Updated speculation on the 2011 schedule

IndyCar commentary — By on July 29, 2010 7:21 pm

(Originally posted by Steph to Planet-IRL.com.)

First of all, to anyone who may be patiently awaiting a podcast on the debacle at Edmonton, please accept our apologies — Paul skipped town for a business trip this week, so we’ve been forced to delay it by a few days.  There’s still much to be discussed, though, so we’ll get it out as soon as we can.

But in the meantime:  it’s been a little over a month since we last looked at the 2011 schedule, and things have changed some since then.  Some revised speculation appears to be in order.

Perhaps the most significant confirmation since my original post on the subject came during the race weekend at Watkins Glen when Randy Bernard informed Planet-IRL that Homestead will not be the final race of the 2011 schedule and that he is indeed gunning for Vegas.  There’s been no discussion since then of how those negotiations are going, but there are a lot of good reasons to assume that RB will get it done, not the least of which being that a) he has an excellent network of contacts in Vegas as a legacy from his time with Professional Bull Riders, and b) LVMS is an SMI track, and SMI is quickly becoming an excellent partner to IndyCar (more on that in a moment).  What’s not clear is whether Homestead will be removed from the schedule entirely.  This might be one of those tracks that will be given a year to get its act together before it gets dropped, or it may already be gone.  There’s little apparent value in attempting to keep it — the track doesn’t produce good races or respectable crowds for championship-crowing events, so there’s no reason to expect an ordinary race weekend to do any better.

During that same conversation, RB mentioned that he’s not a very big fan of holding races on long weekends (aside from the 500, of course).  He feels that corporate partners are simply not interested in entertaining or being entertained on those dates, preferring instead to be with their families.

And that bit of insight likely ties in with another very strong rumor that started with our friends at insidetherace.com.  They were the first to inform us that Terry Angstadt has revealed that it is unlikely we’ll see Watkins Glen return in 2011.  This is one place in my original speculation where I was completely wrong.  However, having now attended an event at this venue, I better understand why the chips are falling as they are.  Watkins Glen is another ISC track, and as I mentioned at the time, NASCAR seeps from every pore of that place, more so than I’ve noticed than at any of the other ISC tracks I’ve attended.  It’s unquestionably a great driver’s track — it felt as though half the field had agreed to launch a propaganda campaign with all the compliments they paid it throughout the weekend — but in spite of the Glen’s open-wheel history, it’s also a very odd feeling to hold an IndyCar event at a circuit that has NASCAR logos emblazoned across every available surface, particularly with the chilly reception Brian France has been offering up as of late.  Plus, although there are clear issues with holding a race at this track on a long weekend, it’s not difficult to imagine that the Glen might not be willing to negotiate a new date based on the commitments in the rest of their calendar.  So, in the end, if this one does fall off the schedule, it’s disappointing but not actually that much of a surprise.

I had also shown some concern for both Sonoma and Edmonton (the latter having come up as recently as last week), but it seems to have been unfounded in both cases.

Things are now coming together nicely in Edmonton with the combination of Octane Racing Group taking over as the event promoter and the City of Edmonton voting to support the event and keep the City Centre Airport available until 2013.  There were some news articles touting a 20% decline in ticket sales going into this year’s event, but what those stories didn’t point out is that, under the guise of saving money in assembly costs, all of the grandstands surrounding Turn 1 (which is by far the best viewing location) were replaced this year with beer gardens (which don’t generate ticket sales themselves) and RV parking (which sold out shortly after it became available).  Grandstand positioning could use some future tweaking as a result, but fan support for this one is still very high, so it appears we’ll retain it for a few years yet.

What Sonoma may have going for it the most, on the other hand, is that it’s an SMI track.  While ISC is continuing to show signs of disinterest in promoting IZOD IndyCar Series events, there’s a general sense (though nothing concrete to point toward) that SMI appears willing to step forward and embrace the opportunity to forge a partnership.  On top of that, there are excellent marketing opportunities in the surrounding area’s wine regions and in the Bay Area that are yet to be fully exploited.  Now that RB’s in charge, we can expect that to change in a big hurry (looking back, for example, on his point about entertaining corporate clients, are there any more excellent tie-ins for that than a dinner at Andretti Winery or a tasting of Foyt Family Wines?).  We haven’t seen the last of this one — not by far.

So, with the apparent loss of the Glen and security of the other twisty events, that settles the one road race we had to lose to accommodate Baltimore and leave us with nine road and street courses to make up half of the 2011 schedule.

However, RB and Angstadt have both been heard to say that they would be willing to work with either 17 or 18 races next year, which gives us a bit more room to play with the ovals.  Looking at the current eight-race oval line-up, we have to add New Hampshire to the mix, and it’s a safe bet to add Vegas to that as well, which brings us to 10.  This means that at least one will need to go, and Kansas still looks to be the lead candidate.  While we’re hearing whispers that a number of tracks have been put on a year’s notice to improve promotion and attendance, two of the facilities expected to be in this group — Chicagoland and Homestead — haven’t yet had the opportunity to prove themselves in 2010.  Chicagoland is a big question mark right now; with this being the first year that IndyCar tickets have been available for purchase separately from those for the NASCAR weekend, no one is certain of how things will play out.  As for Homestead, RB has no doubt heard plenty of horrible things, but as mentioned earlier, he may be willing to give them a year to improve their situation as long as it’s not on the championship weekend.  Kansas, though, has already demonstrated this year that it can’t or won’t work to make IndyCar a bigger draw, and since it’s currently attempting to win a second NASCAR date for 2011, its attention appears to be elsewhere.  There’s also the mention from Curt Cavin that Indy will likely be the first oval on next year’s calendar, lending credence to the theory that Brazil will take over the early May weekend spot and that Kansas has already lost its place.

We’ve heard RB saying that he’s working to get Milwaukee back on the schedule as early as 2011 — he’s even gone so far as to offer a number to the state of the amount of monetary support they would need to get it done.  Though this is a noble endeavor that nearly all race fans can get behind, given the financial quagmire this racetrack is in, it seems awfully late in the game for us to hold out hope of this happening in time for next year.  It wouldn’t be shocking at all to see it work for 2012, though, which would no doubt set off jubilant celebration throughout the racing community.

All of that can be summarized by saying that there isn’t that much tweaking to do from the original theory — the latest updates have confirmed as much as they’ve debunked.  I’ve taken a stab at adding some guesses at dates into the mix (the confirmed dates are in italics), and I’ve done a bit of somewhat unsubstantiated shuffling toward the end of the year:  if RB is as against long-weekend races as he says he is, Kentucky will probably move again, and I have a hunch that he’s likely to see some value in putting at least one more race between Motegi and the championship weekend to mitigate the loss of momentum toward the end of the year.  I’ve also taken a guess that Homestead will be out, but while that’s certainly a possibility, it’s not necessarily the case.

And when I finally put it all together, I noticed a problem:  with the loss of the Glen on the July 4th weekend, there really needs to be an event on June 26th to stop the three-week gap between Iowa and Toronto; plus, the addition of Baltimore means that there are too many events with theoretical dates in August.  Although Kentucky does need to move, it’s not likely to move to June because it hosts a Nationwide weekend in that month.  Chicagoland isn’t likely to be interested in June either since their Cup weekend is in early July.  Mid-Ohio, on the other hand, is signed for 2011 but has lost its date to Baltimore.  While Mid-Ohio does have some smaller events scheduled around that time in June, the IndyCar/ALMS weekend would probably be significant enough to them to justify bumping one of those if need be.  This assumes that ALMS is on board with the change as well, of course — but something needs to shift anyway with Baltimore in place, and a date in late June doesn’t appear to interfere with any of ALMS’s interests, so it’s as likely a change as any.

So, here’s a revised shot at what the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule could look like in 2011:

  • St. Pete (March 27)
  • Barber (April 3)
  • Long Beach (April 17)
  • Brazil (May 1)
  • Indy (May 29)
  • Texas (June 4)
  • Iowa (June 19)
  • Mid-Ohio (June 26)
  • Toronto (July 10)
  • Edmonton (July 17)
  • New Hampshire (July 31)
  • Baltimore (August 7)
  • Sonoma (August 21)
  • Chicagoland (August 27)
  • Motegi (September 11)
  • Kentucky (September 25)
  • Las Vegas (October 1)

Remember, there’s nothing official about this in the least.  Fire away.

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