IndyCar should look north for a Phoenix replacement

Instead of gambling on returning to venues that failed to draw crowds and risk damaging existing races, IndyCar should be looking north for a Phoenix replacement.

When news broke that IndyCar’s 3-year effort to bring racing back to Phoenix had ended, attention turned to the circuits likely to replace ISM Raceway in 2019. With IndyCar’s Mark Miles confirming the calendar would remain at 17 races, the series is looking for a replacement venue.

Multiple options have been floated including mooted returns to Richmond, Laguna Seca, New Hampshire and Homestead-Miami and new races at the Circuit of the Americas or downtown Nashville.

Races need fans… just not from other races

With the exception of the proposed Nashville street race, all the options being suggested are limited by one of two significant issues.  Firstly, the risk of oversaturating their local market with two races in one region. For example, are there enough IndyCar fans to support races at Texas Motorspeedway and COTA?

Secondly, the unknown demand for IndyCar at venues previously dropped due to dwindling attendances. In some cases, Homestead-Miami being a good example, both issues are applicable.

The IndyStar’s Jim Ayello published a succinct assessment of the potential replacements this week. In it, he sums up the risks the series and any race promoter/venue faces in joining forces once more.

Both IndyCar and a potential promoter will be looking for a replacement that can start pulling in reasonable attendances from year 1. For IndyCar, it cannot be a success at the expense of another venue on the calendar. Finding that sweet spot looks very difficult given the venues and tracks that are rumoured to be under consideration.

Homestead early favourite for 2019 slot

Homestead-Miami appears to be the early favourite according to reports this week, despite the risk of harming the successful St. Petersburg event and the fact attendances at the circuit last time around were, at times, embarrassing.

Understandably IndyCar needs a quick fix to plug the gap left by Phoenix. But longer-term, it begs the question: can IndyCar do better? Should the series be looking beyond retreading old ground (especially after the failure of the return to Phoenix)?

In short, the answer is yes.

A second IndyCar race in Canada

Looking north to Canada feels like a no-brainer for the series given the success of Schmidt Peterson’s ‘Team Canada’ this year. Admittedly, at the start of the season, ‘Team Canada’ looked like little more than a nice marketing hook. Few, however, predicted how big an impact Robert Wickens would have and now it seems certain that, in the next few seasons, the rookie is going to be the genuine title contender Canada has lacked since Paul Tracy.

Combined with Hinchcliffe’s charisma and fanbase, the pairing is the draw that could make a second race in the country a sustainable, long-term option. Wicken’s fellow rookie Zachary Claman de Melo could figure in that future also, following an explosive start to his IndyCar career that has polarised opinion amongst fans and drivers alike.

Add into the mix the fact that Canada is poorly represented in terms of top-level racing events and there is potential for far greater demand than there might be in locations like Richmond, Homestead or New Hampshire, Especially since they have firmly become NASCAR territory in the past decade.

So what are the options? Here’s a quick rundown of the locations that could host a second Canadian IndyCar race:

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal

  • ready-made circuit with world-class facilities and a proven pedigree hosting open-wheel racing
  • hosted ChampCar for a successful 5 year run (2002-2006) with healthy crowds
  • the circuit is only permitted to be used for motorsport one additional weekend outside the F1 Canadian Grand Prix. With no NASCAR Xfinity race (which replaced ChampCar in 2007 as the second event), the option is open for IndyCar
  • despite fairly processional F1 races and a lone Canadian entry in the form of Lance Stroll, the circuit continues to attract attendances well in excess of 100,000.

Mont Tremblant Circuit, Quebec

  • another ready-made circuit, 2 hours from Montreal
  • hosted ChampCar in 2007 with a reputed 60,000 spectators attending. Due to reunification, the circuit fell off the calendar from 2008 onwards
  • owned by Lawrence Stroll, billionaire father of F1 driver Lance.

Calgary street race, Alberta

The chances of a second Canadian race featuring in 2019 are extremely slim. Short-term IndyCar needs a replacement venue and Montreal aside, none of the venues would be ready that soon.

Longer-term a return to south Florida or Virginia might pay off for the series but as long as Wickens, Hinchcliffe and to a lesser extent Claman De Melo are performing well, the series would be wise to head north.

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