We offered RACER.com readers the chance to send in questions for IndyCar's president of operations and competition, Derrick Walker [ @DJWIndyCar ] and we're serializing his replies according to topic. Today, the tracks on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule – what's good, what's bad, what's missing and what might return…
With Formula 1 now on NBC with IndyCar, do you see a potential for IndyCar to run as a support race for F1 races in Montreal, New Jersey, or both? They would get just as much media attention as the “500”.
DW: Well I'd love to see that happen as added value to the F1 event – not a support race as such. But Formula 1 does not typically share events with other open-wheel series except their own feeder formulas. IndyCar would love to race where people want to see us and I know there is plenty of crossover in terms of fan base but it's more of a question to pose to Formula 1 than IndyCar.
Don't you think it's time to offer and accept some "one-year contract" races? I'm sure there are a lot of places that want to hold IndyCar races but they don't want to put themselves into multi-year deals. If the races work, they will sign for more. If it doesn't, you walk away with the money from this year's race and bye-bye pretty city.
DW: IndyCar of course would prefer venues where people want to come see us and the tracks that best show cases our cars and our drivers' talents. So we're not opposed to going on short-term deals but any promoter will tell you it takes time to build a fan base, and just going in as a one-off won't work for anyone: it's almost impossible to turn a profit or break even. You need a longer-term deal to amortize the cost over several years and gives you a chance to build the fan support.
I am an amateur auto road racer and appreciate racing I can relate to. Does IndyCar have any plans for infield racing venues? For instance, I race at the Texas World Speedway that has an infield course. NASCAR, F1, Australian and German super cars have these types of venues.
DW: We look at every possible event and try to see the potential value and potential complications of each and weigh them up. Indy car racing is versatile and can and will run at a wide range of diverse tracks.
Would a double-header at Texas work, running on the road course one day, the oval the next? It may do. If Eddie Gossage and IndyCar thought it could work, then who knows?
I think if IndyCar could manage to have a schedule with 50 percent ovals and arrange it so it's road course today, next race an oval, then back to road course, then oval, etc. it would be great for the series, so fans wouldn't have to wait long to see racing on the type of track they prefer. I know it's a lot of work to change car configuration. That's why having one weekend interval between all the races would be a good idea. In my opinion, IndyCar doesn't need to race every weekend: 18 to 20 races per year, from Feb to Oct fits this schedule pretty well.
DW: Well, I agree with you, in that I'm not sure we need to race every weekend, either. It's hard on the teams to keep up on the maintenance, and you tend to run people into the ground trying to keep up with a busy schedule. And I'm not just talking about teams, either. I'd like to focus on quality then quantity.
On the other hand, beggars can't be too fussy and we can't always have a schedule that simply suits our needs. There's a lot of competition out there for the fans' attention, so we have to find a compromise, and that's what we'll continue to do.
Will we see more ovals in the future? Whether they are high-banked or relatively flat, I see ovals as more entertaining than street courses (coming from a more casual fan).
DW: Ideally I suppose it could be a 50/50 split but the truth is that one of the unique parts of IndyCar – and CART and Champ Car before that – is that we can and do take racing to the people, and the Grand Prix of Long Beach was the template for that. Real road courses, real ovals and downtown street courses would each get 33 percent focus in a perfect world, but it comes down to promoters and the paying public making each event viable.
However, that said, we will always demand a strong oval content because Indy cars originated at Indianapolis and so oval racing is in our DNA.
IndyCar puts on a great show at every single street course it goes to. They put on a show at every road course. The only ovals worth watching are Iowa, Milwaukee and Indy. No one wants to watch on TV and no one wants to buy a ticket when they go to ovals so why are we still trying to race at places like Texas, California and now Pocono? IndyCar should be going to Road America, Mosport, Laguna, Surfers Paradise, Brands Hatch or somewhere in Europe, not a bunch of NASCAR tracks. Stop trying to pay homage to the IRL and get back to what made U.S. open-wheel racing great back in the days of CART.
DW: CART in its heyday did a lot of things right, and although the world of racing has changed a bit, yes there are elements of what made CART great that are applicable today. A good mix of different racetracks should be an integral part of what we do, we've proven that we can put on good races at any track we go. We have the driver talent, the cars and a decent rules package that offers good racing. I don't believe the tracks are the problem really; the biggest challenge seems to be energizing the fan base or getting the word out to come see our events. We need to get the fans interested and excited enough to tune in or actually attend.
Why is IndyCar turning its focus for the first half of the season to an international swing? The racing and fans in Sao Paulo are fantastic, but didn't unprofitable European races play a role in Champ Car's demise?
DW: No, I don't think the European races – which I'm a big fan of, incidentally – brought about the demise of Champ Car. I thought those events were a real asset to the series, an alternative to Formula 1 at a fraction of the cost and with arguably better racing.
As for Brazil's timing, early in January to September is our racing window to race our events. Brazil is an event that can be run early in the window, and there are limited choices of tracks in America that are available that early in the year.
Will IndyCar have more than just three races on the west coast?
