IndyCar: The Five Best International Venues

The IndyCar schedule is expanding domestically in 2017. Could the promise of more international races come true in 2018 and beyond?

It’s no secret that IndyCar fans and executives are looking to make their schedule more robust and full of exciting races for their audiences. In 2017, the calendar will expand by one, adding another oval in Gateway Motorsports Park. But the expansion may continue into 2018 and beyond.

IndyCar boss and Hulman and Co. CEO Mark Miles has been very public in his desire to add international races to the start of the season. If he had his way, Miles would have a February to September schedule, avoiding conflicts with the NFL and other high-profile events that would take away their audience. This has led to rampant speculation on tracks, cities, and places that could host these events, or others going forward.

No matter what, it is for the best that IndyCar grows its schedule in the coming years. With one of the shortest schedules in all of American motorsports, the series suffers from a lengthy offseason where it is often difficult to keep the fan base engaged. In addition to expansion, consistency and retention of current facilities are important to the future of the series, as continued variability in dates and tracks has disenfranchised many fans.

Of course, no one wants to see a repeat of the failures of the Grand Prix of Boston. So what cities and what tracks could do IndyCar the most good and increase their international profile? Here are just a few that make the cut.

Suzuka

IndyCar has not raced in Japan since 2011 when running on the Motegi road course. Could Honda want the series back in their home country?

Japan

It has been nearly five years since IndyCar last raced in Japan. In the wake of the massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the series ran their final race at the Motegi course on the road course instead of their traditional event on the oval. The race was dropped from the 2012 calendar, though reportedly not due to the earthquake. But could Honda play a role in the series returning to the land of the rising sun?

Despite the introduction of Chevrolet as an engine competitor in 2012, Honda has remained strongly competitive. They will add Chip Ganassi Racing to their ranks in 2017, and could look forward to their best season since engine competition returned. It is clear that the Japanese marque remains committed to the future of IndyCar, meaning perhaps it’s time to return to their home country.

Of course, Motegi is not the only place that the series could go race in Japan. The Suzuka and Fuji circuits could also be possibilities. However, the FIA may have something to say if IndyCar were to attempt to race at either venue, trying to protect their product in Formula One. They pulled the same maneuver when CART was looking to race in Japan in the late 1980s, and the same could occur again.

The challenge a return Japan would have on the schedule would be the travel time necessary. If it were to be added, it would have to allow extra time ahead of and after the event for the equipment to be shipped, and for the movement of personnel. February would be less than ideal for a race in Japan, being likely too early and too cold for such an event. Perhaps if this race were to return, it would fit better later in the calendar.

Magny-Cours

Reigning IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud hails from France, as does Sebastien Bourdais. Is it time to head to their homeland?

Magny-Cours

The French connection in IndyCar cemented its place in history in 2016, with Simon Pagenaud winning the series championship. That connection to France will continue in 2017, with both Pagenaud and Sebastien Bourdais returning to the series. Both men have great followers in their homeland, making a race at Magny-Cours one of the possibilities for schedule expansion.

Of course, the attention that the circuit is getting right now is not about an American open-wheel series coming to France, but the return of F1. Reports say that the French Grand Prix will be revived after a ten-year hiatus in 2018, making a move by IndyCar to the permanent road course more challenging.

As explained earlier with reference to Suzuka and Fuji, the FIA could potentially block a move to race at any track they already use for Formula One. However, other series including NASCAR have used facilities in the same year that a Grand Prix is run. Take for example NASCAR’s former Xfinity Series race in Montreal, run on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve track that hosts the Canadian Grand Prix. F1 cannot have a lock on all their tracks.

Perhaps what sets Magny-Cours apart from their competitors in Japan is the strong connection from the drivers. Both Pagenaud and Bourdais have raced on the international stage in their home country, and bringing IndyCar there could add new fans to the series, and bring in more French drivers to the open-wheeled division.

Jacques Villeneuve, the son of Gilles, probably would like to see IndyCar return to Montreal in the future.

Jacques Villeneuve, the son of Gilles, probably would like to see IndyCar race in Montreal in the future.

