More speculation on the 2011 schedule

IndyCar commentary — By on August 18, 2010 10:48 am
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(Originally posted by Steph to Planet-IRL.com.)

Well, then.  Remember those first two schedule speculation posts I wrote?  Forget everything that was in them.  They were so far off what’s happening now that there’s not even any point in providing links.

Our first hints that what we thought we knew of the 2011 schedule was going off the rails came while chatting with Randy Bernard on the Mid-Ohio race weekend.  We learned that imminent announcements of 2011 NASCAR dates at that time were having a greater impact on the plans of the IZOD IndyCar Series than expected.  With many of those announcements having now taken place, things appear to be back on track.

It’s fair to speculate that what we’re seeing take place here are some of RB’s first publicly evident growing pains as CEO.  This is the first schedule planning cycle he’s ever been involved with in motorsport. Without meaning to imply that scheduling for the PBR is an easy job, it’s a cakewalk, relatively speaking:  markets are identified, arenas of an appropriate size are located, date conflicts are checked with major league sports teams, and it’s booked.  Planning a schedule for a motorsport series, on the other hand, carries nuances that run much deeper and are nigh on impossible to anticipate before you’ve tried it once or twice.

RB knows that now, so don’t expect to get quite as many tidbits about race dates so early in the process next year.

Anyway, the upshot is that the two new race weekends that we thought we knew the dates for in 2011 have both changed:  the race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway will now run on August 14th, and the Baltimore Grand Prix has been moved to Labor Day weekend.  This last one is surprising given that RB has publicly stated that he doesn’t like the idea of running on long weekends.  However, in the official release on the matter, the President of Baltimore Racing Development, Jay Davidson, calls Labor Day “the weekend that [they] originally wanted,” so it seems someone has convinced RB that it’s worth a shot.  It will be interesting to see how that date pans out.  (And it’s a little foreboding that the related story on indycar.com tells us to “pencil in” Labor Day weekend — but perhaps that’s reading too much into it.)

As an aside to that, Baltimore’s shift means that Mid-Ohio can retain the date it’s enjoyed for the last couple of years, and there’s no reason to expect that track to want to do otherwise.  It also means that Kentucky will be forced to change dates again, but after the complaints from locals about the date selection this year, this had been anticipated anyway.

Back to the topic of NASCAR, several IICS tracks have revealed their Cup dates for 2011 in the past couple of weeks, and most of the announcements affect the Series:

  • Kansas has been given a second Cup date.  No surprise there, and many people had speculated that this track wouldn’t return to the IICS schedule, anyway.  It’s now safe to consider this a done deal.
  • As a result of that change, Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, has lost a Cup date and is now down to one.  This may have that track giving the IICS another look and motivate it to act quickly to work out a deal.  A date at Fontana would clearly need to be far from the well-established cash cow that is the Long Beach Grand Prix — but the track’s remaining Cup date is on March 27th, which may leave them willing to host an event in the final oval leg of the year.  The question is whether the IICS feels that the Los Angeles market can support two races.  It seems as though it should be strong enough — but then, so does South Florida.  And Fontana doesn’t exactly have a history of treating the IICS well.  There are many factors to be weighed, here.
  • Chicagoland has won the opening race of the Chase for next season, which will run on September 18th.  This means there isn’t a chance in Hades that the IICS weekend will be even remotely close to where it’s been for the past few years.  An earlier date will need to be found for this one if it’s to remain on the schedule — but, as Paul discussed last week, booking too early risks market crossover with Indy and Iowa.  The IICS won’t want to lose this market, so a midsummer date seems most likely.
  • Kentucky will host its first-ever NASCAR race on July 9th.  This shouldn’t impact greatly on the IICS schedule, but since Baltimore has claimed the current Labor Day date, Kentucky is clearly moving again (though probably not very far).

And last night, we were told that June 9th through 11th are confirmed for Texas.  Of course, the big news of the day was that we won’t be racing just once that weekend:  the Texas Two-step will see the IICS run two 275-kilometer races on the same day.  (The finer points of this announcement merit a discussion of its own, which is forthcoming.  I just need to retrieve Paul from the depths of his disappointment so that we can get some information out of some people.  We’ll get back to you on this shortly.)

Also during last night’s proceedings, it was pointed out that this date puts an off-weekend between Indy and Texas.  My initial reaction was to speculate that this puts a rather convenient gap in the schedule on Milwaukee’s traditional date.  But RB pointed out that having an off-weekend gives the teams more time to recover from the Month of May and the Series more time to heavily promote the winner of the 500, which sounds like a very RB line of thinking.  Plus, it’s getting awfully late in the game to get things done in Milwaukee in time for next year.  (It does open up the potential for speculation on a 2012 return, though.)

Anyway, while hanging out on Twitter last night waiting for the announcement, a few further bits of information came to light.  For one, Planet-IRL reader Kristi was speaking to some folks from Iowa Speedway at the Iowa State Fair last weekend, and they told her that the IICS weekend was expected to fall either on the same weekend as this year’s event or on the weekend immediately before or after.

