The 2013 IndyCar Series schedule was announced on Sunday night. The 2012 schedule took the 2011 list and revised the basic structure, the 2013 calendar shows definite progress in building a defined schedule for the medium-term.
As ever there are pros and cons to any race calendar, they are always a balancing act between what the fans want, what the teams and sponsors want, what the series itself wants, and what is actually available.
Most of the IndyCar bloggers have come out with a very similar format to analyse this and I’m not going to stray far from it. I’ve seen at least four splitting it down into ‘Good’, ‘Bad’ and ‘Ugly’. I find that unnecessarily pessimistic as you’ve got two negatives to one positive. I prefer to look at the Good and the Bad then have a little summary.
- 16 solid venues in 2013. Compared with 2012’s 15 solid, 1 vapourware (China) and 1 cancellation (Las Vegas). Good to get firm confirmation rather than have question marks all year. That happened all the time at the end of the CART/ChampCar era and I hope Bernard has learned. And at these 16 venues we get 19 races.
- Doubleheaders. 19 races at 16 venues is achieved by having 3 doubleheaders. I’ll come back to this as there’s not a lot I like, except it is a new idea and that shows IndyCar leadership is willing to try new things. I can’t mark them down for trying even if I don’t like what they try. Shows initiative. I like using these races to trial standing starts. One race with standing starts, one race with rolling. Just like WTCC!
- Early announce. The schedule has been announced at the beginning of October. That’s a miracle by IndyCar standards! Teams can now plan ahead effectively and more easily pitch to sponsors.
- Continuity. Breeding familiarity in the race order is a sign of a maturing schedule, it is good to see after the gutting of 2012. There are big changes but the backbone is the same.
- Pocono! The return of the big triangle. Mixed feelings. I’ve not seen much racing there and I hear frequent complains about NASCAR’s 500-mile events being boring, however everybody who saw them absolutely raves about the old USAC and CART open wheel races there in the 1970s and 80s. We’ve got a 400-mile race there and calls for it to be extended to 500 so it’ll be interesting to see how it turns out. As a flat oval it is traditional IndyCar territory so I’m cautiously excited.
- Triple Crown! The Pocono races of old were a part of a Triple Crown: if a driver won all 3 races he’d win a million dollars! Okay so it is a little crass but that is American razzmatazz. The Triple Crown is back! It’ll be take in the Indy 500, Pocono 400 and Fontana 500. Win two to win $250k, win all three to get $1m. It adds an extra layer of storyline to the mix and keeps things interesting so I’m all for it. Okay if it were a top team in the running it won’t be as interesting but imagine a lesser-funded team or driver has won Indy – you can think somebody like Ed Carpenter has his eye on this prize.
- Houston! Another new race is always fun, or should I say a returning race (hey we’re unified, it counts). It’s a big city so should be quite popular. I don’t know what the racing was like in the Champ Car era as it fell into the gap of years I missed, so I’m being cautious on this one.
- Iowa isn’t a night race any more. I know it looked ultra-cool at night but night races in the US start at 2am here. I’m purely selfish in preferring a race starting at 6 or 7pm UK time on Sunday. Of course this happens to be Le Mans weekend so I might’ve been up after all, but at least it moves it until after the 24hrs.
- Fontana is a 500-miler again and is the season-closer again, despite being a month later. Great idea. This year’s race was utterly compelling and was a true championship decider. This series tends to decide champions at the last race. The alternative was to end at Houston, I’m okay with street races but I don’t like ending the season on them, too much of a lottery even against a superspeedway. This isn’t a street vs oval point, it is a point about a big notable race to sign off for winter. Make a statement.
- US TV coverage. The first ABC race is at Indy then they take 5 of the next 6 races. Excellent idea. Grab the audience with the big race then keep hold of them for a few weeks to bump up viewership. I really do like this idea. No offence to an NBCSN crew who do a brilliant job, but their ratings stink at the moment. Plus ABC have the Texas Saturday night race which is a Big Deal ratings-wise, if that doesn’t work little will. This is an incremental improvement rather than wholesale change and it seems the most sensible thing to do with the allocations available.
