2013 IndyCar schedule set to expand

UPDATE #3 SPEED.com IndyCar Series Insider & frequent Wind Tunnel guest and co-host, Robin Miller, recently spoke to IndyCar Series President Randy Bernard about his newly aggressive stance on setting the 2013 schedule. This past week’s announcement about the series returning to Houston could be just the beginning.

Miller talked about how he envisions the next few months playing out:

SPEED: What’s behind IndyCar’s aggressive push towards 2013 scheduling?

Miller: It wasn’t (Randy Bernard’s) fault, but this year’s scheduling was kind of a disaster. They didn’t get the schedule out. It was so late and long after budgets were made. You’re trying to find enough solvent ovals to run on, and go to some places that promoters can actually make some money, or where they want the series back. Baltimore was a hang-up because you didn’t know if you were going to go back there. He didn’t want to put a schedule out with 12 races, so he really kind of had his hands tied. He’s bound and determined that for 2013, he’s going to have the schedule out a month before the last race. The way it’s looking, he may have some pretty tough decisions to make when he thinks about who makes it, and who doesn’t make it. I’m kind of dazzled by all the tracks that are interested right now.

SPEED: Any tracks in danger at this point?

Miller: I wouldn’t say danger so much. They told Mid-Ohio (Lexington, Ohio) and Sonoma (Infineon Raceway), ‘you need to make some changes to the race track, so we can keep coming back.’ Those tracks were built 60 years ago and are narrow with limited braking zones, and no real straightaways. They both assured IndyCar they would make the changes but if they don’t, then it could be Laguna Seca (Monterey, Calif.) and Portland. Laguna Seca is certainly interested in maybe having a doubleheader someday with ALMS (American Le Mans Series). Milwaukee is a one-year deal. Michael Andretti is trying to save Milwaukee and I think they are going about it the right way as ticket prices are really reasonable – and the people I talk to are responding. Michael’s going to have a good crowd at Milwaukee, and they want to try and keep that going. Fontana (Calif.) is a big question mark. They haven’t been to Fontana in over a decade, but the last time they were there, they had one or two grandstand sections open. It’s a challenge because you have to kind of weigh everything. Do they want us there? Do we want to go back there? Is it profitable for everybody? There are a lot of questions that have to be asked towards a track.

SPEED: What is Randy’s philosophy in building the schedule?

Miller: I think he started out in the job wanting to keep it balanced between ovals and road courses. Then I think he saw the reality was ovals are really a tough sell. Iowa (Speedway in Newton) by far, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, are pretty much capacity every year. People get there (Iowa) early and stay late. It’s probably the best oval besides Indy. Texas still drew pretty well through the years, as they still had 75,000 on many occasions. Last year it was down a little bit, but it was still a nice crowd. They had 60,000 people or so. You just have to ask if they are going to stay on 1.5-mile ovals built for NASCAR. I think the trend there is, if they can go back to Phoenix, and they can go back to Richmond (Va.), and you’ve got Iowa, Indy and Milwaukee. Maybe you can try Michigan again someday. I think Randy’s whole deal now is that they have to go where it’s viable for IndyCar. It has to work for both people, and you have to go where people want you. As hard as it is for old school people, like me, to only see five ovals out of 16 races, it’s the reality of what’s happening. NASCAR has pretty much taken over all the ovals, so Indy car is battling to keep a half-dozen of the good ones on the schedule.

SPEED: What about Austin (Texas) and the new Circuit of the Americas track? Seems like an interesting opportunity?

Miller: Considering that they haven’t even held the first Formula One race there, it’s really interesting. They approached Randy and said, ‘Hey, let’s talk about you guys coming down here and racing.’ I think he’s been down there a couple of times and he’s going to keep talking to them. You keep hearing about the stories, about all the in-fighting down there, and what’s going to happen. But for me, the litmus test will be… what kind of crowd will the Formula One race draw? Then maybe you go from there in deciding whether or not you want to give it a shot. That’s the way I would look at it.

SPEED: What do you think about Austin as a marketplace, and do you they would receive IndyCar well?

