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INDYCAR reveals 2016 schedule with few surprises

October 27, 2015

The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule has finally been revealed, almost two months after the 2015 season ended. It contains three new or returning venues and a slightly lengthier campaign. The big sore spots are these: there’s a single race in the month of August and The Milwaukee Mile is missing from the calendar.

As expected, the season begins in mid-March (the 13th) with the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg, on the street/airport circuit of that lovely west Florida beach town, this year serving as the opening salvo for the fifth time. Easter got in the way of holding St Pete any later than it’s scheduled for 2016, but at least there’s no clash with either IMSA’s Sebring 12-hour race or NHRA’s Gatornationals, both of which take place the following weekend.

Then it’s on to Phoenix International Raceway for a Saturday night contest on April 2, this Valley of the Sun track returning to the schedule after a decade-plus-one hiatus, hosting Indy cars for the 52nd time. A traditional, April 17 date for the 42nd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is next up, followed a week later by the series’ return to Barber Motorsports Park, which has shown itself to be a very racey venue for the Indy cars.

The month of May belongs to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on IMS’ road course is scheduled for May 14th, a bit later than has been the case the last few years, while the 100th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500 takes place on May 29. The Raceway at Belle Isle Park hosts the series’ sole doubleheader the week after Indy and marks the close of ABC television’s broadcast schedule for the year. That network shows St Petersburg, nearly the entire month of May’s festivities and the Belle Isle contests; every other race is scheduled for NBCSN.

June is, as customary a very busy month for the Indy cars. After the Detroit contests, the series is off to Texas Motor Speedway for its traditional Saturday night rumble on June 11, followed by a return to the exceptional 4.048-mile Road America permanent road course on June 26. There’s a week off before the Iowa Speedway bullring gets its annual date on July 10th – INDYCAR is avoiding a race on July 4th as it just hasn’t played out right (might have worked at Watkins Glen but that’s another story) – and then travels to Toronto for a July 17 return to Exhibition Place, back on a more traditional date without the Pan Am games getting in the way.

The Indy cars go to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to end the month of July and have single, August date at Pocono Raceway on the 21st. For Labor Day, a Boston street race makes its September 4 debut while the season ends a couple of weeks later, September 18 on the Sonoma Raceway road course, where the Astor Cup’s 2016 winner is revealed. And more likely than not, it’ll come down to that final race.

The Verizon IndyCar Series season is comprised of five oval circuits, five street and five road courses for the 16 races. Of those venues, 73 percent currently have multi-year agreements in place, meaning the schedule will be stable for those events. What’s even more intriguing is the fact that nearly half have hosted Indy cars more than 25 times: Indianapolis Motor Speedway has 99 races, of course, and Phoenix International Raceway has been on the schedule 51 times. Long Beach has welcomed Indy cars 32 times, while Mid-Ohio has played host to the Indy cars on 31 occasions. Toronto’s Exhibition Place has seen 29 contests and Road America’s tree-lined circuit has heard the wails of Indy cars on 25 previous occasions.

That the season is five weeks longer than last year is a good thing; that it doesn’t start in February, rather than mid-March isn’t so great. One thing Hulman and Co. CEO Mark Miles stressed in announcing the schedule is that there isn’t much overlap with NASCAR (but there is with F1, which isn’t so great). Three of INDYCAR’s later races will be held right after a NASCAR race and shown on NBCSN, which could give the Indy cars a good lead-in and viewer retention.

The largest reason given by Miles for having a solitary August race is the Olympics, which are being shown by various NBC entities and could have killed series viewership. The series finale at Sonoma will be shown in prime time on NBCSN, directly following Chicagoland, which is customarily the beginning race of NASCAR’s Chase and thereby gets great viewership.

Things do look positive for the Indy cars with this schedule, despite the loss of the oldest, continuously running oval in the United States, The Milwaukee Mile. I have to agree with today’s birthday boy, one Robin Miller, in thinking that race needs to be held the weekend after Indianapolis, as it once was, with Roger Penske and Chevrolet allowing that tradition to return for the benefit of fans, both old and new.

By Anne Proffit

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