Race Weekend Central

The 2013 IndyCar Schedule: The Good, Questionable, and Baffling

This past weekend, IndyCar took time out of its continued political power-play fiasco to deliver the 2013 schedule. The release of an event schedule should be one of the prime things that happens in the off-season, the thing that draws fan interest, that brings a sense of optimism, and elicits some sense of curiosity or debate from the media – unless, of course, you’re NASCAR and you trot out the same tired schedule again.

The problem is that the response has been tepid.

So IndyCar did its best, laying out a schedule that features, um, 19 races, yet 16 weekend’s worth of action. To Randy Bernard’s credit, he is moving closer to his desire of 20 races for the season, but in a way that feels uncomfortable, like making out with your second cousin – just because it might be legal doesn’t necessarily make it the best idea.

Let’s look at what’s good. First, the return of Pocono. The tricky triangle returns to the schedule for the first time since 1989. It’s been so long that none of the drivers in the series have raced there, except maybe Dario Franchitti when he dabbled in NASCAR. With the cars seemingly improving, with regards to racing on ovals, this addition is a solid one. In conjunction, IndyCar has instituted a Triple Crown incentive, with the driver who is able to win Indy, Pocono and Fontana earning an extra million dollars.

Adding Houston to the schedule is also a positive move though many are probably wondering why IndyCar isn’t trying to use the new F1 track in Austin, TX. Bernard cited the need to race in fourth largest TV market, Houston, rather than attempt that idea. (Or the sanctioning fee was prohibitive and no one wanted to bring up that point.) The inclusion of a new track is always fascinating as it can bring about the unexpected.

And let’s look at what’s debatable. The double-headers. IndyCar is attempting to eke out what it considers to be more events by hosting races on both Saturday and Sunday that offer equal points to the drivers. Detroit, Toronto and Houston will be the sites for these double-header racing experiments. The big difference each day is that one race will feature a standing start, while the other uses the common rolling start. Heck, why not go back to the days when the drivers used to run to their cars? (Safety concerns will never let that happen again.)

It seems that those in charge at IndyCar felt that the double-header at Texas in 2011 must have been some kind of success. It’s hard to know if this maneuver is the right one to make. Here’s a couple points of contention. First, will fans be interested in watching the drivers race the same course on back-to-back days? There’s a sense of monotony that could creep into the endeavor of being unique. The TV numbers will be illustrative of how this idea will work. In addition, does a driver get some kind of bonus if he/she wins both races? There seems to be some more explanation of the benefit of this idea.

That aside, what does it mean for the race teams? How many extra cars and parts will they have to have on hand should misfortune meet a driver who wrecks in qualifying, then in the first race? Or is it possible, that a team, recognizing that their shot of doing well in the first race is nil, pulls off the track, saving the car for the next day – meaning that only a select few are willing to go all out for both races? There are a number of hypotheticals that haven’t been addressed with this aspect.

As for the disappointing, there are a few here. The first thing is what’s not on the schedule. Again, Watkins Glen fails to make it. And the promoter snafu that kept Edmonton off of the schedule is frustrating. It’d also be great to see Laguna Seca be there, but it seems that will never come to fruition. The lack of oval tracks is also a cause for concern as having just six races of them doesn’t seem to be a strong number, though it is one more than 2012. Why not be adventurous though and think about racing at the improved Rockingham track? Or how about a return to Homestead – eh, maybe scratch that idea as South Florida is a fickle market – so maybe Richmond wouldn’t be a bad place to try again.

One of the big problems with the schedule is that it starts on March 24th and does not conclude until October 19th. For a series that is racing primarily in America and trying to grow its fanbase, racing well into the dual threat of football and NASCAR’s Chase could be an issue. But in a strictly logistical sense, does it really take seven months to race all of nineteen times? The gaps that occur in the schedule beginning in late July are questionable, with the most egregious being the break from September 1st (Baltimore) to October 5th (Houston). The large gap in time would seem insinuate that a race might be added, but there’s little impetus behind that idea.

For all the criticism leveled here, at least IndyCar is trying. They’re not sticking with what they had and there is a effort to try new things. Whether all of these changes work, which would mean more attention, is unknown at this point, but some kind of change had to be done. So for all the idiocy that seems to be happening with regards to IndyCar and the coup attempts, at least Bernard is trying to do what he thinks is best and that’s what matters right now.

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