DW: It's possible, yeah, but put too many races in one area it my tend to overlap a bit. For example, if we were to go to Laguna Seca and Sonoma the promoters may feel they are competing for some of the same fan base…although they could join forces and do a special promotion for those buying tickets to each. Phoenix would be a possibility and we're also looking at another couple of new event possibilities.
What are the chances of IndyCar going to…
– wanted by Ed Joras, Jim Christ, “Shipping,” Steve Levy, Anthony Kernich, Michael Kent
DW: Possible, and I hope it does. It's a great track for IndyCar to be at. (It's also worth visiting for the Irish pub down in Plymouth, the 52 Stafford. That's a “must visit” while you're in the area!)
– wanted by Ed Joras, Rick Kappler, Anthony Kernich
DW: One of my all-time favorite tracks, but we have not been successful in drawing a crowd there. And until someone can tell me why that is, and how we can address that issue, it's unlikely we'll go there anytime soon.
Circuit of The Americas
– wanted by Ed Joras, Tory, Vincent Halloran, Steve Lawson, Henry Moe
DW: I think it's possible. It's a fantastic circuit, and would be an excellent track for IndyCar. It's one of the venues on the list in front office under the heading, “Must do if we can!” However, I doubt it will happen next year.
– wanted by Jake Murray
DW: We've proven we can race there and the region is of high interest to IndyCar, but I don't see it on the immediate horizon.
– wanted by Anthony Kernich, Marc Rivas
DW: Another great track which I'd like to see back. There is interest this end.
– wanted by Jim Christ
DW: It's part of our history and we had some pretty good races there, but a return is doubtful at the moment. If the promoter had a solid business plan that made sense, then we'd seriously discuss it of course.
– wanted by Marc Rivas, Rick Kappler
DW: In the old days, it was a great event but the circuit may need a bit of renovation to bring it up to scratch. Crowd-wise, we struggled at Portland in the final years of Champ Car and it faded off the chart. Pity!
– Niles Anders (and yes, he realizes it needs rebuilding…)
DW: No, I wouldn't think so. If Roger Penske had had more space to build a slightly bigger track, it would have been a really good facility for us and maybe we might never left. However, it's a bit too small for IndyCar, even if the track was in a healthy state.
– wanted by Marc Rivas, Jim Christ, Paul Sagnella
DW: Yes, IndyCar shows well there, it's in a good region, and I definitely think we should be there. Phoenix's layout should be fast but it needs the right technical package to make it racy. We can do that.
Las Vegas (Champ Car street layout)
– wanted by Marc Rivas
DW: Ha! It's hard to fence off the streets, but we would be there in a Vegas minute if it became available. A night street race in the right place would be great, but… I don't see that happening.
– wanted by Anthony Kernich
DW: I don't think so. We tried it, and I see other Canadian locations that would be of more interest.
Surfers Paradise or anywhere in Australia
– wanted by Josh Fitt
DW: Yes and yes, I think it's a fun location. It makes a lot of financial sense if we go there as part of an Asia swing, with China and/or Japan. Surfers Paradise was always one of the best events, and at a great time of year that appealed to fans. I hope we can get it back. It is a huge investment, though, so it's of course up to the promoter to decide if it's worth it.
Montreal, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
– wanted by Vincent Halloran
DW: It would be great to go there – a good track, we raced well there, and Canadian open-wheel fans are strong in number and passion.
– wanted by Steve Jarvis
DW: I don't think the location we had there is available now, but Vancouver is a happening place. I'm confident we could make a successful street race there if we had promoter interest with good backing. Yeah, Vancouver would be a great place to race.
– wanted by Rick Kappler, Michael Kent
DW: Not likely because of the nature of the track and the nature of our cars: We'd be amazingly quick there. And to be honest, I don't get the impression they have much interest in running IndyCar there.
Mexico City, Circuit Hermanos Rodriguez
– wanted by Vincent Halloran
DW: Sounding like a broken record, but with strong promoter interest, then yes. It's a great track – actually, a real classic – and the fans are enthusiastic.
, N.C. (or other “venues that NASCAR has neglected in its own backyard”) – wanted by Vincent Halloran
DW: We could but our schedule fills pretty rapidly with must-haves, and Rockingham is not high on the list of “potentials” to fill in the gaps.
, maybe even during Speedweeks – wanted by Vincent Halloran
DW: Ha! That might see old Gil de Ferran's closed-course speed record get beaten! Can you imagine? But in short, no: I think Daytona has enough racing going on and wouldn't be interested in us.
– wanted by Steve Lawson
DW: No, not high on the list of possibles.…
– wanted by Rick Kappler
DW: Probably not.
– wanted by Anthony Kernich
DW: Cleveland was great for fans being able to see the whole track, and the racing was fantastic. There are no current discussions that I've heard of but don't rule it out because it has a lot of potential if run by a promoter who knows what he's doing.
Road course at IMS
– wanted by Bob Eckle
DW: Running IndyCars at IMS for anything other than the Indy 500 would not be my first choice. I'd prefer installing lights at IMS and holding a sprint night race on the oval under the lights before utilizing the road course, to be honest. But from a company and series point of view, it might make sense; my opinion on this is not the one that counts!
– wanted by Steve Lawson
DW: There's definitely some interest in the area, it's attractive to us, but it's a too early to say if it's going to be on the schedule in 2014.