While IndyCar's 2014 calendar is only getting a couple of tweaks, there could be some major changes for '15...
Could a return to Road America be on the cards? (LAT photo)
For the most part, IndyCar fans are a patient lot. They waited 13 years on unification and an eternity to finally see a new car. But right now they're somewhat agitated about the 2014 schedule because they've heard it won't include any new venues.
Save for the inaugural road course race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a possible swap of double-headers (St. Pete for Houston) and loss of Baltimore, next season will be a condensed carbon copy of 2013. However, if Mark Miles could ask one thing of the IndyCar faithful today it would be to just give him a little time to reshape the landscape because 2015 figures to hold some interesting possibilities.
“Our 2014 calendar will closely resemble the 2013 schedule and will serve as the first step in a transition to the future inclusion of traditional and new events which will strengthen our ability to engage the fans,” says Miles, the boss of Hulman & Company and the IZOD IndyCar Series.
A quick survey by RACER has no fewer than four new players in the mix for an IndyCar race in 2015. Technically, it's two old friends (Elkhart Lake and Laguna Seca) and a pair of new venues (Circuit of The Americas in Austin and Providence, R.I.) that are taking a hard look.
If drivers, teams and fans are universal on one thing it's bringing back Elkhart Lake, Wis. and its daunting, scenic, historic four-mile Road America course. IndyCar fans have watched NASCAR's Nationwide series invade the track and draw big crowds the past three years, and it remains a favorite of the two (soon to be one) sports car series as well as the vintage racing set. It's been six years since major open-wheel racing last appeared there, however, but it sounds like George Bruggenthies is serious about making it happen in 2015.
“Mark [Miles] and I have had good conversations and we might have been able to do something in 2014 but with the shorter season we just couldn't get together on a date,” says Bruggenthies, the president of Road America whose track hosted CART/Champ Car from 1982-2007. “But I'm looking at a IndyCar/United SportsCar Championship double-header for 2015. Mark's interested in that, I'm interested and we know the fans are. And it's not a question of money because I've got a potential title sponsor.
“I'm probably letting the cat out of the bag but we've also talked about having a two-day, mid-week test here next summer for IndyCar that's open to the public to keep the juices flowing.”
From 1983 to 2004, the picturesque road course in Monterey, Calif., now named Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was a staple on the CART/Champ Car circuit – and could be again if the stars align.
“I've had conversations with Mr. Miles and we've got interest down the road,” confirms Laguna Seca CEO and general manager Gill Campbell. “We've not come to any decisions but there is interest on both sides. We've always been interested in bringing Indy cars back here.”
The CART races were packed in the 1980s and '90s before attendance dropped off sharply and it's been Sonoma Raceway, 150 miles to the north, that has hosted the IRL/IndyCar races since 2005. Campbell said if a deal was struck, she anticipated IndyCar being a stand-alone event rather than part of any double-header with the USCC.
Losing Baltimore for the next two years because of scheduling conflicts within the city will cost IndyCar an eastern seaboard home as well as a damn good venue that produced strong crowds and exciting races. But it appears that Providence is set to step in and take Baltimore's place. A 2.1-mile, 11-turn street circuit in the capital of Rhode Island has been in the works for the past two years.
“We've been purposely running below the radar to get everything together,” says Mark Perrone, president and general manager of the New England Prix who spent three years with Champ Car. “The key to a street race is municipal participation and I can't tell you how thrilled we are with the city and state government. The whole city and state is behind this and we are pretty far down the road with title and presenting sponsors. We are good to go for 2015.”
Perrone says he talked with Miles about 2014 but didn't want to rush things and they've got a couple of alternative dates in mind for 2015.
“There's nothing between St. Pete and Toronto at this end of the country for IndyCar, and Providence is the epicenter of New England and southern New York,” says Perrone. “We're excited about 2015.”
Several weeks ago RACER's Marshall Pruett documented the interest from Circuit of The Americas in hosting an IndyCar race, but it's unlikely before 2015 because of contracts with Texas Motor Speedway and Houston. Three races in Texas could be possible, but TMS president Eddie Gossage has been adamant that such a lineup wouldn't include his oval.
And, speaking of ovals, there aren't any on the immediate horizon to be added to the IndyCar schedule. Phoenix, Chicago and Michigan would be candidates but only if it's good for both sides and that doesn't appear likely at the moment.
“Ovals represent our roots and show off our racing in a spectacular way,” says Miles. “We're all fans of ovals. The challenge is finding great events.”
Miles hopes to release the 2014 schedule by Houston as Brazil's participation and date remains the last domino. He's also serious about international races at either end of the 2015 North American season.
“IndyCar is not considering fewer events in North America,” states Miles, “but there are good opportunities both before and after the season where we can expose the series to different regions of the world, when climate and other considerations preclude additional North American races.”