milwaukee has been on hard times for many years with dwindling crowds and with Andretti Sports Marketing out of the race promoting business, a sufficient promoter could not be found. Losing Auto Club Speedway is a massive loss due to the exciting nature of the 2.0 mile speedway, especially this years running of the MavTV 500 which produced an IndyCar record 80 lead changes. It also an even bigger loss because it did not need to happen.

Auto Club Speedway drew a very large crowd in 2013, the second race back at ACS and was poised to grow but the race was moved to Labor Day weekend in 2014 which produced a low crowd. The track wanted a September season finale date but were given the last weekend in June, the race’s fourth weekend in four years. The track and IndyCar tried to come to an agreement to move the race back to its traditional season finale date, but discord involving TV times as well as a variety of other topics resulted in the track’s departure.

While you can never say never, the chances for a return to Milwaukee and Fontana seem very slim at the moment.

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Josh Farmer joined the media center in 2012 after first discovering his love of IndyCar racing in 2004 at Auto Club Speedway. He has been an accredited member of the IndyCar media center since 2014 and also contributes to along with The Motorsports Tribune.

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