Montreal

Oh, Canada! They already have one IndyCar race on the streets of Toronto each year. But at one point, there were many more open-wheel races north of the border. Edmonton, Mosport, and Trois-Rivieres have all hosted races in recent times, but could Montreal be the next host of IndyCar?

Montreal and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve are no strangers to open-wheel racing. The track has hosted the Canadian Grand Prix each year since 2010, and previously hosted Champ Car from 2002 to 2006. Other series to race at the facility include the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Grand-Am, and the NASCAR Pinty’s Canadian Series.

So what makes Montreal attractive for IndyCar? The city is a major market with deep motorsports connections. It can also add an international flare to the summer months of their schedule, potentially in a “Canadian swing” of two weeks with Toronto. This would require a relatively quick turnaround for the track from the Canadian GP to IndyCar, but it is not impossible.

The biggest reason why IndyCar would do well at this track is the competitive racing. Whether in CART, F1, sports cars, or NASCAR, there is a long list of memorable and unique races held at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. With plenty of passing zones, there would likely be many lead changes and one of the more competitive road course races of the year for IndyCar.

Only time will tell if Canada can accommadate two races again for American open-wheel racing.

Surfers Paradise

The man from Toowoomba, Australia would probably enjoy racing in his home country. But will he get to soon on the streets of Surfers Paradise?

Surfers Paradise

The south Pacific has been a hotbed of talent for IndyCar in modern times. Champions like Will Power from Australia and Scott Dixon from New Zealand lead the list of drivers making the move from Oceania to racing in the United States. At one point, American open-wheel racing made a yearly pilgrimage to Australia to race on the Gold Coast, but could those exciting days be revived?

The Gold Coast Indy 300 began as a CART race in 1991, and carried over to Champ Car through 2007. When the series merged in unification with IndyCar, the race at Surfers Paradise carried on as a non-championship race in 2008. However, the race’s history with the IRL was short-lived, being dropped from the calendar in 2009.

In June 2016, reports surfaced from Australia that a consortium was working to bring IndyCar back to the Gold Coast in the near future. Speculation put the event as a possible addition for October 2017, but it was not added to the calendar. In fact, multiple hurdles will need to be cleared in order to see Surfers Paradise back on the schedule.

Later in the history of the Gold Coast 300, Champ Car split the billing with the Australian V8 Supercars, an unprecedented move at the time. After the demise of the IndyCar race at Surfers, the V8 Supercars have had exclusive rights to race there. That deal continues until 2019. Furthermore, infrastructure improvements have caused the street circuit to be condensed in size, likely not ideal for IndyCar use.

If the Gold Coast is not an option, there are other places in Australia that could serve well to host IndyCar. Places like Melbourne, Adelaide, and Sydney could all host the open-wheelers of America in the future, and IndyCar would be smart to have the Aussies in their plans.

Mexico City

The potential of the Mexican market is one that is not lost on major American sports. Major League Baseball and the National Football League each have contested games there in recent years, and NASCAR recently announced the revival of their Mexican division. They aren’t the only ones taking notice either, with major racing series like Formula One, Formula E, and MotoGP all flocking to the capital Mexico City.

In the race for a slot on the 2017 calendar, Mexico City once again looked likely to add another event, this time from IndyCar. However, international expansion was delayed by at least another year, making 2018 a possibility for the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. The former host of Champ Car from 2002 to 2007, the recently renovated facility has quickly become one of the top destinations in motorsports.

The advantage of adding Mexico City to the schedule is not only in the market size for open-wheel racing, but also the opportunities for its location on the calendar. With its southern location, it could fit well in the “international section” of the IndyCar schedule in February or March. However, with its convenient location for equipment to be delivered by ground, it could also fit in later on the calendar amongst the domestic races.

There are certainly many other tracks that IndyCar could go to all around the world. What about a stop in the Middle East? Maybe another try at a street race in China? Or how about some more races in Europe?

The options are nearly endless for international expansion of IndyCar, but the calendar is finite. What tracks would you like to see IndyCar visit that are outside the United States?

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