Miller: I don’t think anyone can answer that. You have Houston which is A.J. Foyt’s home. They had pretty good crowds at the old Houston street races, and now they are going back to Houston next year with Shell sponsorship around the Reliant Center. As we’ve talked about with the Texas Motor Speedway, it gets the second biggest crowd to Indianapolis every year for the IndyCar race there. There’s obviously some interest in Texas. Will there be enough interest for three races? I don’t know. I think that’s the real question. Can you have three races in Texas? Austin is pretty far removed from Houston and Dallas. I think it’s going to be a real tough sell for Formula One because ticket prices, from what I’ve been told, are insane. Seat licenses for a Formula One race? I get emails all the time from people telling me how incredible the ticket prices are and how they’ll not even be able to go to practice.

SPEED: What tracks or market places that haven’t been discussed would you like to see on the schedule?

Miller: They have to go back to Elkhart Lake (Wis.) (Road America). It’s the best road course in North America. They tried to do something with ALMS this year, but August is the only month, and it’s the month Indy Car is going to China. They just don’t really have any openings. The most important thing is that ALMS and IndyCar have the same audience. When they have a doubleheader, it works. It works at Long Beach, it works at Mid-Ohio. It’s a great crossover crowd. All the cities I mentioned in the story I just wrote for SPEED.com, those are the ones that are in play. If they can somehow pull off a Chicago street race, that would be huge. Let’s face it, the majority of IndyCar fans, are Midwestern fans. They always have been. I would love to see us go back to Cleveland. I think you could run Cleveland and Mid-Ohio together. They used to do it all the time and pack them both. But (race Chairman and CEO) Mike Lanigan, who’s promoting Houston and was the last promoter in Cleveland, said that he would love to go back to Cleveland, but not without a title sponsor. The first title sponsor he got was Shell, and they are going to Houston because that’s their headquarters.

03/30/12 Phoenix International Raceway (PIR), which lost several hundred thousand dollars on the poorly attended 2005 IndyCar race, would need a substantial discount from IndyCar’s usual $1.5 million fee. Since PIR likely will continue to host NASCAR’s second 2013 race, March 3, and doesn’t want an event in February, the most attractive IndyCar date probably would be April 13, 2013.

That’s the weekend before the Long Beach Grand Prix in California. Bernard said that was “very doable" even though his April schedule this season is demanding: Birmingham, Ala.; Long Beach; and Sao Paulo, Brazil. Cargo planes transport the cars there the weekend after Long Beach.

“If we can find the right date, I think we can work all the financials out," Bernard said.

Sperber wants a test involving several top drivers to assess the potential for good racing after last year’s $10 million repaving and reconfiguration (JR Hildebrand and Marco Andretti tested recently but not in tandem). IndyCar has new chassis and engines from Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus. Bernard said, “We can pull (the test) off."

Indy racing at PIR dates to 1964. The best-attended event is believed to have been 1993, about 35,000 paying fans. Announced attendance at the recent NASCAR Subway Fresh Fit 500 was 76,000. Tucson Citizen

03/30/12 With the announcement Wednesday that Houston will host an IndyCar race next season came a story that race officials in Austin also hope to host the open-wheel series. Speed TV’s Robin Miller said on “Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain" and on the network’s website this week that local officials are working to bring IndyCar to the Circuit of the Americas beginning next year.

“They approached us about having a race next year and we’re evaluating it," IndyCar chief executive Randy Bernard told Miller.

Bernard is hoping to have 19 to 20 races on the 2013 calendar, Miller is reporting, and other tracks are interested, including Palm Springs, Calif., Phoenix and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. There are 16 races on this year’s calendar.

“We have no formal agreements beyond those already announced to unveil at this time," Julie Loignon told the American-Statesman this week.

A Formula One race is planned at the circuit the weekend of Nov. 16 through 18, and Australian V8 Supercars are scheduled beginning next year. The Statesman

03/29/12 This year’s IndyCar schedule has 16 events, and IndyCar boss Randy Bernard said the circuit wants to add up to three more races by next year, all in American cities, but what we don't know is what races on this year's schedule won't be there in 2013 – like Fontana for example, which is likely to have a small crowd in September.

With a return to Houston in 2013 ready to be confirmed on Wednesday, representatives from Austin, Palm Springs, Pocono, Fort Lauderdale, Richmond, Phoenix, Portland and Elkhart Lake have either met with INDYCAR’s CEO or made it known they’d like to discuss the future.

"It’s encouraging that so many tracks or cities are interested,’’ said Bernard, speaking from Houston where he was attended the press conference for the Shell-sponsored race around Reliant Park and promoted by IndyCar team co-owner Mike Lanigan.

"I’ve been doing a lot of traveling and talking to try and see who is serious about racing with us.’’

Here’s a capsule look at the players:

AUSTIN: Formula One is making its debut on the 3.4-mile road course in November but Bernard says, "They approached us about having a race next year and we’re evaluating it.’’ Is Texas big enough for an oval (Texas Motor Speedway), a street race (Houston) and a road race (Austin)?

FORT LAUDERDALE: A proposed street course by the Atlantic Ocean. :I’m optimistic,’’ said Bernard, who has been negotiating for more than a year with the promoters [Editor's Note: But there is a fight over control and that might kill what could be a great season ending event].

PHOENIX: A bastion of Indy car racing since 1964, PIR was a casualty of The Split – going from a crowd of 64,000 in 1995 to a few thousand by 2000 and was finally dropped after 2005. "Bryan Sperber (PIR president) and I are talking and trying to find a date that works for both of us,’’ said Bernard. [Editor's Note: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result – – Albert Einstein].

PALM SPRINGS: A new road course is being built that may or may not be finished in time for 2013. "I’ve seen their plans and it’s going to be a first class track and would be a great compliment to IndyCar,’’ said Bernard. [Editor's Note: This road race can replace Fontana when it dies away due to lack of attendance, which is pretty much guaranteed.].

POCONO: Originally built for Indy cars and part of the Triple Crown with Ontario, Calif. and Indianapolis, the tri-oval hasn’t hosted open wheel since CART left after1989. Brandon Igdalsky, president of Pocono and grandson of the late owner, was IndyCar’s guest last weekend at St. Pete. :They’re re-paving the track right now, it’s got safer barriers and Brandon is very interested in bringing back Indy cars,’’ said Bernard. [Editor's Note: Been there, done that. Mario Andretti who is from Pennsy, AJ Foyt, the Unsers and Donohue could not make this track work for IndyCar.].

ELKHART LAKE: The kick-ass 4-mile road course remains the best test of road racing in North America but hasn’t hosted open wheel since Champ Car’s last appearance in 2007. An attempt was made to run ALMS/IndyCar doubleheader this summer but August was the offer from Road America and that month didn’t work for INDYCAR. "It’s on my big list,’’ said Bernard. [Editor's Note: Great road race facility, should be on schedule but Road America has so many races in one year, plus Milwaukee is right down the road, the fans are tapped out. Race needs a big sponsor to step up and give away free tickets if you test drive a car. Chevy is already a track sponsor. Would they make the step up as title sponsor and call it the Chevy GP at Road America?].

PORTLAND: A popular stop for CART in the ‘80s and ‘90s, attendance began plummeting in the 2000s and the 2007 finale with Champ Car was desolate. "I hear the new owner is interested in talking to us,’’ said Bernard. [Editor's Note: Been there, done that. Nice city but track is a dump].

RICHMOND: A good, steady draw for the IRL from 2001-2007. The first four races were highly entertaining and the last three were parades. Track president Dennis Bickmeier is a big open wheel fan. "I definitely want to talk to Richmond,’’ said Bernard. [Editor's Note: Been there, done that. NASCAR track and NASCAR fan base.].

There have also been rumblings that Chicago might want to put on a street race by Lake Michigan and Australia desires bringing back Indy cars with Power, Dixon and Briscoe. [Editor's Note: Now we are talking.] SpeedTV.com

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