Also, while discussing other dates on the calendar, Planet-IRL co-conspirator Bash pointed out that the City of St. Pete website is advertising their 2011 weekend as falling on March 27th.  That got me thinking that it would be a good idea to scan the internet to see if any other promoters are doing the same.  Don’t worry — I took the time to do this so that you don’t have to.  (You’re welcome.)

  • The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach website is already advertising April 17th as its race day.
  • Tourism Toronto is advertising next year’s race as expected to take place in July 2011.
  • There’s no specific date information around for Edmonton that I can find, but we do know that it will be back.  There’s good reason to expect the Series to keep the two Canadian dates together and a week apart — that worked well this year from a logistical standpoint for dealing with border-crossing issues — with an off-week provided afterward.
  • No other tracks have information posted as of yet that I was able to find (hardly surprising since many of them haven’t run their 2010 races yet).

So, with that being the last of the hard-and-fast information out there, placing the rest of the dates is pure speculation.

  • Taking Kristi’s information into account, this year’s Iowa event fell on June 20th, which means that the equivalent date next year would be June 19th.  Next year, the weekend before that is now spoken for by Texas.  Bumping Iowa to a week later also solves the problem of the inconvenient three-week gap that’s created by losing the Glen from the July 4th long weekend.  June 26th is a safe bet for this one.
  • Chicago is an important enough market that we can expect the IICS to do everything it can to retain a date there.  Paul guessed at August 6th in his post last week, but as I mentioned earlier, I think that date will stay with Mid-Ohio; a week earlier seems to work well for Chicago, though.
  • An awful lot of people are convinced that Brazil will run on May 1st next year.  There doesn’t seem to be anything official out there to back this up, but the widely agreed-upon speculation is that a season-opening event would put the race weekend too close to Carnival for the comfort of the promoters.  This is being treated as gospel at this point, so let’s go with it.
  • There’s no reason to expect that Sonoma will stray very far from its current date.  Of the two weekends left in August once everything is placed around them, either one would require a long cross-country trip to get to an east-coast race venue within a week.  The only reason I picked the 28th is because placing Chicago on July 30th gives us three race weekends in a row, and the Series will be ready for an off-weekend by the time the August 21st weekend rolls around.
  • As with this year, it’s safe to assume that the IICS will be smart and book everything after Labor Day on Saturday nights — it’s difficult to pull even the most die-hard race fans away from NFL football.  That coupled with the fact that Kentucky will most likely remain late in the season and does well under the lights led me to conclude that it will probably run on September 10th.
  • And here’s where I just get crazy.  This is all a wild guess, and I have nothing to base any of this on whatsoever other than intuition:
  • Homestead will be dropped outright.
  • The deal to end the season in Vegas in 2011 won’t be done in time.  (After talking to RB in Mid-Ohio, I got the feeling that his confidence in this plan had waned considerably, so I’m running with that.)
  • With Fontana willing to negotiate and holding the potential to host a 500-miler to create one of RB’s “majors,” and with Los Angeles appearing to be an alternative strong potential market for ending the season, the Series will sign a rush, short-term deal for a finale date next year, being careful not to lock themselves into the same arrangement in the future should they decide to commit for multiple years.  (This could already be under way as one of those tracks that RB mentioned might take until into September to confirm, given how late negotiations would have gotten started.)
  • October 2011 will come around and reveal that ISC has dropped the ball on promotion yet again — the stands will be deserted, the cars will be so far dialed back that the race is a total bore, and the entire event will be a bust.
  • Meanwhile, RB will have accomplished his goal of securing Vegas for the finale of the Series banner year in 2012, and Fontana will retain a late-season date on the schedule for that year while the season-ending event moves to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  (Hey, it could happen.)

And so, without further ado, I present — again — a speculative 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule based on what we’ve learned over the last couple of weeks (dates confirmed with official announcements shown in italics):

March 27:  St. Petersburg
April 10:   Barber
April 17:  Long Beach
May 1:  Brazil
May 29:  Indy
June 11*:  Texas (twin races)
June 26:  Iowa
July 10:  Toronto
July 17:  Edmonton
July 30*:  Chicagoland
August 7:  Mid-Ohio
August 14:  New Hampshire
August 28:  Sonoma
September 4:  Baltimore
September 10*:  Kentucky
September 25:  Motegi
October 8*:  Fontana

*night race

This one should be a little bit closer to the one that finally sticks.

Our first hints that what we thought we knew of the 2011 schedule was going off the rails came while chatting with Randy Bernard on the Mid-Ohio race weekend.  We learned that imminent announcements of 2011 NASCAR dates at that time were having a greater impact on the plans of the IZOD IndyCar Series than expected.  With many of those announcements having now taken place, things appear to be back on track.
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