An alternate theory on a merged IRL/Champ Car schedule
by Mark Cipolloni

 March 7, 2006

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Two days ago I penned an article discussing the merits of an IRL and Champ Car merger.  In that article I published the following proposed 20-race schedule:

  1. St. Petersburg, FL - warm weather and a nice venue for a mid-March season opener

  2. Houston, TX - warm weather makes this a nice late March venue

  3. Long Beach, CA - do we have to explain it to you?

  4. Motegi, Japan - we have to believe Honda will want this race to remain

  5. Beijing, China - Champ Car is close to making this race a reality, all sponsors will want a race there

  6. Indy 500 - no explanation necessary

  7. Milwaukee, WI - the traditional race-after-Indy.  Combined attendance will be better.

  8. Ft. Worth, TX - the IRL drew big crowds to this venue.  A merger will only help push it over 100K

  9. Cleveland, OH - A popular venue for all involved

  10. Kansas City, KS - the IRL drew big crowds to this venue.  A merger will only help push it higher

  11. Toronto, Canada - one of the strongest races on Champ Car's schedule will only get better

  12. Edmonton, Canada - another strong race on Champ Car's schedule will only get better

  13. San Jose, CA - right in the heart of Silicon Valley, a key market for sponsorship

  14. Denver, CO - another strong race on Champ Car's schedule will only get better

  15. Montreal, Canada - this race would make a strong comeback after a merger

  16. Joliet, IL -  the IRL drew big crowds to this venue.  A merger will only help push it higher

  17. Elkhart Lake, WI - How can America's Spa not be on the schedule?  A merger will boost attendance.

  18. Queensland, Australia - no explanation necessary

  19. Mexico City, Mexico - this is the stronger of the two Mexico races, and a key venue

  20. Las Vegas, NV - the sport must end its season in the USA and what better place than The Entertainment Capital of the World?

However, upon further reflection I started thinking about the bigger picture.  When you start offering up a schedule, the inherent problem of open wheel racing becomes apparent.

Is it a racing series - or just a series of events?

Where is open-wheel racing's core base?

Is there a plan in place to make it grow other than having the fans of both series begin to watch?

The key to NASCAR's success is that nobody cares where the race is - just tune in regardless - and in many cases, won't even know where it is until they see it on TV.

Now they're slowly moving into Canada and Mexico, but on a very limited basis.

On the other hand, as good as some Champ Car events are, you have to ask yourself, what does it benefit in the big picture - and would you be better-served in going someplace else that works better strategically.

Champ Car has been racing in Canada for over 20 years, yet, during that time, only three companies have stepped up to provide any major sponsorship --- Molson as an event sponsor; Player's as a team sponsor and Mackenzie Financial as a team sponsor....today, only Molson is left and on a much smaller basis.  So I begin to wonder if three races in Canada is the right thing or is another market better served?

I often talk about all the sponsors wanting to go to China, but as great an event as it is, how many sponsors are clamoring to go to Australia?

Now I am sure they will still probably find a way to go to Australia, but to do it at the end of the season is part of Champ Car's biggest problem...leaving the country at season's end so nobody has a clue that you exist.

You want the closest thing you can get to a winning formula?

You end the season in Texas, where you have a great promoter....and you lead into it with races in Chicago and Watkins Glen...or move San Jose back in the schedule. Run in major markets to build up the season finale. And you have to do all that and end the season as close to Labor Day as possible (end of September)...keep in mind the IRL was paid an ADDITIONAL $5 mill by ABC to end the season when they did so ABC could fit in the last 1/3 of the NASCAR schedule that they recently bought.

Here's a schedule that might serve the series a whole lot more:

  1. St. Petersburg, FL

  2. Mexico City, Mexico

  3. Surfers Paradise, Australia

  4. Motegi, Japan

  5. Beijing, China

  6. Long Beach, CA (if you want Indy build-up, you must race in the USA immediately beforehand...where better than in LA?)

  7. Indy 500

  8. Milwaukee, WI

  9. Kansas City, KS (night race)

  10. Cincinnati/Kentucky (night race)

  11. Cleveland, OH (night race)

  12. Edmonton, Canada

  13. Toronto, Canada

  14. Montreal, Canada

  15. Watkins Glen, NY (Philadelphia, PA if it ever materializes)

  16. San Jose, CA

  17. Elkhart Lake, WI

  18. Denver, CO

  19. Chicago, IL

  20. Houston, TX

  21. Dallas, TX

Put it all together and you run the early portion of the schedule overseas so you can come back to North America and build up momentum....After Indy, you spend the majority of the next six weeks in the Midwest where Indy's popularity is the greatest with a series of night races involved that you package as a promotional tool (i.e., Budweiser's Hot Summer Nights, etc. on consecutive Saturday nights, same time, same channel and promote the hell out of it).

Being in the Midwest after Indy makes it easier on teams after a long stretch first abroad, then at Indy.....and even more important, it allows the writers who cover Indy to start covering more events -- just like they used to do. Open-wheel needs to start somewhere in this area. Look at how many daily newspapers actually travel and cover NASCAR, then look and see how many cover open-wheel racing (1 - the Indy Star). Run races in Indy, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toronto and you'll get more that cover multiple races.

And then when you get to the championship portion of the season, you end the season in San Jose, Denver, Chicago, Houston and Dallas. Big markets, lots of publicity. Then you have a Texas Two-Step for the title, which provides another marketing opportunity, but just as importantly can be sold as an easy to cover trip to get more exposure.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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