If you’ve read any of the IndyCar forums around, you’ll have noticed a lot of belly-aching about the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule. Of course, no matter what the schedule was there would have been complaining. It is, after all, the #1 passtime of those of us on the net. I want to take some time and examine this schedule and compare it to previous schedules keeping in mind that the goals of the league, and the preference stated by many fans, are for a balanced oval/twisty schedule with significant a diversity of courses. First of all, lets look at what the 2011 schedule actually is.
2011 IZOD IndyCar Series Racing Event Schedule
|Mar 27||Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg||St. Petersburg, FL||Temporary Street Circuit|
|Apr 10||Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by Legacy Credit Union ‡||Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, AL||Natural Terrain Road Course|
|Apr 17||Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach +||Long Beach, CA||Temporary Street Circuit|
|May 1||Sao Paulo Indy 300||Sao Paulo, Brazil||Temporary Street Circuit|
|May 29||Indianapolis 500 Mile Race||Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Speedway, IN||2.5-Mile Superspeedway|
|Jun 11||Firestone Twin 275s||Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, TX||1.5-Mile D-Oval|
|Jun 19||The Milwaukee Mile *||The Milwaukee Mile, West Allis, WI||1-Mile Flat Oval|
|Jun 25||Iowa Corn Indy 250||Iowa Speedway, Newton, IA||0.875-Mile D-Oval|
|Jul 10||Honda Indy Toronto||Toronto, Ontario||Temporary Street Circuit|
|Jul 24||Honda Indy Edmonton||City Centre Airport, Edmonton, Alberta||Temporary Airport Circuit|
|Aug 7||Honda Indy 200 presented by Westfield Insurance +||Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, OH||Natural Terrain Road Course|
|Aug 14||New Hampshire Motor Speedway *||New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Louden, NH||1-Mile Flat Oval|
|Aug 28||Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma||Infineon Raceway, Sonoma, CA||Natural Terrain Road Course|
|Sep 4||Baltimore Grand Prix * +||Baltimore, MA||Temporary Street Circuit|
|Sep 18||Indy Japan 300||Twin Ring Motegi, Motegi, Tochigi||1.5-Mile Asymmetric Oval|
|Oct 2||Kentucky Indy 300 *||Kentucky Motor Speedway, Sparta, KY||1.5-Mile D-Oval|
|Oct 16||TBD||TBD (Las Vegas Motor Speedway?)||TBD (1.5-Mile D-Oval)|
* Events still in need of a title sponsor
+ Event weekend shared with ALMS
‡ Event weekend shared with Grand-Am
Lets take a look at the breakdown of track types:
- Oval Tracks
- 2(3) 1.5-Mile D-Ovals
- 2 1-Mile Flat Ovals
- 1 0.875-Mile D-Oval
- 1 2.5-Mile Superspeedway
- Road and Street Courses
- 4 Temporary Street Circuits
- 3 Natural Terrain Road Courses
- 1 Temporary Airport Circuit
Take a look at that breakdown again. Out of the 16, potentially 17, races to happen in 2011, there will be no less than seven different types of circuits! Show me any other series in the world that races on such a diverse collection of racing circuits. Anyone? Anyone? Exactly, there ISN’T one. While we may complain that our favourite track isn’t on the schedule, if you really take an objective look at what we have, you’ll see a schedule visiting diverse markets racing on diverse circuits providing one of the best driving challenges for competitors in all of motorsport. Sure there are some events that we may not like as well as others. I’m not especially keen on Edmonton, other’s dislike the 1.5-mile “cookie cutter” tracks, and others still aren’t happy with the street circuits. No schedule for any racing series is ever going to fulfill the desires of every racing fan. The 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule, though, has something for everyone. If there’s events that you can’t stand, then treat the schedule like a Chinese buffet; take what you want and leave the rest.
There are many advantages to next year’s schedule. For starters, some of the deadwood has been cleared from the schedule. Many of the ISC events such as Kansas and Homestead, have had a history of poor promotion and predictably poor attendance. This year, even the Chicagoland race attendance was down significantly as was its promotion. Not an unrelated correlation, I should think. While divesting the 2011 schedule of any ISC involvement may restrict what oval tracks are available, SMI has stepped up its involvement and offered a couple of great additions to offset the ISC loss. One of the leagues stated priorities has been a balance between ovals and road courses. I think we see this with this schedule. Even if its not exactly 50-50, the league has been working extremely hard to make the distribution as even as possible given the available circuits. Their work to get the Milwaukee Mile back on the schedule for 2011 is surely a sign of that as is their ongoing efforts to secure the Las Vegas Motor Speedway as the season finale. One other advantage to dropping the relationship with ISC is that we lost three 1.5-mile “cookie cutter” tracks and gained two short flat ovals. Both the Milwaukee Mile and the New Hampshire Motor Speedway are regarded as driver’s tracks. Not to say that driving a 1.5-mile d-oval is easy or simple by any stretch, but these two 1-mile flat tracks require a much greater degree of driver involvement and input which should allow the smaller teams with good drivers an opportunity to score an upset.
The twisty part of the schedule offers up just as much diversity of circuit styles as does the oval part. With street circuits, natural terrain road circuits, and an airport circuit, there’s plenty of different types of events that everyone should be able to find something they like. In the past, we’ve seen some real parades at some of the road and street circuits, but this season has given us hope for some of the historical repeat offenders. Sonoma (aka Snornoma, aka Infiniyawn) has typically been a real snoozer of a race, but this year’s event was brilliant with some great racing action including some excellent overtaking maneuvers. The T7/T7a complex proved to be golden in terms of producing great racing action. Street circuits typically get a bad rap for producing processional events, but St. Pete and Toronto shown brilliantly as normal with great action to be had at both events. The new Sao Paulo circuit also turned out to be an excellent circuit conducive to exciting moments throughout the track. This bodes well for the new Baltimore circuit around the Inner Harbor. NZR Consulting designed both the Sao Paulo circuit as well as the Baltimore circuit, so we could see another fantastic street racing event in 2011.
No schedule is ever ideal, and this one is no different. As much as I like the way 2011 is shaping up, there are a couple of additions that significantly improve the schedule. The one real standout that is missing from the schedule that has been a part of open-wheel racing for many years in the past are the 2.0-mile superspeedway events. Michigan International Speedway and the Auto Club Speedway (aka Fontana) have both provided some epic open-wheel races in the past, and it would be good to have a couple of 400-mile events back on the schedule. However, both speedways are owned by ISC and their inclusion now and in the future continues to remain iffy at best. Fontana is a bit more likely as they recently lost their second Sprint Cup date, and have sent out feelers to the league about hosting an open-wheel event. With the relationships between ISC and IndyCar racing still strained, this move seems doubtful.
The other missing piece of the ideal schedule puzzle is the inclusion of a classic American natural terrain road course. Either Road Atlanta or Road America would make excellent additions to the schedule and bring some history and nostalgia in the case of Road America, and significant prestige and a new market in the case of Road Atlanta. Both are excellent, well designed road circuits capable of producing outstanding open-wheel racing. However, neither venue is banging down Mr. Bernard’s door to be included in the IZOD IndyCar Series tour.
So in the end, we didn’t get EVERYTHING we wanted for the 2011 schedule this year, but we certainly can’t be too disappointed in it, either. There’s a lot of promise in this schedule and a lot of potential for great racing. Sure it would be nice to be at Road America, or to have a 400-mile event at MIS again, but in the end we have a diverse schedule with ovals, road circuit, big tracks, small circuits, Sunday afternoon races in park-like settings, and Saturday night specials. I say we’re headed in a good direction. What’s your take?