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.

Donny Schatz edges Kyle Larson for Outlaws victory at Lake Ozark

Trent Gower/World of Outlaws
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Donny Schatz made a last-lap pass on Kyle Larson, snatching a World of Outlaws victory Saturday night at Lake Ozark Speedway.

Larson started on the pole, led 30 of 35 laps and was in control until a caution set up a two-lap shootout to the finish before a limited crowd in Eldon, Missouri.

Schatz and Larson traded the lead twice over the final two laps, but the 10-time champion emerged with his first victory since the NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series returned in mid-May from a two-month layoff because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

‘THEY’VE STUCK BEHIND ME’: Kyle Larson comments on future, Outlaws plans

“Man, I don’t know what to say, but Kyle’s a damn good racer,” Schatz, who led five laps, told DirtVision after his 296th Outlaws win. “I kind of had to go where he didn’t. We got that green-white-checkered, and I decided I was going to send it. He decided the same thing.

Donny Schatz celebrates at Lake Ozark Speedway after his second Outlaws Sprint Car victory of the season (Trent Gower).

“I’m glad to get the win. It feels like it’s been forever. I’ve been out here 24 years, and every night is a learning experience still.”

Larson finished second in his fifth start since he began racing with the Outlaws after being suspended from NASCAR.

“Obviously, it would have been nice to get the win,” Larson said on DirtVision. “I figured Donny would rip the middle. The restarts before, he’d almost clear me in (turns) 3 and 4. I should have known to protect and block his momentum. I felt I exited 2 OK. We don’t have spotters or rearview mirrors so you can’t see how close he is or really hear it when the pace is so slow.

“I just didn’t do a good enough job to run a smarter final couple of laps.”

Brad Sweet, Larson’s brother in law, finished third, with Shane Stewart and David Gravel rounding out the top five.

Larson rebounded from a 10th in Friday’s feature at Lake Ozark Speedway, continuing his streak of top-10 finishes in all five of his starts since the Outlaws’ return.

“We got our car a lot better from last night, so that was a plus,” said Larson, who finished second and first in back-to-back nights last week at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at Pevely, Missouri. “These guys are really tough. To be on the podium with Donny and Brad, they’ve won lots of big races and championships, it’s nice. I just didn’t do what I needed to do that last restart.”

Larson nearly had a flawless night Saturday, turning a 11.426-second lap to capture his second pole position this season and won the pole dash to start first in the feature.

Larson, who was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing from his NASCAR Cup Series ride last month for using a racial slur in an iRacing event, said last week that he plans to run several more NOS Energy Sprint Car Series races this year.

Larson remains indefinitely suspended by NASCAR but was approved to race by the Outlaws after completing sensitivity training.