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NASCAR schedule reveals some potential 2015 IndyCar schedule hints; Texas IndyCar returns

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If you remember the scene in Dumb and Dumber where Jim Carrey says, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance,” that line could well be referring to the assembled media getting the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule at the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. this weekend.

It almost certainly isn’t going to be revealed this weekend, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Considering there have been some past open-wheel schedules that have come out in the past with the ubiquitous “TBA” peppered throughout, it makes little to no sense for IndyCar to release a schedule that’s short of complete, or subject to change.

The way it stands now, IndyCar’s 2015 schedule still has many moving parts.

Still, with today’s NASCAR schedule releases, there are some hints about dates that could well be relevant from an IndyCar standpoint. And it’s also key to note which races fall on weekends where you’ll likely be seeing two NASCAR races on NBC or NBCSN, and how that may affect time slots for when IndyCar can slot in on NBCSN.

First off, the NBC Sports Group portion of the NASCAR schedule begins from the first weekend of July, with both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series (under its new title sponsor name) from Daytona. Nationwide is July 4 on NBCSN, and Sprint Cup July 5 on NBC.

If you sync up the current 2014 IndyCar weekends with the NASCAR on NBC weekends from July through the first weekend of September, when Labor Day occurs and the series again plans to end, you’d have seven as-2014 weekends to note: Pocono, Iowa, and Toronto the first weekends of July, Mid-Ohio the first weekend of August, and Milwaukee, Sonoma and Fontana to round out the month of August.

Here’s where the hints occur. Pocono’s Cup dates of June 7 and August 2 leave enough of a gap for IndyCar to return around the same time as this year. The catch is track president Brandon Igdalsky said earlier this year advance ticket sales were down and it would be a challenge for the race to continue on 4th of July weekend. So could this race, in the third year of its three-year contract, fall on the last weekend of June or the second weekend of July? Either’s possible, given some other possible schedule alterations.

Iowa’s NASCAR dates are May 17 and August 1 for Nationwide. May 17 won’t work as that’s Indianapolis 500 qualifying, and August 1 will likely be Mid-Ohio’s date. However, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series date is Friday, June 19… which would imply that if it and IndyCar share the same weekend, as they did this year, IndyCar would race Saturday night, June 20. IndyCar has raced in that date previously and that weekend in June was an off weekend this year, so likely, it seems that this date will shift from its July 12 date this year.

We get to Toronto next, and that’s the Canadian mystery at the moment. Shortly after Toronto, the Globe and Mail reported the possibility of IndyCar moving its race to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, which could make sense. Additionally, it was noted by NBCSN IndyCar insider Robin Miller, in a piece for RACER.com, to have had increased traction in the last couple weeks. The reason Toronto would shift is due to the 2015 Pan-Am Games falling during the race’s traditional July date.

June options are becoming limited with Texas Motor Speedway confirming IndyCar’s return Saturday night June 6, the night after NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series, and that possible Iowa date shift back to June. Detroit will again have the weekend after the Indianapolis 500. So Toronto, whose street race was angling for that second weekend-in-June date – especially one which could have made logistical sense the week after Detroit – appears a less likely proposition at that time.

Mid-Ohio’s NASCAR date is August 15, which would all but ensure IndyCar’s race there will again be two weeks ahead of it on August 2, as it was this year.

A likely three-week break would open up with Labor Day moved back to September 7, 2015. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s Dave Kallmann has pegged the August 22-23 weekend as the date for Milwaukee IndyFest, which would fall in the middle of an August sports logjam in the state of Wisconsin. The state will be as filled with sporting events as most Wisconsin State Fair goers are with deep fried foods.

The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race from Road America is set for Sunday August 9, and the Nationwide weekend at Road America has shifted to a Cup off weekend and the last Saturday of the month, August 29, after occurring on June 21 this year. Add in the aforementioned State Fair and the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis. August 10-16 for the craziness.

Sonoma, if it falls the weekend after the projected Milwaukee date, would be August 30. Track president Steve Page told the Indianapolis Star’s Curt Cavin that date is likely this past weekend.

IndyCar at Road America? We wrote about the possibility after the Road America TUDOR Championship weekend this year, and while track president George Bruggenthies has extended the olive branch to IndyCar, it doesn’t appear TUDOR – which would make the most sense with an Indy/TUDOR doubleheader weekend the second half of August – would be keen on the pairing.

