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IndyCar’s Miles keen on 2016 schedule, eyes international races

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While three markets are gone, along with the return to two former open-wheel venues and the addition of a brand new venue, the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season shapes up quite nicely.

That’s what Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, the parent of IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said during a Tuesday morning teleconference marking the official announcement of the 2016 race schedule.

Once again, there will be 16 races on the IndyCar calendar. Fontana, Milwaukee and New Orleans (after just one race there) have been replaced by the return to Phoenix; Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisc.; and the debut of a street course race in Boston.

However, from a chronological standpoint, the season will actually stretch five weeks longer in time than 2016, including the necessity to run the season-opening race at St. Petersburg, Florida, two weeks earlier due to a conflict with the Easter holiday.

Miles covered considerable ground in the nearly 45-minute press briefing. He was joined for part of the conference by reigning series champion Scott Dixon.

Here are some of the highlights from Miles’ comments:

KEEPING THE SCHEDULE AT 16 RACES: “With 16 races, we’ve hit kind of a sweet spot for the teams. We’ve got a lot of feedback that that’s a good number. And if we’re going to do 16 races, obviously we’ve made an exception with Detroit, but I think we’d be better off being in more markets. We just felt like if we can add another market, in this instance you can think of it as Boston, we think that’s a good thing.”

SIGNIFICANCE OF THE INDIANAPOLIS 500: “I think the 2016 season is really defined by the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. The IndyCar Series is all about history and there’s no better example in my mind in epic motorsports than the Indianapolis race. That event is legendary.”

ON THE ADDITION OF BOSTON TO THE SERIES SCHEDULE: “We are delighted to be able to add Boston to the 2016 schedule, particularly on the Labor Day weekend, when it gets down to crunch time for the 2016 championship.”

BUT THERE CONTINUES TO BE QUESTIONS ABOUT BOSTON DUE TO LOCAL OPPOSITION: “We understand the agreements are in place. I just don’t believe there are local impediments to doing the race there. That’s our understanding from both the city’s administration and our promoter. Before we announced it, we had seen all the work on the track, had met with folks from the convention center and Mayor’s office. There’s no big city where a street race might not create objections on the part of some people, but I think care has been taken to minimize any inconveniences in this example in Boston and I believe the city is going to embrace it.”

POSSIBILITY OF RACING IN MEXICO CITY IN 2017: “The spirits are willing but we have learned that patience is best and there’s no point in rushing a promoter. We want to make sure that any time we add an event, they have done everything necessary that it’s positioned to be a great IndyCar race. There’s no obstacle that caused it to fall over as an option or possibility, we just felt we should have more time to see if everything can definitely be in place, including TV arrangements, looking at the calendar there, making sure everything works at the track and with sponsors and the like. It’s a good open dialogue. It’s possible at this point that it could happen in ’17, but not certain. We both felt that it made sense to take our time and get it right, rather than be hasty.”

WHY DID MILWAUKEE LOSE ITS RACE DATE, AND WILL IT RETURN TO THE SCHEDULE IN THE NEAR FUTURE: “We could not find a Wisconsin promoter that we felt like could make all the pieces fit, and that’s unfortunate. We’d have liked to continue the history in Milwaukee and maybe some day we can get back. … In the end, it wasn’t any one, it was none, and that kind of made the decision for us. … Just sorry it didn’t work out this time. … I don’t feel terribly optimistic about it (a return any time soon), but darn it, the Milwaukee market ought to work for us. There’s a great tradition there. I would definitely say never say never. I mean, Phoenix and Elkhart Lake are back, and that’s definitely noteworthy in this context.”

THE PROSPECT OF INTERNATIONAL RACES ON THE SCHEDULE: “It’s a matter of time. We’ve talked about this as part of our calendar strategy since I got involved. But I want to be clear that we don’t see ourselves trying to become Formula One, where we go week-to-week and race-to-race around the globe. We see ourselves continuing fundamentally as primarily a North American-based series. But, particularly in February, we believe we will eventually identify a couple of international opportunities at the beginning of the championship calendar and that will be a great way to start the earliest part of the year. And then we’ll get back to the States like with St. Pete and in the same time frame as they are now. And then we’ll stay in North America and conclude the championship in North America.”

As for defending series champ Scott Dixon, he likes what he sees.

DIXON ON 2016 SCHEDULE: “It’s obviously, I think, a great schedule and something that has been improved from last year. And from other things on the plate, there are some exciting things in the pipeline for making the schedule even better.”

DIXON ON OPEN-WHEEL RACING’S RETURN TO BOTH PHOENIX AND ROAD AMERICA: “I’m very excited. Phoenix for me has always been a staple. … The track’s changed a little bit since we were last there in ’05. … With the changes made there, I think it’s going to be one hell of a race for us, as it definitely was for us in the past, too. Looking forward to that, it’s going to be a tough one. Nice to see an oval come up real early on the schedule. Typically, we’ve had to wait for the Indianapolis 500 for the first one. Great to see it back on the schedule. … Road America is a no-brainer. The last time I raced there was 2002. It’s just one of those legendary, old-school American tracks that we don’t get to see too often. It’s very reminiscent of Watkins Glen. I love Road America.”

NOTES:

* There will only be four overlaps between IndyCar races and NASCAR races, down from five in 2015. In addition, three of those four races will see IndyCar races follow NASCAR races on NBCSN.

* Half of the venues on the schedule have hosted IndyCar or its open-wheel predecessors (CART, Champ Car) for at least 25 races each.

* The season-ending race at Sonoma will be televised in prime time at 7 pm ET, as opposed to 4 pm ET this season.

* Miles said the series is looking at racing at Gateway Motorsports Park in the near future, perhaps as early as 2017.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew ready for IndyCar ride

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Provisional Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew has done nothing but dominate the 2019 season, winning seven of the 16 races run so far and finishing on the podium in all but two of those events.

Now all the 22-year-old Floridian needs to do to formally clinch the 2019 title is simply start the final two races of the season, both of which will be held this weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

For Askew, his maiden Indy Lights season will likely be one he’ll never forget. 

“It’s been a dream come true,” Askew told NBC Sports. “Being with the championship-winning team from last year, we had a really good shot at winning it again for Andretti Autosport. It’s very rare that we show up to a track and struggle to find speed. 

“That’s a fantastic feeling, especially as a driver. That gave me a lot of confidence and hopes of holding the million dollar check at the end of the year. That was the goal going into it.”

This weekend, Askew will accomplish said goal. The championship will not only bring him a sense of pride, but also the opportunity of a lifetime. 

As an award for being crowned the Indy Lights champion, Askew will be awarded a scholarship that guarantees him entry into a minimum of three NTT IndyCar Series events next year – including the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500. 

Time will only tell which team Askew will race for in IndyCar next season, and whether or not Askew’s rookie campaign will be a full-time or part-time affair, but Askew’s performance during the last few seasons in the Road to Indy system has certainly drawn attention of IndyCar’s top team owners.

In August, Askew had the chance to drive an Indy car for the first time in his career during a test session at Portland International Raceway, driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda usually piloted by Scott Dixon.

“It was an opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing that I was very fortunate to have,” Askew said. “I think with my experience in the past couple of years with Cape Motorsports and this year with Andretti Autosport, going into that test was very helpful.

“Going into the test, it was more of trying to treat it as just another day at the racetrack, when it really wasn’t. It was a fantastic opportunity for me – a great experience – and I hope I can take that into my rookie season next year in IndyCar.” 

The final two races of the 2019 Indy Lights season will take place this weekend on Saturday, September 21 at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday, September 22 at 12:05 p.m. ET. Both races will air live on NBC Sports Gold.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter