Mark Miles and Scott Dixon on 2016 IndyCar schedule

Mark Miles
Mark Miles

THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone, to today's IndyCar media teleconference. Earlier today IndyCar announced the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule which features 16 races over a span of five weeks longer than the 2015 season.

We're pleased to be joined by Mark Miles, the CEO of Hulman Motorsports, the parent of IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

Mark, 2016 will truly be an epic season for the Verizon IndyCar Series, with the historic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Can you speak to the significance of this milestone event in the context of the overall schedule.

MARK MILES: I think the 2016 season is really defined by the hundredth running of the Indianapolis 500. The Verizon IndyCar Series is all about history, and there certainly is no better example in my mind in epic motorsports than the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. That event is legendary and we're pleased that we can also, with the 2016 schedule, welcome a couple of historic tracks: Road America and Phoenix.

Half of the venues on our schedule for 2016 have hosted 25 or more Indy car races. They further enrich our heritage and I think they speak to the staying power and now the growing popularity of the Indy car racing.

THE MODERATOR: Scott, before we get your thoughts on the schedule, you and teammate Tony Kanaan competed in the half-Ironman in Miami. How are you feeling after 70.3 miles of biking, swimming and running?

Scott Dixon
Scott Dixon

SCOTT DIXON: A lot better today. I was feeling a little rough after the race on Sunday. But it was a great event. It was my second half-Ironman, so it was nine years ago I did my first. I probably need to work on closing that gap and making it probably a little bit easier on my body.
Had a lot of fun and glad that we both made it through successfully and no major problems. Feel much better today after a nice recovery workout and excited to see this fantastic schedule for next season.

THE MODERATOR: On the schedule are two longtime Indy car strongholds: Phoenix International Raceway and Road America. You've raced at both of those in the past and tested at both. What does it mean to have those two historic tracks back on the schedule?

SCOTT DIXON: Very excited. I think Phoenix has always been a staple for me. To go back there at the start of the year for a test for Chevy, it was really exciting to be back, obviously the Phoenix area for one, and back at the track. The track has changed a little bit since we were last there in '05. It's very smooth. Lots of options I think for winds and side-by-side racing, which a one-mile track can sometimes be difficult to pull off. I think with the changes they made there, it's going to be one hell of a race for us. It definitely was in the past.

Definitely looking forward to that. It's going to be a nice one. Nice to see an oval come up early on the schedule, too. Typically we've had to wait for the Indianapolis 500 for the first one. Great to see it back on the schedule and excited to hopefully see a lot of dedicated fans that we typically have in that area.

Road America is a no-brainer. I think the last time I raced there was 2002. Just one of those legendary, old-school American tracks which we don't get to see too often on the road course side of venues. It's very reminiscent for me of Watkins Glen. Hopefully we can get Watkins Glen back on our schedule sometime in the near future, as well.

Love Road America. It was so cool to be back there. There must have been 3,000-plus fans that came out for the test day, which you typically never see. So you can see the rich fan base that we have in that part of America, and looking forward to getting back to the race. That's going to be a fantastic weekend.

Excited definitely for those two, and obviously Boston, as well.

THE MODERATOR: Mark, INDYCAR has added a significant new street course in a major Northeast market to the schedule. Talk about the importance of adding Boston to the list of venues this coming year.

MARK MILES: We are delighted to be able to add Boston to the 2016 schedule, I think particularly on Labor Day weekend when it gets down into crunch time for the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

Our desire and strategy has been able to add major markets to the schedule. Obviously, Boston as a region I think is about seventh in the country for size, is a key part of that. The fact that it's in the Northeast region where we haven't raced in the last few years is important to us as well.

Phoenix adds to that strategy. I think it's about the 14th biggest region in the country. Boston has really terrific attributes to us in addition to its size and the region of the country. We understand that something approaching 200,000 university students return to Boston around Labor Day, in fact, before the race. I know our promoter will be making a special effort to get to them and make sure they know about the race. Hopefully we'll see a lot of eager college students out there turning into IndyCar fans.

We're also pleased with the commercial progress they're making. They have signed a presenting sponsor. That puts them in good stead as they start to pull together all the financial underpinning for the event and fine promotional partners as they will now have in their sponsors. I think everybody in the series is looking forward to being there. It's a terrific setup. I don't know if Scott has had a chance to see it. Kind of goes around the Convention Center area. On both sides there's water. It's reminiscent in a sense of both St. Petersburg and Long Beach. But right near the downtown and South Boston Seaport area in such a vibrant city.

THE MODERATOR: Interest in INDYCAR is on the upswing, evidenced by a 38 percent increase in both TV ratings and viewership over the past two seasons. How do you see the 2016 schedule continuing to build on that TV momentum?

MARK MILES: It's really been a key focus of ours to work with our broadcast partners and be into the weeds on the details of the schedule in order to make ourselves as available as possible to the largest number of fans. There are a number of things in this schedule that are ways that we can do that and which we're confident will help us increase the television audience. One, this year in '15, I think there were five overlaps or scheduling conflicts with INDYCAR and NASCAR. This schedule it appears there will only be four. Each time there's one less, I think that's a good thing for race fans, full stop.

Secondly, not only are we avoiding the conflicts, but we're programming in a way that is complementary. There are three races coming right after NASCAR broadcasts on NBC Sports Network. I think we will continue to see the kind of big increases in average ratings and average viewership that we saw on those occasions where we could pull that off in 2015.

Pocono is scheduled in an interesting way. The August period is challenging in 2016 because of the Olympics, which obviously is a compelling mega sports event around the globe and in this country. So Pocono is scheduled at a time where it hits a window just following the close of the last competition that NBC will cover from the Olympics, and prior to their coverage of the Closing Ceremonies.

That's kind of threading a needle, but we think it's important to have done that for sports fans and Olympic fans and hopefully will help us with the television audience there. Finally, Sonoma is a little bit later. It's 7 p.m. Eastern time, which it was 4 p.m. in 2015. That moves it into prime time. It also is scheduled so that it comes right out of a NASCAR race coverage, Chicagoland if I remember correctly.

Finally, it largely, again, fits a little window between the NFL Sunday afternoon schedule and Sunday Night Football. Sunday Night Football starts about 8:30, our race starts about 7. The afternoon games end about 7. Hopefully three-quarters of our race will be going on between NFL football's coverage on television.

This represents a tremendous cooperation and collaboration between ourselves and our friends at NBC Sports Network. It's the kind of detail that frankly has extended the length of time it took us to get this calendar out. But I'm sure it's well worth it as it gives us every reason to be optimistic about increasing our television audience growth in what will be the third consecutive year.

THE MODERATOR: You mentioned length of the calendar. One of the goals for 2016 was to extend the schedule over a longer stretch of the calendar. We've done so by five weeks. How does this fit into the strategic vision?

MARK MILES: It sort of does and doesn't. The strategic vision isn't just to make the calendar longer as it is to make it longer and schedule it so that it is as powerful as possible in reaching out to engage more fans.

We continue to believe that the best opportunity to do that, particularly from a television perspective, is earlier in the year. We continue to work, and eventually will be able to schedule IndyCar races beginning early in February right after the Super Bowl.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]I think it's more a question of when than whether we'll be able to move into that period of time, which could be great programming, great for grabbing the attention of sports fans, motorsports fans, at that part of the year. We also did add one race, Sonoma, after Labor Day. This has been the source of a lot of discussion inside the paddock and among our stakeholders. There's no doubt that this presents a television audience challenge. That's just proven out by the kind of audience numbers and metrics that other motorsports are seeing right now, for that matter.

Yet we have to balance interest. Television is really important. Television is about fans and is our biggest opportunity to get the most number of fans watching the 9 car and Scott's competitors. It's really important to us, but it's not the only consideration.

So, for the teams we thought the balancing of interests between television and their needs was important, and therefore stretched out the calendar so that Sonoma would be mid-September, which turns out to be three weeks later than our end in 2015. So, yes, it's longer, but it's still meant to be strategic, the way we position the calendar. Earlier is better. But I think this calendar reaches a great balance between team considerations, broadcast considerations, and other points of view of our stakeholders.

THE MODERATOR: One venue not on the 2016 schedule is Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis. Can you tell us where that relationship stands.

MARK MILES: We are developing what I think is going to be a terrific productive relationship with Gateway. I have not been there myself yet, but I'm told by our people, including team owner and driver Ed Carpenter, is that the place is on its way back. It is being improved all the time and additional venue improvements are planned. Everybody is just really impressed by the job that track owner Curtis Francois and his team are making.

They didn't move it, but it apparently appears like it's right there under the arch, even in proximity to downtown St. Louis. Hopefully they will become a place we can test and then we'll see where we go from there.

THE MODERATOR: Let's open it up for questions for our guests.

Q. Mark, are there any opportunities, since you've added another ISC track in Phoenix to the schedule, of the possibility of returning to South Florida at Homestead or even the Chicagoland Speedway? I know there's a lot of people that still would probably like to see that track back on the schedule?

MARK MILES: I think we have a good relationship with ISC. The return to Phoenix, as you noted, is indicative of that. We have talked with them about all kinds of possibilities, not just the two that you mentioned. Obviously, those things get complicated. Many of them host at least one and in some instances two Cup races, and other NASCAR events. There's only so much prime time schedule-wise in the U.S. summer. There are hurdles to clear. But we have a good relationship. The lines of communication are not just open but active. We'll see if that presents options to us as we plan for the future.

Q. Scott, because of the Olympics and because of the way the calendar falls, August looks like a fairly wide-open month. You, as a driver, what is that going to be like to have all these races fast-paced, then you get a couple of weekends off?

SCOTT DIXON: Obviously, in a perfect world you'd have everything spaced accordingly. Maybe it opens up the opportunity to go to the Olympics and watch a few events. Maybe T.K. can take us down there.

We'll have to see with how testing rules are, if there's some in-season testing, open up some opportunities to be on track as well, different things like that. I think it's obviously a great schedule and something that definitely has been improved over the last year. From other things on the plate, there's some exciting things in the pipeline for making the schedule even better down the road.

Q. How much focus are you going to put in offseason testing on going to Phoenix when you get a chance?

SCOTT DIXON: A lot of that is due to I think testing rules. Obviously, the team, as well. Then there's other races we have with the 24 Hour, the Sebring 12 Hour. We'll have to see with how things go there. The body kit that will come in January or February, as well. A lot of things, just depending on timeline. Phoenix, I'm sure whether there's an Open Test there, which may happen, or if it's a team test of some sort, we'll definitely be there before the race.

MARK MILES: I'd like to elaborate a little bit on the first question of Scott. That is just to point out that, yes, in terms of looking at the calendar Pocono is the only race actually in August. But if you put the calendar side by side, '16 and '15, the spacing is the same where you go from Mid-Ohio, two weeks off, Pocono, week off, next race. It just happens that the first of those three is now the 31st of July, and the third of those three is really at the beginning of September.

In my mind it's not quite the drought that some have referred to it as, although I'm not disagreeing if we could do this from a blank piece of paper, we didn't have other television and race promoter concerns, the goal someday in theory would be week on, week off, week on, week off, so it would be easy for fans to follow the sport and for teams to prepare. Anyway, my point broadly is that I think August is not quite what it seems by glancing at the calendar and the timing of the three races in that timeframe is pretty much like it was last year.

Q. The two issues that people are talking about on social media, why does Iowa fall Sunday afternoon, and is there a duration you can speak to of Pocono's return?

MARK MILES: The second one is easier at the moment, as it has been in the past few years. It's sort of a year-to-year agreement. Iowa, I will have to go back and look. I believe that was a television consideration. There was some other event, again, in terms of our mind-set of finding the best windows to offer the best opportunity for more fans to watch. I think that is what suggested the move in Iowa.

Q. Mark, could you tell us, after the race in August, Brandon Igdalsky said they wanted to make a decision as soon as possible. Here it is almost November. Why did it take so long and can you tell us anything about the financial arrangements? There's been a lot of speculation that Pocono is paying a lower fee to host the race for next year?

MARK MILES: I don't think it's fair to announce that the release of the schedule today was a function of what we had a meeting of the minds with Pocono. Frankly, working out these television details took longer, and there were other considerations at other tracks as well. So we've known for a little while, and some have even speculated about it for some time, when we got the schedule out, Pocono would be on it. And, no, I'm not going to comment on the financial arrangements. I will say we're really pleased that Pocono is on the schedule.

As you will have noted, that means that we've got balance among the diverse tracks with five ovals and five street courses and five road courses. We want to work hard to improve the vitality of our ovals. Pocono is certainly important to us in that regard.

NASCAR is at Kentucky on Saturday night. That I think is the reason that we looked at moving Iowa to Sunday. It works for the promoter. They were OK with doing it. I think it gives us a better window.

Ecclestone's likely reaction to an IndyCar race in Mexico City on the same track F1 races on. It won't happen.
Ecclestone's likely reaction to an IndyCar race in Mexico City on the same track F1 races on. It won't happen.

Q. Mark, Mexico City, how close did you come to getting it done? What were the hurdles and what are the prospects for 2017? And Boston, how confident are you that you will definitely go ahead?

MARK MILES: I think in Mexico City, it certainly appears that the spirits are willing. I guess we have learned that patience is best and there's no point in rushing a promoter. We want to make sure anytime we add an event they have done everything necessary to make sure it's positioned to be a great IndyCar race. There's no obstacle that caused it to fall over as an option or possibility. We just felt that we should have more time to see if everything can definitely be in place. Again, that includes everything: television arrangements, looking at the calendar there, making sure that everything works at the track with sponsors and the like.

It's a good, open dialogue. It's possible at this point it could happen in '17, but not certain. We both felt that it made sense to take our time and get it right rather than be hasty. We've read some of the reports that seem to be coming pretty much from one source in Boston. They just don't square with our understanding. We understand the agreements are in place. I just don't believe there are local impediments to doing the race there. That's our understanding both from the city's administration and our promoter. Before we announced it, we had seen all the work on the track. We had been involved in meetings with folks from the Convention Center and obviously the mayor's office.

There's no big city where a street race might not create objections on the part of some people. But I think care has been taken to minimize any inconveniences in this example in Boston. I believe that the city is going to embrace it and it's going to be a very successful event.

Q. Sorry about wanting to talk about what isn't here. Regarding Milwaukee, was that race dead once the Road America folks said they weren't going to promote it? Did you actively pursue other potential promoters?

MARK MILES: We could not find a Wisconsin promoter that we felt like could make all the pieces fit. That's unfortunate. We would have liked to have continued the history in Milwaukee. Maybe someday we can get back. I don't think it's fair to say it was dead when our friends in Elkhart Lake decided not to try to do both. There were other conversations with other prospective promoters. In the end it wasn't any one, there were none. That made the decision for us.

Q. Is that people came to you or did you actively pursue other promoters?

MARK MILES: Both. We spoke with other local business people, leaders, talked about who else we might approach. We made contact, and some of our business friends in Milwaukee made contact with people it seemed worth asking the question of. Others talked with us about it.
I mean, for example, the State Fair Board itself I think would have liked to have the race stay. I think they were active in thinking about whether they might do it themselves or whether they could help identify a promoter. We are very appreciative of their efforts and sorry it didn't work out this time.

Q. How likely do you think once the ship is gone it's sailed forever?

MARK MILES: It's really hard to say. I don't feel terribly optimistic about it, although I think the Milwaukee market, darn it, it ought to work for us. There's a great tradition there. I would definitely say never say never. I mean, Phoenix and Elkhart Lake are back. That's probably noteworthy in this context.

Q. Mark, earlier this year you had talked about maybe splitting the schedule between the TV partners, trying to get NBC to put some races on network, ESPN maybe to move some of their stuff to cable. Is that something you're still working on? Have you made progress with that?

MARK MILES: What we've said is there is a model in working with our existing broadcast partners that we think can be even more potent in attracting fans. That would be kind of to split the season into halves. The perfect model is perfect continuity where one broadcaster has the first half the season and the other has the second, and where both broadcast platforms can choose between cable and free-to-air broadcasts as suits us and them.

I still believe that is the direction we need to head in '17 and '18 under our current contractual provisions and relationships with those two. I believe that there's a likelihood that both ABC and NBC are willing to kind of walk down this path with us. Our conversations for some time have been very encouraging in that regard. The Olympics in August really made it very, very difficult to figure out how to do that in '16. So still work in progress. I don't know that we're yet to perfection against that model in '17 or '18. But moving down the path where perhaps we can get closer to the model is something we're focused on for '17 and '18.

Q. Mark, other North American sports leagues seem to be looking outside the U.S. for markets and how to expand. You seem to be consolidating. How much discussion about putting international races into the calendar took place and is that gone for now?

MARK MILES: No, I think it's a matter of time. We've talked about this as part of our calendar strategy since I got involved, frankly. I want to be clear. We don't see ourselves trying to become Formula One where we go week to week, race to race around the globe. We see ourselves continuing primarily as a North American-based series. But particularly in that February period that I mentioned earlier in the call, we believe eventually we will identify a couple of international opportunities, the beginning of the championship calendar, and that will be a great way to start the earliest part of the year.

Then the way we imagine it, we'll get back to the States, like with St. Pete in the same timeframe generally that they're in now, then we'll stay in North America and conclude the championship in North America. So it's a strategy that has limited ambition for adding international events outside North America. That idea is to focus the search for that period in February.

Q. This may be little details you don't have all the answers to. It seems, based on another release, that a couple of these races go to CNBC, is that correct, Toronto and Mid-Ohio?

