The immediate thing that stood out to me upon the release of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule – out earlier Thursday – was how different the second half of the season looks.
This year, the June through August slate was: Texas, Houston doubleheader, Pocono, Iowa, Toronto doubleheader, Mid-Ohio, Milwaukee, Sonoma, and Fontana.
Next year, the June through August slate will be: Texas, Toronto, Fontana, Milwaukee, Iowa, Mid-Ohio, Pocono, and Sonoma.
Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, the head of INDYCAR’s parent company, explained how the Toronto race – which is a one-year shift from its usual July date due to the Pan-Am Games – has essentially triggered a domino effect of four other second-half races.
“The changes here are considerable, but it’s us trying to accommodate global promoter concerns,” Miles said during Thursday’s teleconference.
“It’s no secret the Toronto event was challenged by the Pan-Am Games in its ‘traditional date.’ That’s a big event for any country. So everybody worked really hard to make it work, and it’s very flexible, and frankly our own teams were part of that.
“There was a lot of discussion about moving Toronto (to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park), but I for one was delighted to see the paddock come together – Toronto is an important venue to us. We had to keep it on the calendar.
“So that was part of starting a number of changes. Fontana was looking for a better week for themselves, and you get a domino effect from there.”
Toronto was also in a situation where if it would had been a week earlier, it would have posed a direct head-to-head conflict with the Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal. On the weekend it is, it directly conflicts with the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Said other races that changed include Milwaukee, which will move from August to July, and Pocono, which will move from July to August. Iowa and Sonoma each shift back a week from their 2014 dates, but stay in the same month.
Miles highlighted the need for INDYCAR to work with its broadcast partners – including NBCSN – to establish the best possible TV windows and avoid direct TV conflicts with other series.
NASCAR’s coming to NBC Sports Group next year won’t alter things too much, Miles said, and the partners have worked well to whether there’s only one projected same day NBCSN conflict (August 2; NASCAR Sprint Cup is at Pocono, IndyCar at Mid-Ohio, with IndyCar slated for a 1:30 p.m. ET start time).
“The first thing is do is work with our broadcasters to open the best windows; we want the season in the right window,” Miles explained. “As I’ve said, we’re convinced, we can expand the season, and slide it forward and ultimately have a couple more races, with couple more weeks on the calendar. But we want those races in a period of tailwind for the broadcast audiences to go. There’s that first point.
“After that, we work with the broadcasters to look at everything else going on. NASCAR hasn’t finalized all their windows, but look at the NBC part, which is new for next year, we’re hopefully looking at there being only one NBCSN conflict/overlap between IndyCar and NASCAR this year.”
Asked about calendar clashes, Miles said he would prefer IndyCar drivers focus on IndyCar, but is not averse to their running in other races in other series.
“The last part of the question was more from a driver’s point of view; that is a consideration,” Miles said. “We want to stake out the weeks that make the most sense for us, and still allow others to have other opportunities, but it’s in that order.”
Date equity is still an important factor, Miles said, but he’d prefer to think of schedules as having a consistent order rather than specific dates – i.e. Brazil, St. Petersburg and NOLA in order regardless of what specific dates they are on.
As for the season finale at Sonoma, Miles did not confirm it would be a multi-year deal. He did say repeatedly he wants the season to end on Labor Day weekend, even though for neither INDYCAR nor Sonoma, the later Labor Day weekend of September 6-7, 2015 worked next year.
“When I say we want to own Labor Day weekend, we mean it,” he said.