2013 INDYCAR schedule: Good, bad and ugly

IndyCar, IndyCar commentary — By on October 2, 2012 8:32 am
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Presented below are some random musings on the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule, in no particular order and broken into the usual three categories: good, bad, and ugly.

THE GOOD:

- Pocono. Enough said. Fans asked, INDYCAR listened. Good work. Now, let’s get going on Road America, Cleveland, and something in the Pacific Northwest. You know, not that we’re ungrateful or anything.

- The return of the Triple Crown. This should be an obvious one. But there are people who are actually complaining that Pocono isn’t a 500-miler and that the tradition is therefore not being followed to the letter. There is just no pleasing some people. Randy Bernard’s explanation that 400 miles is all that would fit on ABC is a perfectly reasonable one and gives the impression that the event’s distance could be extended to 500 miles in the future if things go well, which ought to be more than good enough. Speaking of which…

- The handling of the TV schedule. This is a very good thing. Starting ABC with Indianapolis and carrying its contracted races right through in a straight line is a prudent and long-needed strategy that’s been proven effective for other series. This “here one week, there the next week” nonsense has been more damaging to ratings than many people would believe. (And major kudos to INDYCAR, by the way, for ditching an extremely poor television partner in Canada and partnering up with Rogers Sportsnet. INDYCAR’s new Canadian network is already promising that every race will be live and on their premier channel, and the mere fact of announcing that intention at all is better engagement than anything TSN ever did.)

- Splitting standing and rolling starts at double-headers. This is a good way to ease the “but rolling starts are tradition” crowd into the idea of standing starts. No one loses out on anything this way, so let’s give it a shot and see how it goes over.

THE BAD:

- Toronto hosting a double-header. I know — complaining about getting two races in one weekend in my hometown makes me a big, fat whiner. And a large part of the justification behind it was that the Edmonton race went away and INDYCAR wanted to give Canada two “races,” which is a nice idea in principle. But from where I sit, Toronto is the second-longest running street event on the schedule, and experiments like this tend be short-term despite the best of intentions, and they have a way of leaving a blight on the record books — like that time that double-file restarts were used at the Indianapolis 500, for example. My preference is for these sorts of things be reserved for events that haven’t otherwise proven themselves yet. I might be singing a different tune next July, though. We’ll see.

- Too many crossover markets grouped together. Belle Isle’s proximity to Indianapolis certainly doesn’t impact the latter, but it likely hurts the former. Milwaukee and Iowa will probably affect one another’s bottom lines as well. And it’s a shame that Pocono had to slot in so close to Toronto. There’s not a huge market crossover there, but it’s more than one might think.

- Fewer night races. That’s a shame. Few things are as exhilarating to watch as an INDYCAR under lights. I hope that’s a temporary situation. (Unless, of course, night races just aren’t drawing as many people as day races are, but I haven’t seen any hard numbers to that effect.)

- There are still some unserved markets. As I mentioned earlier, the Pacific Northwest continues to be the ugly duckling. Let’s hope there’s some background work going on there for 2014. The same can be said for New England, though the rumored Rhode Island event may stop that gap next year.

THE UGLY:

- Top billing in this category is too easy: That month-long break in September with only two races left in the schedule. Randy Bernard told the media yesterday that the 2013 schedule is final, saying, “I don’t think that it would be in our best interests to try to rush another race in 2013.” I can’t for the life of me imagine why. Randy, if anything — anything – comes up that could fill that gap, go ahead and slot it in there. No one is going to hold it against you.

- A double-header weekend at Detroit. Wait — we get to watch not one but two races at Belle Isle? There’s not enough caffeine in the world.

OVERALL:

- Not fantastic, but good. It’s clear this year’s schedule is the start of a longer-term work that’s now in progress. There are more repeat and consistent dates than there have been in recent years, which means many events are again being given the opportunities they need to get themselves established. There are gaps, and the oval-lovers still have long wish lists, but the schedule as a whole is moving in the right direction. The edict for the last few years has been “patience”; it doesn’t look like fans will need to be patient for much longer to get a stable schedule that pleases as many people as possible.

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