It also doesn’t appear IndyCar would race solo at Road America in June, even if it has an off weekend to do so. Why so, you ask? After a run of consecutive days on track and race weekends from the Grand Prix of Indianapolis mid-May through Texas June 6, the crews and teams would need an off weekend that second weekend in June.

Lastly we come to Fontana, to come full circle from where this post began nearly 900 words ago. Frankly, and despite a strong and committed level of promotion from Auto Club Speedway, ISC, and track president Gillian Zucker, INDYCAR has done ACS zero favors in terms of a consistent date for date equity since its return to the calendar after a seven-year absence.

Yeah, it’s been the last date of the season for three years. But that last date has been September 15, 2012, October 19, 2013 and now August 30, 2014 in three consecutive seasons. How can most locals know when the race is if it changes on them three straight years?

This year, Zucker has justifiably spoken out, confirming to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin that a Labor Day date – one Miles has held firm the IndyCar Series needs to end by – won’t work for the track. It’s going to be a challenge because the NBCSN race telecast doesn’t start until 9 p.m. ET Saturday night, with the race scheduled to start at 7:20 p.m. local time (10:20 p.m. ET).

So suddenly one of the big things we have to watch this weekend is how Fontana deals with the date, and what could happen about its date changing again for the following season.

Essentially, here’s where we’re at for the IndyCar 2015 schedule.

Confirmed dates, as announced either by the track or series include:

  • March 16-17, Barber open test, March 29, St. Petersburg, April 19, Long Beach, May 9, Grand Prix of Indianapolis, May 16-17, Indianapolis 500 Qualifying, May 24, Indianapolis 500, May 30-31, Detroit Belle Isle, June 6, Texas Motor Speedway

Likely dates, based on projections and similar weekends as in 2014:

  • June 20, Iowa, August 2, Mid-Ohio, August 23, Milwaukee, August 30, Sonoma

Question marks, where the date or venue could change:

  • Barber (should be either side of Long Beach in April), Houston (currently last weekend in June, not yet confirmed for same date in 2015), Pocono (possible from either last weekend in June through second weekend in July), Toronto (as mentioned above, neither venue nor date is confirmed), Fontana (date TBD; we’ll see how this week shakes out)

Wild cards, either new venues and/or the proposed international races:

  • Canada’s date du jour. Assume the Canadian Grand Prix occurs June 7, and with IndyCar at Texas June 6, that potential Toronto-Montreal date conflict is averted. Either late June or one of the July weekends could work for a CTMP, Mont-Tremblant or other random Canadian venue date. Toronto’s streets could work June 13, potentially, but that seems a likely off weekend.
  • New Orleans is possible for 2015 – Michael Andretti’s group seemed keen on it happening next year during his Milwaukee pre-race media availability.
  • The two locations mooted for the spring international races, likely in February or early March, are Dubai and Brazil. Details on those would need to be forthcoming, but they wouldn’t feature the new-for-2015 aero kits as they’re not delivered to teams until March 1. Of course, we’ve been down the “international race” path before without it actually going anywhere.
  • Road America. As mentioned above, unlikely for 2015, but we can dream, right?

Exclusive: Austin Coil returns to ‘help’ John Force in 2016

Austin Coil is coming back to 'help out' at John Force Racing in 2016.
(Photo courtesy NHRA)
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The man most responsible for John Force’s career success – other than Force himself – is coming back to John Force Racing.

Force exclusively confirmed to NBCSports.com that former crew chief Austin Coil is coming out of retirement and returning to the JFR fold for 2016.

“Coil said to me, ‘You’ve managed to screw this up, but I can help you’,” Force said with a laugh during a phone interview from NHRA preseason testing in Phoenix. “He’s helping me, to help the people with me, to look at the things we need to get this thing right.”

First joining forces in 1986, Force and Coil went on to become the winningest driver-crew chief combination in NHRA history, earning 15 Funny Car championships and 132 national event wins together.

Coil abruptly retired one day after leading Force to his 15th NHRA Funny Car championship in 2010.

Since the breakup, Force has won just one additional Funny Car championship (2013) and 11 national event victories. The veteran driver is coming off an especially tough 2015 season, one he calls “my worst season in 25 years,” finishing seventh in the standings and recording just two wins (Las Vegas 1 and Epping, New Hampshire).

