Dates for 2016 IndyCar schedule starting to come together

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It hasn’t come out yet, but with some tracks already announcing their dates or them being reported in the news, puzzle pieces of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule are coming together.

Multiple draft versions of the schedule are being circulated at the present time.

WHAT WE KNOW

St. Petersburg, the season opener this year, is the latest race to have its date revealed, with Tampa Bay Times report confirming a Trackside Online report that the race date will move forward two weeks to March 11-13, 2016.

Here’s the other dates we know for sure:

TORONTO’S DATE COULD SHIFT THINGS AROUND, AGAIN

Although not officially announced, it was revealed in contract writing last year that after its one-year switch to June, Toronto would move back to July 14-17 next year.

So for the second straight year, it appears the Toronto race date could be the single domino that puts all the other race dates in motion for the rest of the schedule.

A Toronto move back to July would have a knock-on effect of forcing Iowa Speedway to move forward a week, into what is Milwaukee’s 2015 date (July 12), or perhaps moving back one week to the end of July. The problem with a move back of one week is it would put it up against the track’s NASCAR Xfinity Series date. Either way, the track is working with INDYCAR on a return.

The Wisconsin situation remains fluid as ever. Multiple sources have confirmed to MotorSportsTalk that a deal is close, if not completely done, to bring IndyCar back to Road America – and the weekend most likely mentioned is with the Pirelli World Challenge weekend, which ran as a standalone feature weekend at the end of June this year.

That end of June slot was also the place for Auto Club Speedway’s Fontana race this year; a low on-site crowd number was unfortunate considering it was one of the best races in recent memory for IndyCar, and it also prompted Robin Miller’s rant against the race date to Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles. Miller’s current schedule projection piece for RACER.com is linked here.

If you slot Road America end of June, that frees up Fontana to move to mid-to-late September, after Boston, and be the season finale.

But back to Wisconsin. An Iowa move against Milwaukee puts Milwaukee’s race, again, in jeopardy.

Signs were mixed after the race this year, with Kevin Healy positive and Michael Andretti not-so-much about the race’s future.

Things have evolved since then, with multiple sources indicating internal issues and layoffs occurring within Andretti Sports Marketing, the race promoters. ASM has stepped up to promote multiple IndyCar races over the last few years – Milwaukee was saved, Baltimore helped and NOLA promoted this year – but things have since taken a turn for the worse.

So figure Milwaukee’s chances, like the Brewers’ playoff hopes this season, aren’t high for a return.

RACES SET FOR RETURN WITHOUT A DATE ANNOUNCED

So long as Honda is part of the series – and while an extension with INDYCAR hasn’t been formalized yet, comments from Honda Peformance Development president Art St. Cyr at Mid-Ohio indicated positive developments – Barber Motorsports Park and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course will be on the schedule.

Texas and Sonoma figure to be back as well.

SPORTS CAR KEY DATES

Note these dates for three races (and a test day) that traditionally draw IndyCar driver interest:

  • January 30-31, Rolex 24 at Daytona
  • March 19, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring
  • June 5, 24 Hours of Le Mans test day
  • June 18-19, 24 Hours of Le Mans

If INDYCAR has a race on the June 18-19 weekend, it would prevent drivers from doing the Le Mans race itself. Test day participation on June 5 – which clashes with Detroit – is mandatory for new drivers (barring rare occasional exemptions, as occurred for Platinum-rated driver Kevin Estre this year) but might not prevent a driver such as a Sebastien Bourdais or Simon Pagenaud – Le Mans veterans – from competing.

WILD CARDS AND POTENTIAL NEW, OLD VENUES

The wild card on the current schedule is Pocono, which is in the last year of its original three-year deal right now.

NOLA, as mentioned above, appears to be one-and-done.

Homestead and Phoenix have also been mentioned for potential returns, and this is where things could sync up nicely for them and for crews from a logistical standpoint.

With St. Pete on March 11-13 and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring confirmed for a week later (March 19), which would allow  sports car teams that use IndyCar drivers as third drivers to continue to do so, a perfect landing spot for Homestead would be the last weekend in March, in what was traditionally its slot before it moved to the end of season.

Then throw Phoenix a week before Long Beach, and suddenly you’d open up the perfect possibility of back-to-back Florida races, with a week off before a back-to-back west coast jaunt.

Barber for its traditional end-of-April slot would follow nicely after Long Beach and lead in perfectly into the month of May, and the rest of the schedule would sort itself out from there.

It will be interesting to see whether the actual 2016 schedule matches the potential best-case scenario – it usually doesn’t in IndyCar – but there seem to be enough positive possibilities that exist to make it a needed improvement over 2015’s.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.