As the IndyCar Series searches for venues to fill its schedule, the possibility exists for a potential return to Phoenix International Raceway.
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Bryan Sperber, president of PIR, told The Associated Press on Friday he’d welcome conversations with IndyCar about a return to the desert. PIR hosted IndyCar races from 1996 through 2005, and USAC and CART ran at the track from 1964 to 1995.
”Phoenix has a long history with IndyCar and open wheel, and while there would be challenges in bringing the series back to the track, we’d certainly like to try to work through them and see if there’s not a way to host IndyCar races again,” Sperber said.
But, Sperber said it is too late for Phoenix to be added to the 2012 IndyCar schedule.
”I think 2013 is the earliest we could entertain anything,” he said.
IndyCar is in need of races now, and has yet to release its 2012 schedule. The series said Thursday it would not return to Las Vegas Motor Speedway next season while it continues to investigate the Oct. 16 accident that killed two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon.
It leaves IndyCar with only three announced ovals on its 2012 schedule – Indianapolis, Iowa and Auto Club Speedway in California. Texas Motor Speedway would be the fourth oval, assuming the series and the track can work out a sanctioning agreement.
No deal was completed before Wheldon’s death in the fiery 15-car accident, and IndyCar is reluctant to move forward on high-banked ovals such as Texas until the investigation into the accident has been completed.
Sperber also wants to make sure his track is compatible with the new IndyCar. The track was reconfigured this year and when racing returned in November, NASCAR drivers were greeted by a mile progressive banked tri-oval.
”We’d really have to have a high-level test to make sure the surface and the reconfiguration would work with IndyCar,” Sperber said. ”We couldn’t move forward on anything until we were certain it’s a fit.”
And Sperber also wants to ensure the series can successfully re-enter the Phoenix market. Although its two NASCAR weekends draw extremely well, open-wheel has not been in the market since 2005 and Sperber said entertainment dollars in the area are stretched thin.
”This is a tremendous sports and entertainment marketplace, and there’s lots of competition for those dollars,” Sperber said. ”And, this market was hit incredibly hard by the housing bust, so selling tickets can be tough. We’d want to work closely with IndyCar and see how they’d engage our fans, see how they’d plan to come back into market.
”We’d want to make sure this could fit and there’s a lot of work to be done in exploring a potential return.”