A look at the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights schedule

IndyCar, IndyCar commentary — By on November 19, 2010 4:18 pm

The 2011 Firestone Indy Lights calendar was released yesterday, and it revealed a few surprises — some good, some potentially less-than-good, and some that lead to more questions.

Here’s the 2011 FIL schedule in its entirety:

March 26-27 Streets of St. Petersburg
April 9-10 Barber Motorsports Park
April 16-17 Streets of Long Beach
May 27 Indianapolis Motor Speedway
June 18-19 The Milwaukee Mile
June 24-25 Iowa Speedway
July 9-10 Streets of Toronto
Aug. 6-7 Streets of Trois-Rivières
Aug. 13-14 New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Sept. 3-4 Streets of Baltimore
Oct. 1-2 Kentucky Speedway
Oct. 15-16 Season Finale TBA

This produces a 12-race schedule that’s split 50/50 between roads and twisties (operating on the assumption that the season finale ends up being a support run for the long-rumored IZOD IndyCar Series finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway).

The six ovals include the centennial-year run at Indy, two 1.5-milers, and three short ovals, with each of the six venues carrying distinct characteristics.  We can’t ask for much better than that.  (FIL hasn’t run at Texas since 2005, so that omission from the schedule was no surprise.)

The six twisties, on the other hand, include five street courses and only one permanent road course.  There’s a faction of fans with whom this won’t win many points.

However, dropping one of the road courses visited by the IICS (Mid-Ohio) allows FIL to become the headline event for the storied Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières in Quebec, which is unquestionably an enormous boon for the series.  And let’s be honest — the last few FIL races at Mid-Ohio have been absolute snoozers, anyway.  While onlookers who don’t consider street circuits to be real race courses may turn their noses up at it, the balance of this decision weighs far more heavily in the positive for FIL.

(As an aside:  FIL becoming the headline series for Trois-Rivières serves as a stark reminder that the final coup-de-grâce has indeed been delivered to the Atlantic Championship.  This isn’t news, of course — but if there was anyone out there still holding out hope that the Atlantics’ departing rhetoric of returning someday had any truth to it, that hope now most certainly seems to have been quashed.  A final sigh and farewell to a truly historic segment of North American motorsport is duly warranted.)

The other IICS road course that’s missing from the schedule, though, is more surprising.  What happened to Infineon?

An inquiry to the series yielded the response that financial concerns from the teams became the event’s ultimate undoing.  The plan all along was to limit the FIL schedule to 13 events to keep team costs under control (this was before Edmonton was lost), and with there being more than 13 events on the IICS schedule where FIL can run, some cuts needed to be made.  Travel to the west coast at that point in the season is an expensive undertaking for the feeder series, and so the decision was made to drop it from the card.

After the demise of Edmonton, though, the FIL schedule was reduced to 12 events.  Why Infineon wasn’t then immediately put back under consideration for inclusion isn’t clear.  The primary complaint about Edmonton has always been the high cost of travel, so one would think that having that money back in team coffers would make the trip to Sonoma a much more feasible proposition.  Perhaps there’s more going on in the backroom talks relating to the Edmonton weekend than we currently know about.

One point about the Firestone Indy Lights series that sparked many complaints from fans in 2010 was its lack of television exposure.  As was the case in 2010, the Firestone Freedom 100 will be broadcast on Versus in 2011 — that much is assured.  However, the possibility of more races seeing television coverage next season hasn’t been ruled out, and discussion between the series and Versus is ongoing.  (Of course, all FIL races will be available through free online streaming at indycar.com.)  The side effect to this is that the exact running dates and times of FIL races is yet to be determined, and we may not see all FIL races run on the same day as IICS races next year if the series opts to take advantage of broadcast availability that dictates otherwise.  Still, 2010 showed the dramatic importance that TV coverage plays in bringing sponsorship dollars into FIL, and it’s a relief to see that decision being reexamined.

Overall, with Firestone Indy Lights now sporting the same 50/50 split as the IZOD IndyCar Series and with a headline event to call its own, the series schedule appears to be well-balanced and headed in the right direction.  In conjunction with the other improvements being made at all levels of the Road to Indy, let’s hope that exposure for and interest in this and all the ladder series continues to expand in 2011 and beyond.

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