IndyCar keeps 16 races on schedule for longer 2016 season
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Mark Miles put a little bit of everything on IndyCar's 2016 schedule.
There is a holiday weekend race set for Boston, a return to two familiar venues and the 100th Indianapolis 500. He found a way to extend the season by five weeks, starting earlier and finishing later. He even came up with creative ways to get around two big competitors for television viewers.
Series officials will soon find out if it works.
''The strategic vision is not so much just to make the calendar longer as it is to schedule it and reach out to more fans,'' said Miles, the CEO of IndyCar's parent company.
With a growing mix of established stars such as Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon and a cadre of emerging young American contenders such as Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden, the series could be well-positioned to expand the fan base - with the right marketing.
Miles thinks he's come up with a blended solution.
With Indianapolis, IndyCar's biggest race, staying in its traditional Memorial Day weekend slot (May 29), Miles added Boston to the schedule Sept. 4, Labor Day weekend.
''Boston has really terrific attributes for us. We understand that something approaching 200,000 college students return to the Boston area before our race, so hopefully we'll see a lot of college students out there,'' Miles said. ''They also have signed a title and a presenting sponsor.''
Boston is a lynchpin of the new strategy.
Miles wanted to race in bigger markets and wound up getting Boston and Phoenix, which will host the first oval race of the season April 2.
He also wanted to keep traditional venues in the mix. So in addition to the two races at Indianapolis, drivers will compete at old-time venues such as Long Beach on April 17, Pocono on Aug. 21 and Road America in Wisconsin, where the series returns June 26
It's a combination drivers have embraced.
''Road America is one of those legendary, old-school American tracks, which we don't get to see too often on the road-course side of venues,'' said Dixon, the defending series champion.
Hoping to land bigger crowds and attract more viewers, Miles moved the annual season opener at St. Petersburg up 16 days to March 13 so it landed during the local spring break period rather than Easter weekend and the annual season finale at Sonoma back three weeks to Sept. 18. The start time at Sonoma also was moved back three hours, so it will be run in prime time in the East and fits neatly into a time slot between the end of the NFL's late afternoon games and Sunday night football.
And, because of the Olympics, Miles scheduled only one race in August with what looks like a perfect a time slot.
''It's challenging,'' Miles said. ''So Pocono is scheduled where it follows the close of the last Olympics' competition and before the closing ceremonies. That's threading the needle.''
The schedule includes five races on ovals, five on permanent road courses and six on temporary street circuits. There is only one international race, at Toronto on July 17, and the 16 total races are the same number as 2015.
Team Penske's Will Power said he liked the variety of courses.
''To me, that diversity crowns a true champion of the Verizon IndyCar Series because you have to be very solid on every type of track,'' he said.
The television numbers could force Miles to continue revising future schedules, too, by starting earlier and adding more races.
''We believe that (marketing) from a television perspective, that's earlier in the year,'' Miles said. ''We think in the future as we continue to work and, I believe we will, to schedule IndyCar races in February, right after the Super Bowl.''