By way of others, most of IndyCar’s 2017 schedule is out

Photo: IndyCar

Thanks to other series releasing either their finalized (IMSA) or provisional (Pirelli World Challenge) 2017 calendars, or tracks announcing their own dates, we already know most of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule – which series officials hope to release later this month.

A couple weeks ago, we forecast what the announced dates on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar could look like, as part of a number of others that were already out.

Those dates are below:


  • St. Petersburg, March 9-12, 2017
  • Long Beach, April 7-9, 2017
  • Grand Prix of Indianapolis, May 11-13, 2017
  • Indianapolis 500, May 28, 2017
  • Detroit, June 2-4, 2017
  • Road America, June 25, 2017
  • Iowa, July 8-9, 2017
  • Toronto, July 13-16, 2017

Since that point, we’ve had three other dates released, by way of the provisional World Challenge calendar out last week at Mid-Ohio, and two more today by way of IMSA’s calendar release – via some additional IMSA content.

The additional World Challenge date confirmed is Mid-Ohio, on the last weekend of July, July 28-30. That’s in addition to confirming its presence at St. Petersburg, Long Beach and Road America, with the possibility of Sonoma continuing.

Then we got two more dates out of IMSA today, the Barber Motorsports Park and Sonoma Raceway dates.

Those dates are:

  • Barber, April 21-23, 2017 (Porsche GT3 Cup, Prototype Challenge)
  • Sonoma, Sept. 15-17 (Porsche GT3 Cup)

“I think it’s a reflection of the quality of those championships and the show that they put on, the quality of the teams, the drivers,” IMSA President Scott Atherton told NBC Sports of adding IMSA content to those two IndyCar weekends. “It’s incredibly competitive racing. The cars are sexy, they’re fast, they make great sound. Everything about them is attractive.

“We have good relationships with IndyCar, we have great relationships with those promoters. There’s no issue there. They’re smart promoters that recognize an opportunity to bring an interesting element into what would otherwise be an open-wheel weekend. And it makes a lot of sense for us as well.

“We’re in a situation with so many platforms that it’s very difficult for us to accommodate all of the platforms on all of our big weekends. So by having the opportunity to place selectively some of these other championships within other significant weekends, IndyCar weekends are a great fit, Barber Motorsports Park, Sonoma, all perfect venues for this type of championships and those type of cars.”

So what does this mean for the remainder of the IndyCar schedule? Several things, including that at least 12 race dates are locked in.

This means Phoenix is locked in either for the first or last weekend of April. If it doesn’t want to conflict with the Final Four which occurs on Saturday, April 1, that would shift it to Saturday, April 29. Even though logistically speaking, it would make more sense to be in Phoenix the first weekend in April, then Long Beach the next weekend.

Second, the outstanding race dates from 2016 yet to be determined beyond Phoenix – which we know is back – are Texas, Pocono, Watkins Glen and potentially Gateway, which according to NBCSN contributor Robin Miller in a piece appears poised to rejoin the schedule.  Gateway officials were present at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier this year.

Provided Texas is in its usual post-Detroit, non-rain delayed slot, that would put it on Saturday, June 10.

Pocono and Watkins Glen are the question marks but given the Mid-Ohio to Sonoma gap, you’d expect to see two if not all three of Pocono, Gateway and Watkins Glen slot into that time frame.

Also something else to note? Where do Mazda Road to Indy races slot in. The addition of IMSA and World Challenge content on some of these weekends limits the potential for all three Mazda Road to Indy series to run on the same weekend. Expect Mazda Road to Indy on most IndyCar weekends but the details of which of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series to be sussed out later.

Cancel out the possibility of the much-discussed yet never-implemented international races and you’ve already got most of your 2017 IndyCar schedule ready to go, as you see below.

2017 Verizon IndyCar Series dates as we know them, plus additional content

  • St. Petersburg, March 9-12, 2017 (Pirelli World Challenge)
  • Long Beach, April 7-9, 2017 (IMSA WeatherTech Championship, World Challenge)
  • Barber, April 21-23, 2017 (IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup, Prototype Challenge)
  • Grand Prix of Indianapolis, May 11-13, 2017
  • Indianapolis 500, May 28, 2017
  • Detroit, June 2-4, 2017 (IMSA WeatherTech Championship)
  • Road America, June 25, 2017 (World Challenge)
  • Iowa, July 8-9, 2017
  • Toronto, July 13-16, 2017
  • Mid-Ohio, July 28-30, 2017 (World Challenge)
  • Sonoma, Sept. 15-17 (IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup)

Heart of Racing program aims to elevate new generation of women to star in sports cars

women sports cars
Mike Levitt/LAT Images/Heart of Racing

(Editor’s note: This story on the Heart of Racing sports cars shootout for women is one in an occasional Motorsports Talk series focusing on women in racing during March, which is Women’s History Month.)

Heart of Racing driver and team manager Ian James says his daughter, Gabby, isn’t so interested in auto racing. But she is interested (as a New York-based journalist) in writing about the sport’s efforts and growth in gender equality

It’s a topic that also was brought up by James’ wife, Kim.

“They’re always saying, ‘Hey, you manage all these guys, and you help them, so why not a woman?’ ” Ian James told NBC Sports. “And I feel like there are a lot of women that haven’t had a fair crack at it in sports car racing.

