A seven-month schedule with an earlier start – possibly as early as January – and a trio of international races to start the points-paying season are the plans in the works for the IndyCar Series in 2015.
In an interview with More Front Wing’s Paul Dalbey, Hulman and Co. CEO Mark Miles laid out in detail the goals that he and his team are working toward as they look past the coming year.
“My hope would be that in 2015 the North American schedule would begin earlier in March than we will in 2014,” Miles said. “I don’t know whether that’s a couple of weeks or a little more, but I see March generally as North American races.
“But prior to that in 2015 – essentially in February, but if it was the last week of January into February that could work – we’re looking for three strong international races that would be the first races in the championship.”
It may raise concerns for some to start the regular season away from North America, but Miles feels doing so is an important part of the fiscal stabilization of IndyCar.
“We think there’s an important economic opportunity in some international markets,” he said, “so in February, where we don’t have a lot of options for climate in the States, why not go abroad.
“I see the championship being all of February, March, April, May, June, July, and August, a seven-month series that we think would be a very cool schedule and an important economic opportunity in the way of those international expansions.”
For this points-paying pre-season tour, there are specific markets with which IndyCar is having active conversations.
“We’re looking anywhere from the Middle East to more in South America all the way down to South Africa,” Miles said.
However, one region that is off the table is Europe, largely due to concerns of climate. “In February, there are not a lot of places you’re going to race in Europe,” he pointed out.
He also says he is not focused on Asia in the early points-paying period. “We think the greater potential for Asia might be a three-race sponsored series after the championship ends in the fourth quarter of the calendar year,” he said.
That three-race sponsored series, currently being considered for after the conclusion of the 2015 season, is being envisioned as three races over four weeks.
Such a program won’t be ready for roll-out in full by the end of 2014, but there is currently some potential for a one-off exhibition event next year.
“There is one conversation going on where I can imagine a one-off, one-time possibility of a non-points race after Labor Day internationally,” Miles said. “That’s not something I can go into at the moment, but it’s a one-off thing that is not strategic for us.”
Such conversations inevitably raise the question of a return to Australia and the Surfers Paradise event. When asked if such a return is under consideration for this exhibition tour, Miles said, “We’ve had some conversations with (the Surfers Paradise/V8 Supercars groups). We’re looking for the strongest possible situations for races, and if that included Australia that would be fabulous. Time will tell.”
Miles would be “disappointed” if no title sponsor signs for 2014
Miles also spoke around IndyCar’s sponsorship difficulties and indicated that there are some very promising conversations under way at the moment.
“I think great progress is being made, and I’ll be disappointed if we don’t have a title sponsor on board in 2014,” Miles said. “We’re very optimistic about that. We’ve got a couple of serious, advanced conversations going on. None of these things are over until they’re over, but it’s encouraging. These are great organizations that we’d be pleased to partner with.”
Although it’s easy to point at IndyCar’s flagging television ratings as an indication that the future is bleak, Miles insists that sponsor interest in the series remains strong.
“I would say (there’s) almost frenetic activity,” he said. “There are a lot of great conversations going on about sponsorship of IndyCar, from title through other category sponsors, and I’m very bullish about our prospects for adding sponsors in the coming weeks and months.”
Leaders Circle payouts to double by 2018
Another method of stability that Miles and his team are actively examining is the Leaders Circle program. Miles is of the belief that bolstering and extending that program is the best path economically for the series.
“For 2018, not that many years from now, our hope is that we could have 22 to 24 teams participating annually in the Leaders Circle program and about double the compensation there per team,” Miles said.
Miles states that IndyCar aims to have the Leaders Circle funding be an important source of revenue for teams with an eye to expanding the field slightly and firming up financial stability throughout.
When asked whether a plan also exists to add to race prize payouts, Miles said, “I don’t see how that’s feasible at this point.
“We’re in a place where we’ll have to defer that ambition, and immediately when new monies are available they’re more likely to go into Leaders Circle because that’s really important to have the full complement of strong teams in the Series,” he said. “When we get that to the place it needs to be, you can be sure our desire will be to add a lot more for the winners and podium finishers.”
Hear the full interview
Miles also spoke with MFW’s Paul Dalbey on a variety of other topics, including a thorough explanation of Hulman and Co.’s internal restructuring, his team’s overall marketing strategy for IndyCar, the importance of transparency and cooperation with stakeholders by a sanctioning body, and how his philosophies differ from those of his predecessor with regard to connecting with the sport’s fans. To listen to the full audio, use the player below. (Due to technical upgrades, the audio will also become available on iTunes on December 27.)