As promised, IndyCar released its 2013 schedule on SpeedTV last night. It was actually a nice segment that included CEO Randy Bernard answering questions about the many changes that are taking place next year.
Some of those changes are good (like adding Pocono and the Triple Crown, as well as a new TV package for Canada -- which in reality is huge -- and more races on ABC), while some are not so good (gaps in the schedule and a doubleheader at Belle Isle). Overall I like more than I don't and hopefully some loose ends might be getting tied up for a couple of other events to fill in some of the gaps.
First, check out the schedule here (thanks to IndyCar.com). A total of 19 races at 16 venues beginning March 24 in St. Pete and finishing October 19 in Fontana.
Let's start out with the things I do like, starting with the fact we actually have a schedule on October 1st. If you remember back to last year, the schedule was a fluid thing well into the new year, and both Milwaukee and Baltimore didn't get off the ground until about 100 days before each event. Even better is the fact that many of the returning races will fall on the same weekends they did this year, giving the schedule continuity that didn't exist in the past.
Bringing in Pocono is huge, not only does it add another oval to the schedule, but it is a nod to the history of open wheel racing. From the time it was opened in 1971 through the last race in 1989, Pocono hosted IndyCar (or USAC, CART, whatever you want to call it) and put on some good shows. With its flat turns Pocono is suited for open wheel cars and with a one-lap record of 211 mph set by Emerson Fittipaldi in 1989, it would become the fourth-fastest circuit in the series behind Indy, Texas and Fontana.
According to Bernard the Pocono folks did their homework and there should be a pretty nice crowd there next year.
Also adding to that is the resurrection of the Triple Crown, as Pocono will join Indy and Fontana to make up the triumvrate. While the Crown stood in different incarnations over the years, Indy and Pocono were often two of the legs and are part of it once again. There is also a financial incentive: win all three races and pocket $1 million...win two of the three and take home $250,000. Needless to say, winning all three races would be quite the windfall for a driver as it would mean close to a $4 million in earnings.
While NBC Sports Network's outstanding production, but its miniscule viewership, return, it's good to see that ABC will be televising six of seven races in the middle of the season between Indy and Pocono. While I don't particularly like the quality of the broadcasts, I like the exposure, especially given that Texas will be on the network, and on a Saturday night might I add. Iowa will be on ABC as well, but I am disappointed that it will be on a Sunday afternoon as the night race really pops.
I'm a big fan of the idea of standing starts, which will be added to one of the races at each of the three doubleheader venues of Belle Isle, Toronto and Houston. Some think it's too much of a nod to F1, but I think that is such an exciting part of races in that series. The cars pull into their spots, wind up the motors and go. The anticipation during the countdown of the final seconds is so amazing. While the idea of an embarrassing pile-up at the start worries me, that's always that risk, and I'd rather try it than not do it at all.
Personally, I don't see anything wrong with taking bits and pieces of what works in other series and applying it to IndyCar. Some people do, but let's be frank, we need to sell tickets and we need television viewers. If some tweaking is involved -- stopping short of competition cautions and green-white-checkers and the likes of those, of course -- that accomplishes that end then that's fine with me.
Doubleheaders leave me mixed. I guess the jury is still out on that one because racing all weekend is super cool, I just don't dig the venues, especially the idea of doubling up at Belle Isle. The worst race hands-down in the series this year and next year we are going to run that race and then line it up and do it again the next day? Yikes. I wish we could flip the TV coverage of that with Toronto, that would be worth watching twice.
But the promoters like it and think they can sell lots of tickets, so we'll see how it goes. Also a bit up in the air is how points will be scored (the only thing I read is that they will be split "equally" between the two races) and how the fields will be set. Grid penalties will need to be factored in as well.
EDIT!: In a press conference at Pocono today Bernard said: "We want full-length races for full
points for full prize money."
I don't want an inverted start, not on road courses at least. Maybe two sessions of qualifying? I actually would like that because what the doubleheader concept does do is gives people a chance for the mulligan. If you don't make the Fast 12 or Fast Six in the sessions for race 1, you might be able to make some adjustments and qualify better for race 2.
And in the same vein, if you struggle in the race on Saturday, a team might come back Sunday with a different result. Like James Hinchcliffe at Toronto. He was crazy fast in the race until his motor blew up and he spent three-quarters of the race on the sideline. In this instance he gets to come back the next day and do it again. I think the potential is there to have two completely different finishes and scenarios on the back-to-back days.
Staying with Toronto, I think a guy like Sebastien Bourdais would have loved to have come back the next day and done it again with the car he had. Like I said, I'm not a huge fan of this, but there is a little bit of intrigue in there to keep me interested.
One other thing that needs to be fixed, though, are the long breaks over the final weeks of the season. Once again, three weeks will separate Mid-Ohio from Sonoma, Baltimore runs a week later and then it is another 34 days before the series resumes in Houston.
No doubt some of that is because of Fontana. It is a must that the series ends on an oval, and the idea of stretching it to 500 miles was brilliant, but the weather was absolutely brutal. Fontana in October has always brought some great weather for racing and watching racing, and no doubt will do the same next year. But running just six races over the course of 77 days (two of which will happen in one weekend) is equally brutal.
That needs to be fixed. Is there a track out there with a date in September that could take on a race? Kentucky could, I'm sure, but beyond that I don't know how many other partners IndyCar has right now that would be able to step up, and adding another twistie won't cut it.
Overall I think this is a good schedule and if there are some more races (ahem, ovals) in the pipe (ahem, Michigan, Phoenix, ahem) for 2014 it is a step in the right direction. I've seen some complaining about the schedule already, but let's look at the long-term, peeps. Getting better each year is the key. Sure, it would be great to have hit a home run and thrown out a schedule with 23-24 races that included all of our favorites, but not every deal can be made, and in this economy you can't expect teams to take on a budget that would amount to 25-30 percent of what they had to work with in 2012.
You have to make decisions with the future in mind, it was short-sided thinking that got us into this pickle in the first place. IndyCar isn't going away, and in 2012 put on one of the best racing shows in the world. That's not going to change. Patience, grasshoppers, we'll get there.