And even though Force is now 66 and Coil is 70, they believe they can regain some of their old magic together. Force has also brought back former tech whiz Ron Armstrong into the JFR fold.

“We’re putting the old band back together,” Force said with a laugh.

As for what Coil’s role will be exactly, Force was quick to point out Coil will not return to his old crew chief role, nor will he be considered a “consultant” or “advisor.”

Rather, Coil simply wants to be “help out,” Force said.

“Coil, I want to be clear, is not going to come out here on the road, he doesn’t want to do that,” Force said. “But he’s helping us with stuff.”

Coil will not have an office at JFR and will work at his own pace, Force said. But given that Coil called the shots for 24 years before, Force is more than happy to let his old buddy “help out” in any way he sees fit.

“I’m really excited to have him on board,” Force said. “Just talking to Coil, for me, we’ve only had three or four lunches together, but just talking helps get my heart back right. He made me who I am and I’m never going to forget that.

“I asked Coil what did I do wrong? He said, ‘You’ve been on overload. You had good people and you lost some. What you have to do is get back on track.

“He told me to split the team in half, start building the dragster side (with 11-time Top Fuel champion Alan Johnson overseeing the team with Force’s daughter, Brittany, behind the wheel), and on the other side, build the Funny Car side, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Coil had resisted prior efforts to return to the JFR fold. But when Force came calling over the winter, Coil apparently had a change of heart.

“Over the winter, Robert (JFR president and Force’s son-in-law Robert Hight) and I got together (with Coil) and said, ‘Let’s talk about things,’” Force said. “We knew there were issues. He quit, he walked away, he said he just didn’t want to do this anymore. I thought he might be going to Schumacher (arch-rival Don Schumacher Racing), but that’s not where he went.

“He said, ‘I’ve done my thing, I’ve won’ and we really were best of friends. He said to my face, ‘I love you, Force, I always have. But I’m in a different mode in my life of what I want to do. I’m in retirement, I can’t run to the airports like I used to.’

“He’s the one that put me here 25 years ago. Thirty years ago, we started building it. People give me the credit for it, but no, it’s the people I put around me like Coil, Armstrong, Mike Neff (crew chief for Hight and director of operations for JFR) and with AJ (Alan Johnson) coming in here and Brian Husen (as Brittany Force’s crew chief).”

With Johnson now running the Top Fuel side of JFR, and with Coil’s return, Force is very optimistic about his four-car organization’s chances in 2016.

“I always listen to Austin Coil,” Force said. “He says let Alan Johnson run that dragster, he’ll put your kid in the winner’s circle, and let Mike Neff run that Funny Car. He’s won championships for you and he’s going to build those Funny Car teams to where they need to be.

“So, I’m excited about it. We’re going to be okay. We’re going racing now.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Bird: Buenos Aires Formula E win ranks among career best

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - FEBRUARY 06:  Sam Bird of DS Virgin Racing Formula E Team celebrates at the podium after winning the Buenos Aires ePrix as part of 2015-2016 FIA Formula E Championship at Puerto Madero Street Race Track on February 06, 2016 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Amilcar Orfali/Getty Images for TAG Heuer)
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BUENOS AIRES – Sam Bird believes that his victory in Saturday’s Buenos Aires ePrix ranks among the very best in his racing career after he fended off championship leader Sebastien Buemi in the final stages of the race.

Bird led the majority of the race from pole position, but came under intense pressure late on from Buemi who was bidding to complete a last-to-first comeback.

A mistake in qualifying had resigned the Swiss driver to the back of the grid, yet he was crawling all over the back of Bird’s DS Virgin Racing car with a few laps to go.

However, Bird managed to produce a superb defensive display to keep Buemi back and secure his third win in Formula E, which he believes ranks among the best in his career.

“I think it’s up there, I think it’s really good,” Bird told MotorSportsTalk. “I enjoy all the victories. I look back on all of them with fondness but considering we were fighting with two cars that are really good at the moment, to come out and beat them hands down feels very nice.

“We’ve learned a lot from Punta del Este, like I’ve told everbody and we put that into good practice and we did the best we could. We maximized everything and we’ve come away with 28 points so really happy.”

Despite sitting third in the championship standings, Bird does not believe that he is in a position to mount a challenge for the title this year.

