The big news this week involves road course testing at IMS for IndyCars in preparation for an act of desperation next May (a bad idea) and a possible ‘winter’ schedule for the IndyCars outside the United States (potentially great idea). We will tackle the winter schedule idea first. Why might it be a potentially great idea when prior attempts by a variety of series have failed? It all depends on how it structured. Derrick Walker’s notion that it would enhance the cash flow of teams that are idled for nearly half the year and thus keep teams busy (and presumably team members employed) all year has merit.
Running races across oceans would also facilitate and enable the shockingly obvious formula one-abee fantasies most of the owners and drivers espouse because probably 100% of the events would be either on road or temporary circuits in areas where that type of racing is actually popular. The notion of a winter championship might also carry potential for renewed interest by racing fans here and abroad.
The big ‘if’ is how it gets funded. Snagging a large corporate backer seems unlikely, and soaking local and regional governments for funding rarely lasts more than a year or two after they figure out they are more often victim than partner. The cost of travel becomes important when dealing with far flung locales. It is quite expensive to move cars, equipment and infrastructure across oceans.
The other question is when would such a schedule take place? In a perfect scheduling world, the IndyCar Series would run a 20-race event schedule domestically. It would begin BEFORE the Daytona 500 (but after the Super Bowl) and end by Labor Day (completely avoiding the NFL). That is about thirty weeks. That leaves another twenty or so for offshore excursions. Winter weather for three months would be very iffy and warm weather sites would need to be selected. Logistically IndyCar would be lucky to squeeze 8 or 9 foreign races into the schedule given travel, holidays and weather.
If the domestic schedule begins prior to Daytona, warm weather venues are absolutely necessary. And there would need to be SIX of them prior to May in Indy. The schedule needs TRUE balance and not Walker’s 67% non-oval imbalance. That means 10 ovals. Big ovals are Indy, Pocono and Fontana. Intermediate ovals would be Texas and either Kentucky or Chicagoland. Small ovals would be Iowa, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Memphis and Rockingham. Of the ten remaining venues five would be natural terrain road courses and five would be temporary circuits: Birmingham, Mid-Ohio, COTA, Watkins Glen, Sonoma, Long Beach, St. Pete, Detroit, Toronto and Baltimore. THAT is balance and there are plenty of alternate options for each type of circuit if scheduling or terms become problems.
One the most colossally bad ideas to come down the pike in a while is an idea hatched by complete outsiders with no real cognizance of the history of the 500, respect for its legacy or much less what it actually means today. That idea is an Indy road course race in May using Indy Cars. From a tangible standpoint it dilutes the May main event and probably will not generate much additional revenue. From an intangible standpoint it screws with mystique and slaps karma right across its face, and that seriously tempts fate. The last time something that brazen occurred was 1996 when the ‘stars n’ cars’ loudly hissed about how THEY and THEIR event were what was important that Memorial weekend in Michigan and not what was happening in Indianapolis. And then half the field of these ‘superior’ drivers drove right into the wall on the pace lap and the event was one and done. If history holds true many who are guiding decision making in 2013 retain the same combination of ignorance and arrogance that threatens the sport, and the floundering may continue. My prediction: A road course ‘race’ gets rubber-stamped by the IMS brass within a month and everybody basically says ‘f^(# the past 100 years . . . it’s just another track.’ Wonder when/if they start listening to ALL the fans? Looks like not in the lifetimes of anyone considered an ‘old timer.’ We all know they have to both think and act outside the box, but there are options that make sense and options that defy it. It is not difficult now to predict their course. Like any other real racing fan our only choice is rolling with the flow, but it feels more like biting a pillow considering the money many of us have spent there over the decades.