Pocono was on 2020 INDYCAR schedule as late as last Thursday

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
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PORTLAND, Oregon – INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles told NBC Sports.com that Pocono Raceway was on the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule as late as “Thursday night.”

Miles, who spoke with NBC Sports.com after the 2020 schedule was released on NBC Sports before Sunday’s telecast of the Grand Prix of Portland, said INDYCAR was willing to have an 18-race schedule for next season. Miles, along with INDYCAR Vice President of Promoter and Media Partner Relations Stephen Starks worked with Pocono Raceway officials through late last week to try to find a way to keep the series at the 2.5-mile triangle-shaped speedway.

“It was absolutely not a foregone conclusion,” Miles told NBC Sports.com. “We were talking to them about substantive points as late as Thursday of last week. It was only on Thursday night that it was clear it was not going to get done.

“We appreciated the point of view that maybe there would be a new opportunity there because of NASCAR schedule changes for next year, but we still could not get it to work.”

Miles said there were a variety of factors that led to the decision to not return. And, he emphasized that the two groups could get together in the future, sooner, rather than later.

“We and they worked hard on it this week and only threw in the towel Thursday night,” Miles continued. “People say, ‘Well, you’ll never go back.’ Well, here we are in Portland and think Road America, Gateway and now Richmond, I think we have a track record of going back to places we have raced at before.

“We were working with Pocono and we were already committed to Richmond. That would have added a net race and be at 18 for next year, so we are willing to have an 18-race schedule under the right circumstances.”

Miles said the decision to increase to 18 races would be an economic decision with the teams in mind. Currently, teams have been able to generate enough sponsorship to the budget to have a healthy lineup for 17 race schedules.

“You have to look at the expenses and sets of tires is one and then the number of miles on engines,” Miles explained. “Engine leases limit the number of miles on engines. If you could add a race without having to go to another engine, then that would lessen the cost. But if one more race meant one more engine, that would be considerably more. It’s a variable analysis.

“We thought we might be able to go to 18 races without having to go to an additional engine. We looked at testing and other uses.”

Pocono Raceway Nick Igdalsky expressed his disappointment shortly after the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule was announced on Sunday.

“It is with great disappointment for Pocono Raceway to confirm we will not be on the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule,” Igdalsky said. “Our partnership with the premier open wheel series in the United States has concluded for now. It has been a pleasure to work with INDYCAR representatives during this honest and candid negotiation.

“On behalf of the entire Pocono Raceway family, it has been a joy getting to know the teams and partners, many of whom have become dear friends. Thank you to ABC Supply Co., Inc., who have supported our INDYCAR events since 2014. Thank you to all the fans that have supported Pocono over the years. We share in the disappointment of thousands who also dreamed of future open wheel races at ‘The Tricky Triangle.’ A sincere thank you to Mario Andretti, for his years of passionate support.

“And finally, we thank all the drivers who dazzled us with their talent and heroics, as well as those drivers who spoke in support of Pocono during their recent visit. We sincerely wish INDYCAR and their competitors best of luck with the remainder of the 2019 season and beyond.”

Miles believes next year’s schedule has a balance of street courses, road courses, high-speed and short ovals.

Next year’s schedule also has significant changes because of the Tokyo Olympics, which will be televised on NBC and its cable channels. IndyCar will have a three-week break next summer.

Also, the INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) was moved from the third weekend in March to the final weekend of April so that it did not conflict with the annual 12 Hours of Sebring IMSA Sports Car race.

Every year when INDYCAR announces a new schedule, there remains fan support for some tracks that haven’t hosted IndyCar events in years, or even for more than a decade.

“The decision making on the schedule is complicated with lots of considerations,” Miles said. “The first now is we are not in a position to look to add to the total number of races unless it makes sense for us to do that. Economics is part of that, timing is part of it, proximity to other races in the same time of year and whether it would be a good event and bring in a good crowd.

“We try to stay current with the other venues so if there is reason to re-evaluate, we will do it. It’s not as simple as having a track and we will go there, it’s more complicated than that.”

Some fans long for the days of the old “Triple Crown.” That was three 500-mile races that included the Indianapolis 500 and, in the past, 500-milers at Pocono and at the old Ontario Motor Speedway in California, which closed up in the 1980s and is now commercial development. In more recent years, such tracks as Michigan Speedway and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California were part of the “Triple Crown.”

“I didn’t think that it added a huge amount of interest,” Miles said. “The promotion of the ‘Triple Crown’ didn’t cut through.

“Right now, our fans are focused on who is going to win the championship and that is a more important consideration than any three races. Your ability to promote multiple messages is limited. I don’t see that happening any time soon because when we did do it, it didn’t move the needle on interest.”

Miles believes INDYCAR’s television partner at NBC has helped “move the needle” and that is why it was so important to announce the schedule on live television during Sunday’s race on the NBC.

“It was great that it was on network and NBC was open to it and enthusiastic about it,” Miles said. “NBC has done a great job for us all year and this is the most recent example. To do it in a way that Scott Dixon was able to talk about his experiences at Richmond and give the high points of the schedule was a great way to get it done.”

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”