- Canadians get a better deal too, after years and years of complaining. They listened! Embrace it.
(We may have to wait a little while before finding out the UK deal.)
- No oval race before Indy. I know they have a ton of practice at Indy, it isn’t the same as racing. Teams, drivers and most importantly the fans need to see cars on an oval before the big one. I am torn though, a part of me thinks the unknowns created drama at Indy and no race does level the playing field for Indy-only teams.
- Deadwood. Some of the more tedious races are still there. I’m thinking specifically of Belle Isle and Sonoma. The DW12 transformed the racing at most tracks this year brilliantly, but not at these two.
- Belle Isle directly after Indy. Not only that, it has one of the double-headers. Buzzkiller. It only seems to be a favourite among attendees – more than one person told me it was great in person. Yet I haven’t seen a good IndyCar or CART race there in any iteration. Is there something wrong with the TV presentation? Maybe that can be looked at along with track layout.
Indy should always be followed directly by Milwaukee anyway, that’s the proper tradition.
- Double-headers. Okay here’s the thing. Double-headers work really well for touring cars, they work really well for ladder open wheel series, they work really well on short oval tracks. The reason they work is because the races are shorter. Two IndyCar-length races in two days is going to be tough on everyone involved in the series. It may be tough on the casual fans too who will probably just watch one of them, they may even think there is only one race that weekend. The hard-cores will probably lap it up, especially Toronto and Houston.
- Race split. One of the quirks of IndyCar not seen anywhere else is the split between ovals, road courses and street races. It’s a Big Deal among fans. This year including doubles we have 6 ovals, 3 roads (ouch) and 10 street races. I’m more okay with streets than most IndyCar commenters I see, but half the schedule is crazy! I’m a fan of natural road courses and ovals with the odd street race. More of the former two in 2014, please. We all know the ‘most wanted’ list so I won’t repeat it here.
- Edmonton. I’m not crying about this loss as I never liked it, even the new layout, but it is a town with a strong supportive fanbase so it gets a minus mark.
- Gaps. There are notable gaps in July, August and especially September. I can easily accept a summer break in August especially after that exceptionally punishing May-June-July stint, and that really is tough with two 500 mile races and two double-header street courses. Unlike most American bloggers I am not suggesting all gaps be filled – that would be crazy and you’d have a mutiny on your hands. The crew guys need a rest and they want to see their families in the school break. Give that to them. Not only that, nobody can watch IndyCar every single week for two or three months! I actually want to make use of summer to have a life if that’s okay with you!
September is less understandable, there’s only one race in the whole month. It is clear something was supposed to go there but fell through. There’s still scope for a little bit of shuffling about.
On the whole it is a good schedule balancing recent tracks with two returning venues. A lot of tracks which produced awful races with the previous IndyCar came alive with the DW12 chassis, so there’s less of a desire to strike off the Mid-Ohios and Barbers of the world.
Double-headers are an interesting experiment and despite Randy Bernard’s protestations I think they’ll remain an experiment – if we see them at all in 2014 I bet it’ll only be at one event.
Too many street races though. I know that’s where the money is and modern fans seem to prefer things to come to them, but if we’re having them I’d like a review of their designs and some proper resurfacing done.
2013 IndyCar Series Schedule
24 March – St Petersburg (S)
7 April – Barber Motorsports Park (R)
21 April – Long Beach (S)
5 May – Sao Paulo (S)
26 May – Indianapolis Motor Speedway (O)
1 June – Belle Isle, Detroit (S)
2 June – Belle Isle, Detroit (S)
8 June – Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth (O) (night)
15 June – Milwaukee Mile (O)
23 June – Iowa Speedway (O)
7 July – Pocono Raceway (O)
13 July – Exhibition Place, Toronto (S)
14 July – Exhibition Place, Toronto (S)
4 August – Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (R)
25 August – Sonoma (R)
1 September – Baltimore (S)
5 October – Reliant Park, Houston (S)
6 October – Reliant Park, Houston (S)
19 October – Auto Club Speedway, Fontana (O) (night)
I’ve added these dates to my TMR Google/iCal calendars which you can import for your own use. If you subscribed earlier in the year these should be visible to you already.