One thing is for certain, the 2015 IndyCar series schedule will divide opinion. Races have come and some have gone, dates have been mixed up and the compression of the season continues, unabated. Here are some thoughts on the good and the bad of the 2015 calendar.
Continuous action – with such a long off season, IndyCar needs to be front and centre in the minds of existing fans and prospective ones. This is perhaps the only significant upside of the condensed calendar approach the series is now taking but it is certainly tempered by the fact IndyCar will need to regain all the momentum lost during the 6 month lay-off. having fallen off the radar with all but the most ardent fans during the 6 month lay-off, back-to-back races may not be any fun for the teams but it gives the series a great chance to regain momentum lost.
Accommodating Toronto – hosting the 2015 Pan American Games meant the Toronto event could have been lost to the series for at least a year. Canada is an important market for IndyCar not just because of it’s modern-era history but given the natural cross-over in sponsor markets between there and the US. It would also have been a real blow to undermine the excellent work undertaken to build the event and with budgets across the board tight, restarting it after a year off could never be guaranteed.
Ovals still feature – earlier I wrote about the issue facing IndyCar and the manner in which American fans appear to have fallen out of love with open wheel racing on ovals. Retaining the status quo of ovals for 2015 can, in context, be seen as a positive step. An earlier date for Fontana should help with the issues encountered this year and the subsequent back to back events at Milwaukee and Iowa Speedway should make for a very challenging summer that will shape the championship.
Brazil – IndyCar needs to be in Brazil and there is a great opportunity right now for the series. Brazilian drivers specifically, and South American drivers generally, will continue to do well for the next couple of years. Conversely Brazilians in F1 are falling by the wayside and for a country and continent that adores motor sport, this is a good move for IndyCar to capitalise on that vacuum.
‘Snoozoma’ for the finale – what a mistake that is. Widely regarded as the most boring circuit on the schedule, Sonoma is completely the wrong place to finish the season at. The issue of the long off-season will be compound when, as is more than likely, the championship is decided by a snooze-fest in wine country.
(Another) long off-season – running such a compact season will help to get IndyCar back in the public consciousness when the teams are crossing the continent. It could be argued this is a necessity as the series has left itself a marketing and PR mountain to climb by a 6 month off season. Whilst great for fans, the back to back nature of the races will put real pressure on the teams.
Continuity – now it feels even more important that the series starts to establish continuity and the ‘date equity’ CEO Mark Miles has been talking about regularly this year. Worryingly Miles appeared to be softening his stance at the launch of the 2015 schedule with suggestions that a consistent order of races, as opposed to regular dates, is enough. In principle that works but only when the start/finish dates of the season remain consistent, and so do the gaps between races.
Overseas races – Miles also made it clear that whilst overseas events in the Middle East and Asia had not materialised on the 2015 schedule, the concept is still being pursued. For some sponsors, these markets might be of interest but the reality of IndyCar in 2014/2015 is that many teams are support by purely US/North American domestic sponsors. Places like Dubai will undoubtedly be willing and able to pay huge sanctioning fees to host a race but you would hope that is not why the series would choose to go there.