(As a quick note, the YouTube video of Tony Kanaan ramping over Helio Castroneves' car has already passed 1.1 million views! Fearless at the 500 has nearly 6 million. Everyone loves a thriller, I guess!).
With the announcement that Fontana was returning to the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule in 2012, it’s natural to wonder as to exactly which ovals will be on the 2012 schedule. The road/oval balance is a tough nut to crack; it seems like oval events are feast (Indy, Iowa) or famine (Milwaukee). But Randy Bernard seems committed to a relatively even number of road and oval events, which I believe is integral to maintaining the multidisciplinary skill level of the series.
First, let’s look at this year’s oval schedule, along with next year’s status:
May: Indianapolis (confirmed)
June: Texas (confirmed)
June: Milwaukee (gone)
June: Iowa (confirmed)
August: New Hampshire (questionable, but likely)
September: Motegi (replaced with road course this year/gone next year)
October: Kentucky (confirmed)
October: Las Vegas (status unknown)
Obviously, Indianapolis is the centerpiece/crown jewel/Holy of Holies of the series. Texas and Iowa remain model events. Milwaukee, sadly, isn’t going to work out. Let’s assume we do get New Hampshire back. That’s five for next year (unless you count Texas twice), plus Fontana (6) and possibly Vegas (7). The series would need at least 1-2 additional ovals to get something approximating balance between ovals and the twisties.
So where do we find these ovals?
The biggest rumor we keep hearing is that IndyCar is seeing if Chicagoland is definitely in play for ’12. Attendance issues notwithstanding, this seems to be one of the most electric tracks for IndyCar. Obviously low attendance has hurt it, but who wouldn’t want to see the cars play at one of the series’ most competitive venues? I think it’s safe to say if we see any other new oval for ’12, it’s going to be Chicagoland.
Fans have pushed for a lot of other great oval tracks; Richmond has had some buzz, as has Pocono, and Phoenix. Unfortunately, Richmond seems a couple years off from having IndyCar back, Pocono doesn’t seem structurally ready for an IndyCar race, and Phoenix’s leadership doesn’t seem supremely interested just now.
So, it looks like we’ll see at most 8 ovals in 2012—unless you count Texas as a doubleheader, in which case its 9. So it still seems like based on what we know about the potential number of road and streets courses, the series will be a track or two short of parity. Still, it’s early, and the schedule has yet to be finalized. What’s important now is finding those strong events such as Iowa, securing them, and finding a way to duplicate the result elsewhere as much as possible. And as we saw at Milwaukee, without a solid promoter, not many events will thrive.
That’s one of the reasons I think we need to look at not just quantity, but quality. A one-and-done oval doesn’t help anyone. Of the ovals right now, obviously Indy, Iowa, and Texas are healthy events. New Hampshire and Kentucky could use a boost, and we’ve yet to see what Vegas holds. Let’s hope whatever events we end up with in 2012 are healthy, growing, and superb races.