“Hare and the tortoise and all that, that’s what I’ve said, hare and the tortoise,” Bird said. “It’s way too early. There are two guys out there that are just so fast. If I can take it to the end, great. I’m not even thinking about it to be honest.

“There are so many decent drivers in this championship that one minute you might win, the next minute you might be P10. So we need to wait and see. Consistency is the key. The two guys ahead of me, they’re relentless, so beating them will be tough.”

Sam Bird takes memorable Formula E victory in Buenos Aires

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BUENOS AIRES – Sam Bird emerged victorious from one of the most thrilling Formula E races in the short history of the series after fending off a charging Sebastien Buemi in the closing stages to bag his third win.

Championship leader Buemi started the race from the back of the grid after making a mistake in qualifying, leaving him with a mountain to climb to even score points, let alone win the race.

However, the Swiss driver produced a driving masterclass and was aided by a safety car period to come into contention late on, only for Bird to produce an equally-excellent display and keep his cool to win in Buenos Aires.

Bird led all but one lap of the race, dropping down to second when Nelson Piquet Jr. went one lap longer during the pit window, and managed to see off challenges from Nicolas Prost and Antonio Felix da Costa in the first half of the race.

Da Costa’s hopes of repeating his victory in Buenos Aires from 2015 were ended just before pitting when his car came to a halt, prompting the stewards to send out the safety car which bunched the field.

Buemi had fought his way up into the points from 18th on the grid by the time he came in to swap cars, and made light work of Stephane Sarrazin before setting his sights on perennial title rival Lucas di Grassi in second place.

An exquisite move into the hairpin saw Buemi move into P2, and despite appearing to have a pace advantage over Bird in the closing stages, the Briton put up an impenetrable defence to keep the Renault e.dams driver back on the final two laps.

Low on power, Buemi had to drop back at the final few corners, giving Bird the breathing room to take his third Formula E win and the first since the start of the DS Virgin partnership.

Di Grassi was unable to join the leading pair at the front for the last fight, dropping back to save power, but managed to finish third. Sarrazin finished fourth for Venturi ahead of Prost and Loic Duval, while Nick Heidfeld’s return from injury went well as he finished seventh.

Robin Frijns enjoyed a good start in the Andretti, running as high as fourth early on, but ultimately dropped back to finish seventh. Oliver Turvey and Bruno Senna rounded out the points in P9 and P10 respectively.

Jean-Eric Vergne bounced back from food poisoning overnight to finish 11th, narrowly missing out on points, while Nelson Piquet Jr. ended the race P13. Daniel Abt and Simona de Silvestro enjoyed quiet races en route to 13th and 14th, while Mike Conway blew his chance of points on debut with a late spin, dropping him to P15 at the end. Jerome d’Ambrosio was the last classified finisher in 16th place.

Manor WEC program launched

Photo: Manor
Photo: Manor
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One of the intriguing elements to come out of yesterday’s entry list reveal for the FIA World Endurance Championship and 24 Hours of Le Mans was the confirmation of Manor in LMP2.

Sporting director Graeme Lowdon and team principal John Booth hinted something new was up not long after the final Grand Prix of the season, when the pair took their bows from what had been the Manor Marussia Formula 1 Team at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.

That “something” was revealed on Friday as an Oreca 05 Nissan in the stacked LMP2 class – a 10-car class – with Tor Graves, a past Manor driver, confirmed as the first new driver for the effort.

“We are delighted to be joining the World Endurance Championship. It is a fantastic series that visits iconic tracks all over the world. The level of competition is very high and we are really looking forward to racing again,” Booth said.

“The LMP2 class is specifically designed for teams independent of manufacturers and/or engine suppliers which places the focus firmly on how the team performs.

“I can’t wait to see the car running now. We have lots to do but we have a great team of people to get it all done.”

The team might be out before the Prologue test at Paul Ricard end of March, but it’s likely that test will mark the team’s first significant running. It should have its driver lineup settled by then, as well.

Lowdon, who’s been bit by the sports car racing bug, expanded on the announcement.

“It’s really great to be racing again and the FIA World Endurance Championship provides a fantastic challenge for us,” he said

“Preseason testing starts soon and there is a lot to do but we have never been afraid of a bit of hard work.

“There is a real buzz within the team at the moment, we have enjoyed great support from the fans over the last few months and we are very keen for them to get fully involved in what we are doing. We all have a great passion for motorsport and we are keen to share that passion.”