IndyCar: Don’t expect much drama when 2016 schedule is released

The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma will be moved from August to September in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.

© 2015, Michael L. Levitt

As bits and pieces of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series have become public knowledge, IndyCar President and CEO Mark Miles admits there won’t be much drama when the schedule is officially announced next week.

But, the man in charge with putting together the complicated process continues to put the final details on a schedule that will include a new event on the streets of Boston on Labor Day Weekend, as well as a return to Phoenix International Raceway for the first time since 2005. Also, the popular Road America at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin returns for the first time since hosting the Champ Car World Series in 2007.

Pocono Raceway appears likely to return while Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, Louisiana are off the schedule.

Once again, it appears the famed Milwaukee Mile – the oldest race track in America that began competition in 1903 – will be off the schedule as previous promoters have failed to draw the crowd necessary for it to remain as part of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

"We’re practically finished with the schedule, and I expect we’ll announce it next week," Miles said.

"The outlines of the schedule are pretty well understood. We tried to be reasonably transparent as things developed. The schedule will start two weeks earlier than the 2015 schedule in March, and that will be in St. Petersburg, Florida and three weeks longer to end the season, so the schedule is five weeks longer from start-to-finish."

Because of the Easter Holiday falling on its traditional race weekend date of the final weekend in March, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will move to Sunday, March 13th. After successfully staging a championship weekend this past August, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma will move to September 18th. So in essence, the season is being stretched with the same number of races as 2015.

For those keeping score of the when the season ends, the 2012 IndyCar Series started on March 25th and concluded on September 15th at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California under the leadership of then IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard. The 2016 season will actually be a longer season than what was seen in 2012.

IndyCar and Miles have been criticized by some for ending the past two seasons before Labor Day to avoid conflict with the National Football League season.

Miles has been in discussions with officials in Mexico City to stage a race at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodriquez circuit in February before NASCAR’s Daytona 500, but organizers were not able to assure Miles of having enough time to put that race together successfully.

"We talked to the folks in Mexico City about the possibility of racing there, but it was forcing things time wise and we would rather get it right and have a great first event and the opportunity to be there so the decision was made to aim for 2017," Miles said.

"It’s a great facility and a great market with a lot of open wheel tradition. We believe the time will come when we will be able to race there but it won’t be on the 2016 calendar."

Miles laughed when asked about Phoenix and Pocono, admitting so much has leaked out that there isn’t much drama left to next week’s schedule announcement.

"We are trying to have something left to tell fans when the whole thing is announced, along with the programming," Miles said. "But, it’s no secret that we want to have Phoenix on the schedule at the beginning of April and Pocono to stay on the schedule where it was this year.

"We hope to deliver on those ideas and make it official next week."

The 2016 schedule is also a challenge because IndyCar’s television partner, NBC Sports Network, will be involved with the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. 

"It looks like there is less in August but that is because that’s the way the weeks work on the calendar that month," Miles explained.

"We have a race the last weekend of July, and then a race in August, and one in the very beginning of September. I think it’s a good calendar. There are hurdles for NBC to use its entire platform and all its channels for the Olympics, but, I think we are in a place everyone will like."