INDIANAPOLIS – The Verizon IndyCar Series released their 2018 schedule on Thursday. There will be 16 stops next season. With a new sleeker car coming out, there should be an added sense of urgency and popularity for the series.
Here are five tidbits.
Watkins Glen Out, Portland In
The recent rumor proved to be true, as the schedule unveiled that Watkins Glen was left off. Neither the series nor the track could come to a new agreement for a new date as the holiday weekends don’t work for either side. Instead of leaving a gap though, a return to Portland will take place instead.
The series hasn’t been to Portland since 2007, but it’s a popular replacement.
“There is a change, obviously,” INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles said on Thursday. “Watkins Glen has come off the calendar. I want to take this opportunity to thank Michael and everybody there for being a great partner, jumping into the breach when we had an opportunity late in 2016, doing everything possible to make it work and put on a great event in 2017.
“But it turned out to be a really tough time in New York. So we’re particularly pleased to be able to kind of replace that traditional IndyCar venue, a track that all of our paddock like, with another old friend in Portland. We’re out here now with Graham making the announcement in Portland about returning to Portland.
“We think that makes sense for the series. The last part of the series will be the swing on the West Coast, Portland is the penultimate event, to Sonoma. We ought to say our thoughts are certainly with our friends in Northern California today. But we think that’s great for the series, and it’s a market we really want to get into. We think it will be a great success here.”
Miles did say that despite having a three-year deal, Watkins Glen didn’t give up on them, the split was mutual.
“No, it would be completely unfair to characterize this as them bailing out,” Miles said of the Watkins Glen situation. “It was very mutual, great respect. We appreciated the discussions and the process. There were discussions with them where we kind of looked week by week from early September, earlier into the summer. There just wasn’t a week that worked on our calendars and theirs.
“We considered all kinds of possibilities, maybe even kind of partnering with other events they already had on their schedule, on weekends, which would have been interesting. But in the end, just none of them really were feasible at this time.
“We have the utmost respect for them. We will continue to keep a dialogue with them. If there is a time when we can revisit it, we’ll be eager to do so.”
Mexico Still a Possibility
There was also a rumor that a return to Mexico City could be looming, but if you notice the schedule, the race wasn’t on it. Miles said that it doesn’t necessarily mean that the series won’t be exploring going south of the border for 2018, as he said the two sides are still working on putting something in place.
“Yes, I think there is still a possibility of adding Mexico City for next year. We felt like with Portland being nailed down, most of the schedule, a schedule we’re happy to have as our final schedule for next year is set, ought to be public. But there is ongoing work in Mexico City to get to the track there. I think it’s quite close. We’re optimistic about the possibility, even yet to be added for the 2018 schedule. If it happens, it will be in there probably just after Mid-Ohio where we have a little longer break in the middle of our summer than we’d like. Everything we know about the opportunity there is exciting. Great track, great facility. Obviously huge market. A lot of open-wheel fans and IndyCar fans. We hope that can come together, but the schedule works for us if it doesn’t.
“We have not presented a final deadline for that. It would be a combination of what they would need time-wise to be successful in promoting an event in early August. But from our perspective, it could be added down the road.”
Another big thing you’ll notice about the schedule is there wasn’t a lot of change. The 2018 schedule will look a lot like the 2017 one. The 2017 schedule looked a lot like the 2016 version. There’s a reason for that.
“Well, we think it’s important,” Miles said of date equity for tracks. “I suppose there will always be some changes on the margin as schedules get made. 16 of 17 races from a very successful 2017 Verizon IndyCar championship are back. While on the one hand I think the consistency is important, we’d love it if year after year fans quit looking at their calendars and referring to dates. They’ll say, Next week must be St. Petersburg, or if it’s May, we must be in Indianapolis. We want that to be the way people think about the series.”
Other Ovals Like Kentucky, Chicagoland, Richmond, New Hampshire Not Being Considered
A lot of open wheel fans are wanting more ovals. Currently, just six of the 17 races will be on an oval for 2018. When asked if other ovals are in consideration, Miles said that there haven’t even been any discussions with any other tracks on that subject.
“We don’t know,” Miles said when asked about adding Kentucky, Chicagoland or Richmond in the future. “But never say never. We do not have active conversations right now with the two places you mentioned.”
When asked about New Hampshire, he had the same answer.
“It’s possible. I guess it’s possible. I’m unaware. I don’t think there’s any current conversation about that.”
Possible New Season Finale In 2019?
While Mark Miles said that there never was a question about hosting the 2018 season finale anywhere other than Sonoma, he did slip a tidbit in that this may be the last year for that. While most fans and even drivers/teams are willing to still go to Sonoma, they want to just have a season finale elsewhere. Sonoma isn’t great for action or passing. To have a championship decided at a track like that is bad business. The race for the championship is actually in qualifying, not in the race itself.
But, Miles said that Sonoma’s three year deal is up after 2018, so they could renegotiate a new deal/date for 2019 and beyond.
“Well, I think our organization, broadly defined, the paddock, our team owners, our sponsors, they really like being in Sonoma,” Miles said when asked about Sonoma being the season finale. “It’s a great place for the activation that occurs that makes the sport work in terms of sponsor entertaining and the like. They’re a partner that’s been good to work with. That date is one of the very few that worked for them, given they have a lot of other events.
“It was just sort of a natural for us. I think we probably agreed to this arrangement with them for three years, now two years ago. Yeah, there wasn’t really any serious thought about them not being the finale for 2018. We can, of course, assess that for the future as we know turn our heads forward to look at the future.”
But, if Sonoma wasn’t going to be the season finale, where would? Take a look at this answer to another question.
“We’re very well-represented in the Midwest. The Midwest is probably our foundation, kind of our home market, so to speak. We’ve got a lot of presence in the Midwest.”
Well, what better place than to move Gateway back and end the season in a big market in the midwest, driving distance from Indy. Miles and Graham Rahal gushed about Gateway, unprovoked too, on Thursday’s conference call.
“Thinking about that briefly, we want to give one more shout out to Gateway, and the Bomarito Auto Group 500, returning for its second race next year,” Miles said just two sentences into his opening remarks. “What a great job they did in their first year, having a really positive impact for the series.”
Rahal gushed too about Gateway when he was talking about Portland.
“As Mark (Miles) said as well, I think Gateway did a tremendous job this year. That was a huge success. Saw those guys a couple weeks ago. I’m excited for what’s to come.”
That wasn’t his only reference either. Here’s another one.
“As much as I — there’s tons of places I’d love to go race at. Selling, I don’t know how many tickets, but the place needs to be packed. A lot of venues that we go to are successful at that. Look at St. Louis, 40,000 whatever people there. But we haven’t seen that at Watkins Glen. It’s a shame because it is a great track. But we’ve replaced it with Portland, where I think we can have a lot of success here.”