2009 shaping up with schedule release

After much speculation, today the Indy Racing League released its 2009 IndyCar Series calendar. The 18-race schedule officially adds two new events, former Champ Car street circuit strongholds in Long Beach and Toronto. Florida will serve as both...

After much speculation, today the Indy Racing League released its 2009 IndyCar Series calendar. The 18-race schedule officially adds two new events, former Champ Car street circuit strongholds in Long Beach and Toronto. Florida will serve as both the starting and ending locations, with the St. Petersburg street course and Homestead-Miami oval book-ending the year.

The lone casualty to make way for the added events was, as expected, the concrete oval in Nashville. Of the 18 races, 10 are ovals with five on temporary circuits and three on permanent road courses. There are also four night races. At no point does the series race more than four consecutive weekends, and twice it will run on three straight.

Overall, the calendar does not represent the "clean slate" theory uttered at the unification press conference in February. With so many events jockeying for a spot on the calendar, and existing contracts to fulfill, working to include all of them was always going to be a challenge for 2009.

"Well, I think just in terms of kind of the total footprint of the schedule, we're very pleased that we did extend the schedule a bit," IndyCar Series Commercial Division President Terry Angstadt said of the overall layout of the calendar. "We felt like we actually came off of the sports landscape a little too quickly last year. That's not to say that we want to compete with a lot of the popular fall sports at the same time."

"In total number, being 18 right now is good for our business, the teams' business, and this hit some important key venues with the goal of serving our fan base best. So as kind of an overview, we don't think it's the perfect schedule but we think it is great progress towards a much-improved schedule."

St. Pete will run on April 5 with Homestead's race occurring on October 11, an intriguing proposition given it is in the heart of football season and only a month before all three of NASCAR's main touring divisions wrap up their campaigns.

The Homestead race has not drawn particularly well as the season opener, and its inclusion on the calendar at the end definitely raised a few eyebrows. The track's president, Curtis Gray, noted that the Miami area thrives in championship settings, and will work with the series for better promotion and several days of fanfare in the lead-up to the event.

"We have a lot of experience and in the marketplace hosting championship events," Gray explained. "The track lends itself very well with the variable banking and the close finishes. Building towards the prestige of the championship, it will have a different feel. We have 10-12 drivers who live here in south Florida, and they will help us promote the event and the championship."

It was also suggested though not officially confirmed that the series' year-end banquet, slated for Las Vegas this year, will move to Miami next season.

On the subject of the "city that never sleeps", Las Vegas was in the news as a notable exception from the 2009 calendar. Speedway Motorsports Inc., promoters of events at Texas Motor Speedway and Infineon Raceway, issued a press release to explain their thoughts of how the schedule transpired.

Texas promoter Eddie Gossage offered a less than satisfactory opinion of IndyCar's decision to leave off events at Las Vegas and New Hampshire.

Gossage's portion of the press release stated, "The IndyCar Series came to SMI and expressed interest in running at Las Vegas, but only on the road course outside of the speedway oval. With the multi-million dollar improvements we've made recently on the oval and the infield, we felt this was the best place to showcase the drivers and teams and to put on the best show for the fans. The outer road course is more suited for club racing events."

"As for New Hampshire, we wanted to return open-wheel racing to the New England market. With the substantial upgrades we've planned for that track and the opportunity for the IRL to get a footprint in a top-10 market such as Boston, we thought the time was right for New Englanders to again enjoy IndyCar as well as NASCAR. However, the IRL made it clear that New Hampshire was not in its business plans moving forward."

Angstadt refuted the claims. "I guess that I stopped worrying about what other people say that you can't control," he said. "It was very unfortunate he characterized it that way. We continue to have an interest in those markets, and we hope we can keep an open dialogue. I was somewhat surprised at the tone. Sanctioning fees were not a part of it, but just making a date work."

There is still much to note of the actual schedule besides the controversial and/or unexpected decisions. Popular IndyCar/ALMS doubleheaders are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. While IndyCar announced their contract with the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach for five years today, ALMS had secured their five year deal in April, so the southern California weekend should be a popular destination for 2009 and beyond.

"When working on our schedule it is generally the promoter trying to match up various race series on a given weekend," Angstadt said of the possibility of continuing those weekends. "We have had good success running the same weekend as ALMS and if a promoter came to us with that option we are certainly open to that. The fan reaction has been very positive when we run together in St. Petersburg, Mid-Ohio and Detroit."

Overseas events are in flux, with Motegi, Japan shifting its date from April to September, to become the penultimate round of the championship. In contrast, Surfers Paradise, Australia was not officially confirmed for 2009. It was announced that the popular event "Down Under" will resume as a non-championship event this year from October 24-26, and discussions are ongoing to determine the event's future for the next several years.

"We do think the back part of our schedule does allow us to add races as we develop further," Angstadt said of the Japan decision. "At the same time, we also felt that building momentum early in this schedule, going into the Indianapolis 500, there was also a bit of a break in momentum there. So we feel like this is a better fit overall to really make that race very viable."

The final calendar begins with consecutive street races at St. Petersburg and Long Beach, then a stretch of six consecutive ovals (Kansas, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Texas, Iowa and Richmond). Richmond is the second in the stretch of four straight race weekends, followed by Watkins Glen and Toronto. A week off occurs before the trip to Edmonton, which is followed by Kentucky and Mid-Ohio.

Sonoma resumes the schedule after another off week, with a Saturday night race at Chicagoland and Belle Isle Park next up. The latter two swapped dates from this year. Ovals at Japan and Homestead conclude the calendar, but with two off-weekends in-between, that would be a likely landing place for Surfers Paradise if an agreement can be reached.

Difficult decisions remain in the future as to where to place ex-Champ Car events for 2010 and beyond. Venues such as Portland, Cleveland, Houston, and Road America have all been discussed but it remains to be seen whether they will factor in to future calendars.

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