By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
After months of speculation, Richmond Raceway will make its return on the NTT IndyCar Series calendar for the first time since 2009.
The schedule was officially announced at the Grand Prix of Portland Sunday as the 2020 tour will consists of 17 races with the addition of Richmond and the elimination of Pocono Raceway, reducing it to only one 500-mile race which is the 104th Indianapolis 500 Presented by Gainbridge (May 24).
FULL SCHEDULE: 2020 NTT IndyCar Series
During Tuesday’s news conference at the 0.75-mile circuit, Dennis Bickmeier, President of Richmond Raceway, commented it’s great having the series back and with their latest renovation to their infield, it has brought nothing but excitement to the community.
“It’s been a real burst of energy for all of us here at the raceway. You can see that in our ticket office as well. That’s been a lot of fun for our team up there,” Bickmeier said.
“Overall just the opportunity to have these guys back, diversifying the racing here that we have to offer. Part of that connects to a major renovation that we did last year in our infield. $30 million renovation to the infield, something new and exciting for the fans to experience when they come back here.
“Part of that was to get more racing on the racetrack so more people could come and enjoy that experience. These guys, INDYCAR, is a big piece of that puzzle.
“We got a lot going on here at Richmond Raceway. We’re a multi-purpose facility. But to have a variety of forms of racing, certainly to have INDYCAR back, we’re just really happy about that.”
Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman and Company, said having a race in the mid-Atlantic region was important to their plan of diversifying their markets going forward.
“It was fun to see fans who have been waiting a long time to get us back, how enthusiastic they are,” Miles said.” “But also to see personally the results of the investment that Dennis referred to. I love the fact that they were largely oriented around the fan.
“We believe that INDYCAR offers the best fan experience in racing. This is a terrific place to show off not just on the track but before and after the races what we do.”
The inclusion of Richmond meant it’s the third non-superspeedway circuit, joining Iowa and Gateway. INDYCAR President Jay Frye said Richmond is expected to be like Iowa but with the sport changing since 2009, it’s not an easy prediction as the current package at the other two circuits have produced quality racing.
“That’s one of the things we talked about a lot today, the difference between 10 years ago and today, the direction we’ve went,” Frye said. “With this current car, less downforce, more horsepower coming, look at Iowa the last few years in ’17, we still had the manufacturer kits that had the high downforce. We had about 300 on-track passes for that event. In ’18 we had almost a thousand with the current car, current configuration.”
Frye confirmed that INDYCAR will have a Firestone test in October with a couple of cars before having a full blown test in March, to assure a good show is on its way for the fans.
Scott Dixon, the most recent winner at Richmond, hopes it reaches the levels of Iowa, but it’ll require a lot of effort in those tests.
“We’ll have to see how that progresses,” Dixon said. “I think there will be a lot of effort that goes in from the tire test in October through to March. Try and create as much margin in that as possible.
“But it could take a little while. We’ll just have to wait and see. The goal is to have a very similar race at Iowa.”
2008 Richmond winner Tony Kanaan believes they’ve found the ideal package that’ll mark a successful turnaround after he felt INDYCAR didn’t do in their first stint from 2001-09.
“Last time we were here, we didn’t deliver what the fans wanted,” Kanaan said. “Since Jay and Mark came onboard, they’ve been working extremely hard with Firestone and Dallara to get the right package. I believe we found that. If you guys watched the last two years in Iowa, how the race has been. This track is extremely similar.”
Kanaan added that he hopes he can stop Dixon from winning a third Richmond victory in 2020.
“I’m not expecting anything less than 800 passes here when we come back,” Kanaan said. “Hopefully I’ll pass Scott for the lead on the last lap and I’ll win (laughter).”
A title sponsor for the 11th round of 2020 is in the works according to Bickmeier, which he’ll work hard on getting one as the race will take place Saturday, June 27, 2020.
Other additional changes include Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas being moved from the second race to the fourth on Sunday April 26, which follows the 46th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach held on April 19.
Following the race at Iowa, the series will have a three-week break as a result of of NBC Sports focusing on the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games.
Mid-Ohio will take place later in the season as it goes from late July to mid-August and between Portland (Sept. 6) and the finale at Laguna Seca (Sept. 20), it’ll just be a one week break instead of two.
Broadcast times will be announced at a later time as once again the entire 17-race calendar will be live on the NBC family of networks with six being on their main network (Indy Grand Prix, Indy 500, Road America, Mid-Ohio, Portland and Laguna Seca).
INDYCAR will kick off its 2020 campaign at the Streets of St. Petersburg Sunday, March 15 on NBCSN.