The brutal stretch of 10 weekends of on-track activity in a row for the Verizon IndyCar Series is over, and the series heads into a most needed off weekend this weekend.
Robin Miller, who serves as part of NBCSN’s IndyCar pit reporting crew, wrote a rather important op-ed piece this week for RACER.com, noting the drain this schedule has done to the crew members, many of whom have spent their livelihoods and careers in the business for decades.
If this was used as a test case for future IndyCar schedules, then deal me out.
One of the issues that exists with the schedule now, even more than the logistical headaches posed from going to New Orleans, Long Beach and Birmingham in three consecutive weeks, is more the fact that in mid-June, 10 of 16 races in the 2015 season are complete, and there’s so few events to look forward to the rest of the calendar year.
With 10 of 16 IndyCar races done, that’s 62.5 percent of its season in the books.
Percentage-wise, NASCAR Sprint Cup is through 15 of 36 races, and FIA Formula 1 is through seven of 19. That equates to 41.66 and 36.84 percent of their seasons complete, respectively.
The FIA World Endurance Championship, which is on the rise, is only done with three of eight races, and the burgeoning Red Bull Global Rallycross championship is through one of 12 points races (two in total, counting the non-points X Games).
All four series stretch into late November, while IndyCar ends the last weekend of August – a full three months earlier.
Post-Indianapolis, it felt as though IndyCar was racing just to race, more than to build buzz about another event it had coming up on the schedule. And four races in three weekends after the Indianapolis 500 was arguably a bit too much in the immediate days after IndyCar’s longest race, and longest month of the season.
Detroit is a very well-run event, and the efforts of the Penske organization are second to none. But the weather and the fact it was a doubleheader stretched the limits of most on site to push on.
Texas and Toronto, frankly, were dwarfed on the world stage by other motorsports events. The Canadian Grand Prix is always one of the highlights of the year for F1, even if this year’s race wasn’t an outright classic.
This past weekend, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is getting more headlines around the world rather than IndyCar’s latest showcase at Toronto.
Toronto was a decent enough race with a popular winner, but just another cog in the schedule rather than the marquee event it once was in its usual July date. Attendance, certainly, is a fraction of what it had been a decade or more ago.
Ironically, had the race been held a week later, this upcoming weekend, IndyCar would be racing on a weekend where the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is off, and not directly head-to-head with Le Mans. Unfortunately timing was always going to be tight for IndyCar in Toronto this year, with the Pan-Am Games occurring next month.
As the final six races come up between the end of June to the end of August, traction might be harder to come by – Fontana (August to June), Milwaukee (August to July), Iowa (a week later in July), Pocono (July to August) and Sonoma (a week later in August) have all had date adjustments from their 2014 race dates.
Building buzz around events that are lacking in date equity – particularly the three oval events at Fontana, Milwaukee and Pocono – is going to be a challenge for the organizers. When stories emerge after the events, potentially, about low local crowd numbers, it should not come as a surprise.
Speaking strictly from a Milwaukee perspective, my home race, there has been little promotional buzz barely more than a month out ahead of the race at the venerable one-mile oval.
There have been private concerns expressed from sources within the last month that this may be the last year for the race, and the annual “will Road America come back?” story out this week that Miller also wrote may have more legs this time around. Potentially.
Meanwhile, on the whole, IndyCar teams don’t have the crew depth and strength in numbers as do NASCAR and F1 teams, and the ones they do have have been run ragged and roughshod the last three months.
Without dedicated shop/headquarters crew as NASCAR and F1 teams have, besides the traveling crews, the crews have been working ad nauseum to tear down and build up the cars for each event, and that’s if there haven’t been any accidents. Full rebuilds of wrecked cars only adds to the stress levels and workloads.
The scale of NASCAR and F1 allow for their schedules to run longer, but more importantly, for each race to feel like something of a big deal.
The anticipation for a Grand Prix builds in part because there are so few back-to-backs.
The anticipation for certain NASCAR races builds because of the consistency of date equity – with several exceptions, you generally know when a certain event will come up on the calendar. Sonoma later this month and Daytona to kick off in early July, when NBC makes its return to broadcasting, are but two examples.
Meanwhile IndyCar has had 10 races worth of content, but has it had 10 races worth of buzz? It’s hard to say yes at this point.