Our whole DNA at Heart of Racing is we give people opportunities in all types of situations where there’s been crew personnel or drivers. And I felt like we hadn’t really addressed the female driver situation. I felt like there was a void to give somebody a chance to really prove themselves.”

During the offseason, the team took a major step toward remedying that.

Heart of Racing held its first female driver shootout last November at the APEX Motor Club in Phoenix, Arizona, to select two women who will co-drive an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 in the SRO SprintX Championship.

The season will begin this weekend at Sonoma Raceway with Hannah Grisham and Rianna O’Meara-Hunt behind the wheel. The team also picked a third driver, 17-year-old Annie Rhule, for a 2023 testing program.

The Phoenix audition included 10 finalists who were selected from 130 applicants to the program, which has been fully underwritten by Heart of Racing’s sponsors.

“We didn’t want it to be someone who just comes from a socio-economic background that could afford to do it on their own course,” James said. “We can pick on pure talent. We’re committed to three years to do this and see if we can find the right person. I’m very hopeful.”

So is Grisham, a Southern California native who has been racing since she was 6 in go-karts and since has won championships in Mazda and Miata ladder series. She has several victories in the World Racing League GP2 (an amateur sports car endurance series). The last two years, Grisham has worked as a test driver for the Pirelli tire company (she lives near Pirelli’s U.S. headquarters in Rome, Georgia, and tests about 30 times a year).

Starting with the Sonoma during SprintX event weekends (which feature races Saturday and Sunday), she will split the Heart of Racing car with O’Meara-Hunt (a New Zealand native she got to know at the shootout).

“It’s huge; the biggest opportunity I’ve had in this sport,” Grisham, 23, told NBC Sports. “Now it’s up to me to perform how I know I can. But I’m super lucky to be with such an amazing team and have a good teammate. The Heart of Racing has a family vibe and energy to it that’s really amazing. It’s super exciting. It’s hard to put into words.”

Grisham is hopeful that a strong performance eventually could lead to a full-time ride with Heart of Racing. The team has full-time entries in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and won the GTD category of the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the No. 27 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 piloted by James, Darren Turner, Roman DeAngelis and Marco Sorensen.

James said “there’s no guarantee” of placement in an IMSA entry for Grisham and O’Meara-Hunt, but “if they prove themselves, we’ll continue to help them throughout their career and our team. The GT3 program is an obvious home for that. If they get the opportunity and don’t quite make it, we’ll be looking for the next two. The next three years, we’ll cycle through drivers until we find the right one.”

Grisham described the two-day shootout as a friendly but intense environment. After a day of getting acclimated to their cars, drivers qualified on new tires the second day and then did two 25-minute stints to simulate a race.

“Everyone was super nice,” she said. “Once everyone gets in the car, it’s a different level. A different switch gets turned on. Everyone was super nice; everyone was quick. I feel we had an adequate amount of seat time, which is definitely helpful.

“It’s always cool to meet more women in the sport because there’s not too many of us, even though there’s more and more. It’s always cool to meet really talented women, especially there were so many from all over the world.”

IMSA has celebrated female champions and race winners, notably Katherine Legge (who is running GTD full time this season with Sheena Monk for Gradient Racing). The field at Sebring and Daytona also included the Iron Dames Lamborghini (a female-dominated team).

James believes “a breakout female driver will be competing with the best of them” in the next five years as gender barriers slowly recede in motorsports.

“It’s been a male-dominated sport,” James said. “It’s still a very minute number of women drivers compared to the guys. I’m sure back in the day there were physical hurdles about it that were judged. But now the cars are not very physical to drive, and it’s more about technique and mental strength and stuff like that, and there’s no reason a girl shouldn’t do just as well as a guy. What we’re just trying to achieve is that there isn’t an obvious barrier to saying ‘Hey, I can’t hire a guy or a girl.’ We just want to put girls in front of people and our own program that are legitimate choices going forward for people.”

“There’s been some really good female drivers, but a lot of them just haven’t been able to sustain it, and a lot of that comes from sponsorship. I think (with the shootout), there’s no pressure of raising money and worrying about crash damage. We’ve taken care of all that so they can really focus on the job at hand.”

Funding always has been a hurdle for Grisham, who caught the racing bug from her father, Tom, an off-road driver who raced the Baja 1000 several times.

“I don’t come from a lot of money by any means,” she said. “So since a young age, I’ve always had to find sponsorships and get people to help me, whether it was buying tires, paying for entry fees, paying for the shipment of a car to an actual race. Literally knocking on doors of people or businesses in my town. So yeah, it’s definitely something I’ve always struggled with and held me back because the sport revolves so much around money. So again to get this opportunity is insane.”

Grisham credits racing pioneer Lyn St. James (an Indy 500 veteran and sports car champion) as a role model who has helped propel her career. She was hooked by the sights, smells and sounds of racing but also its competitive fire.

“There’s a zone you get in, that subconscious state of mind when you’re driving. It’s like addictive almost. I love it. Also I’m just a very competitive person as I think most race car drivers are.

“For sure I want to stay with the Heart of Racing. Obviously, I’m still getting to know everyone, but it’s a super family vibe. That’s how I grew up in the sport with just my dad and I wrenching on the cars. That’s what I love about this sport is all the amazing people you meet. And I think this is one of the most promising teams in this country. For sure, I want to learn as much as I can from them and hopefully continue. I feel so lucky and grateful to be one of those chosen.”