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]MARK MILES: It is as far as it goes. Let me elaborate. Television is a very high priority. Yes, both Mid-Ohio and Toronto will air live as currently planned on CNBC, much like Mid-Ohio did this year. We list them as NBC Sports Network in some of our stuff because, as was done with Mid-Ohio this year, there will be a broadcast on NBC Sports Network shortly after the conclusion of our race. That approach this year produced, as you probably know, a 0.4 something, very significant audience for NBC Sports Network and for IndyCar fans. There are NASCAR conflicts, if I remember correctly, that may be Olympic-driven. I'll have to go back. But we will take the same approach for each of those two that we took in one of them, Mid-Ohio, this year.

We expect that to make a very important contribution to our audience insofar as the NBC Sports Network airing of the race shortly after the race is over, and coming out of NASCAR coverage, I think helps keep us some of those NASCAR fans who are also IndyCar fans.

Q. So those are the two races, in addition to Sonoma, that you count as following NASCAR Sprint Cup races?

MARK MILES: That's right. Those together are the three.

Q. Mark, Toronto is back in its traditional July slot. Two years ago and three years ago we did have two races here in Toronto, doubleheaders. Any consideration given to bringing back the two races for 2016? If not, why not?

MARK MILES: We are pleased that the year after the Pan American Games we could get Toronto back to I don't know if it's its historic date or at least traditional date. I think our promoters would have preferred, frankly, to have a doubleheader there. We simply want to limit that. With 16 races, we have hit kind of a sweet spot now for the teams. We got a lot of feedback that's a good number. If we're going to do 16 races, obviously we've made an exception in Detroit, but I think that we'd be better off being in more markets. We made the exceptions in Detroit and obviously Indianapolis in May.

We're being a little inconsistent there, but we just felt like if we could add another market in this instance, you can think of it as Boston, that's a good thing.

Q. Going back to Phoenix, 2005 was the last time you were there. As has been pointed out, the track is different than it was at that time. It's more banked, more of a high-speed oval than it was. Tony Kanaan and Graham Rahal have tested there. Both said it's blisteringly quick. It's one thing to have cars running around by themselves. It's something else to turn 24 adrenaline junky race car drivers. Any concern about the fact that Phoenix might turn out to be too fast?

MARK MILES: We'll do all we can to make sure that it's a great race and it's a safe race. I think your question is well-informed, but I think that's something that working with the manufacturers and our own engineering group, we ought to be able to dial in just right so that it's great racing for fans. It certainly will be fast. But we want to stay on the safer side of the edge. I think that's exactly the way the drivers like it.

Q. Because of the Easter holiday, St. Petersburg was moved up two weeks. Is the date in 2016 the date you would like to see that event become in the future?

MARK MILES: Yes. Again, that's not a unilateral answer. There were a lot of conversations between us and our promoter and authorities in St. Petersburg. You're exactly right. The way the calendar worked, the most recent traditional date would have coincided with Easter. That is not what they wanted. What they wanted was for our race to move to when their local spring break happens, for the most part, in their schools. That's what was accomplished by moving to the middle of March. That will be their date for 2017, as well.

The complete schedule, with television networks and times (all ET):

Day Date Venue Type TV Time
Sun March 13 Streets of St. Petersburg Street ABC 12:30 p.m.
Sat April 2 Phoenix International Raceway Oval NBCSN 8 p.m.
Sun April 17 Streets of Long Beach Street NBCSN 4 p.m.
Sun April 24 Barber Motorsports Park RC NBCSN 3 p.m.
Sat May 14 Grand Prix of Indianapolis RC ABC 3:30 p.m.
Sun May 29 Indianapolis 500 Oval ABC 11 a.m.
Sat June 4 Raceway at Belle Isle Park Street ABC 3:30 p.m.
Sun June 5 Raceway at Belle Isle Park Street ABC 3:30 p.m.
Sat June 11 Texas Motor Speedway Oval NBCSN 8 p.m.
Sun June 26 Road America RC NBCSN 12:30 p.m.
Sun July 10 Iowa Speedway Oval NBCSN 5 p.m.
Sun July 17 Streets of Toronto Street NBCSN 3 p.m.
Sun July 31 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course RC NBCSN 2 p.m.
Sun Aug. 21 Pocono Raceway Oval NBCSN 3 p.m.
Sun Sept. 4 Streets of Boston Street NBCSN 2 p.m.
Sun Sept. 18 Sonoma Raceway RC NBCSN 7 p.m..

*Schedule subject to change. Listing indicates broadcast partner.