IRL: IndyCar moves toward 2004 races

The Indy Racing League announced its schedule for the 2004 season today and it's a familiar, yet crowded agenda for the IndyCar Series regulars. As with 2003, there's a 16-race agenda, with one new face and one familiar event off the docket for...

The Indy Racing League announced its schedule for the 2004 season today and it's a familiar, yet crowded agenda for the IndyCar Series regulars. As with 2003, there's a 16-race agenda, with one new face and one familiar event off the docket for next year.

All 16 races will be broadcast live on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2 next year, including six consecutive ABC over-the-air broadcasts from July 25th to September 12th. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network continues its live broadcast of all 16 events.

The ninth Indy Racing League all-oval campaign kicks off, for the third consecutive year, at Homestead-Miami Speedway (ESPN) with the Toyota Indy 300 on February 29th at the reconfigured race track.

According to Brian Barnhart, IRL senior vice president of racing operations, the paving operation at the south Florida track should be completed the first week of October and the league intends to test the new surface at the end of October or beginning of November.

As has become traditional, Phoenix International Raceway (ABC) is next up on March 21st and the third race of the year, the Indy Japan 300 will be held again at Twin Ring Motegi (ESPN2), although the date has not yet been pinned down, said Ken Ungar, senior vice president of business affairs at the Indy Racing League.

Taking into consideration erratic Midwest weather during the month of May and the possibility of rain dates for the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race (ABC), set next year for May 30th, the IndyCar Series will contest the Bombardier 500 night race on June 12th at Texas Motor Speedway (ESPN).

There's a one-week breather before the IRL heads for its second consecutive night duel on the .75-mile Richmond International Raceway ESPN2) oval. The SunTrust Indy Challenge is set for June 26th. Fireworks will light the afternoon sky on July 4th when the Indy cars race at Kansas Speedway (ABC).

Because of the inherent heat, "We are looking into possibly putting on a night race at Kansas," Ungar said, but not next year. The final night race of the year, the Firestone Indy 200 is set for July 17th at Nashville Superspeedway.

As announced last week, the Indy Racing League makes its first visit to the historic Milwaukee Mile (ABC) on July 25th while, one week later, heads to Michigan International Speedway (ABC) for the Firestone Indy 400, set for August 1st.

August 15th starts a string of three back-to-back events, beginning with the tour's return to Kentucky Speedway (ABC) for the Belterra Casino Indy 300. The following week, the Indy cars go to Pikes Peak International Raceway (ABC) for the Honda Indy 225 (August 22) and then trek back to Nazareth, PA for the Firestone Indy 225, set for August 29th on the mile Nazareth Speedway (ABC).

"Nazareth was eager to get out of a spring date," *Ungar revealed. "Not just for the obvious weather reasons but because there are so many conflicting events at the same time. This was the best available date for all of us," he said.

The Delphi Indy 300 takes place on September 12th at Chicagoland Speedway (ABC), while the IndyCar Series makes its third trip to California Speedway (ESPN) for the Toyota Indy 400 on October 3rd. The grand finale, as always, is set for Texas Motor Speedway's (ABC) high banks on October 17th.

"We've had input from our teams, drivers, promoters and sponsors in devising this schedule," Ungar stated. "We're also pleased to state that all of our races will be broadcast live and on 14 of our 16 events, we'll extend the broadcast by 30 minutes to take in both pre- and post-race activities. This will better tell the story of our races and build excitement [before the green] and show the excitement of victory after the checkered flags fall."

The Indy Racing League is happy with its moderate growth, Ungar and Barnhart agree. The removal of Gateway International Raceway from the schedule and the insertion of The Milwaukee Mile are two of the biggest moves the League is making for next year. "We consulted with Dover Motorsports and, by mutual agreement decided to drop the date next year. We wanted that race to grow faster than it had," Ungar said.

With the string of midsummer races next year, Barnhart and the competition crew are looking into a ban on private testing in 2004. "We didn't restrict testing coming into '03 because of the totally new equipment package, but to control costs, we will virtually eliminate private testing, keeping only the open tests and manufacturers' testing."

Barnhart indicated, "We think we've done a good job of moderate growth. If good opportunities present themselves, we might add events, but I doubt very much we will go beyond 18 races per season."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Brian Barnhart