There's an old Chinese curse I learned my freshman year of college that goes, “May you live in interesting times.” And certainly when it comes to the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule, it has been nothing short of “interesting times” – and not in a good way.
The crux of the issue of course dates back to when the full schedule for 2012 was supposed to be announced, initially, last October in Las Vegas. It turned out all the announcement was, was that IndyCar would be returning to Las Vegas in 2012.
A rehash of the events of last year isn't required but naturally, everything that happened at Las Vegas threw the schedule into a state of disarray, particularly involving ovals.
At the time, the 1.5-milers were near extinction with Texas's place in question, Kentucky dropped, and Las Vegas on the brink of saying it wouldn't be back. The one-milers weren't faring much better; Loudon was axed and Milwaukee was also a non-inclusion when the initial schedule was announced in December, at 15 races.
One race that was included was China, announced one month earlier on November 10, for the weekend of Aug. 18-19, 2012. It would run in Qingdao, concurrent with the city's beer festival.
Cynically and skeptically, at the time, I looked at this and thought, “Hmm. There's been several times where IndyCar in a former guise – Champ Car – has tried to go to China. And Korea. And guess how it's ended?”
Despite the humorous Ansan, Korea and Beijing, China “sponsored” Champ Cars aimed to increase awareness in the 2005 and 2006 seasons about the Asian races, the dreams died and Champ Car was left with a schedule of reduced races. Three straight years, a proposed China or Korea race was canceled.
The primary reason for this year's proposed China trip was that it was at the behest of series title sponsor IZOD, whose brand was looking to expand its reach and establish a footprint within the region.
It also, according to then-IndyCar commercial division president Terry Angstadt (who's no longer working with IndyCar and is now with Green Savoree Promotions), had attracted support and major sponsorship from the Chinese government. Angstadt and IndyCar had gone their separate ways by the end of November, at roughly the same time Brian Barnhart was reassigned to be the sanctioning body's president of operations, only.
The biggest issue I had, knowing the long-desired pursuit of China by the prior sanctioning body and now with IndyCar attempting to do likewise this year, was that it was designed as a pure money grab based on the potential sanctioning fee. It wasn't a race picked because fans, media or all the series' sponsors were clamoring for it.
It also happened to fall on the same weekend as the American Le Mans Series' round at Elkhart Lake's Road America. IndyCar was essentially saying – in November – it would rather run a race at “o'dark thirty” in a country that few people would publicly admit they'd want to go to, rather than pursue getting back on the docket at an event which has a built-in crowd and would be mutually beneficial for both series.
You have to think Road America track president George Bruggenthies can't have not noticed this. This was even despite a diplomatic quote from the track's then-communications manager I received via email:
“IndyCar made a business decision to go to China and we appreciate the many fans, drivers, and media who support the idea of IndyCar making Road America a stop on their schedule. Their history at Road America is strongly etched into the memories of our fans – it would be great to continue that legacy.”
Novel concept, that. Memories, fans, drivers and media who'd rather be there than China. But, at least for 2012, a pipe dream.
Following the initial announcement by IndyCar, there wasn't much said about China, save for a couple trips by IndyCar officials including Tony Cotman to explore the possible track layout. Only around Indianapolis did public concerns of China's instability on the calendar begin to arise, although IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard still said it was happening.