Another short season would not do for Randy Bernard and his IZOD IndyCar Series. A 15-race schedule that ends in mid-September couldn't provide proper justice for an on-track product that was as good as it was in 2012.
With that, Bernard – a guy that never seems to stop thinking about opportunities to increase exposure for his series – is going to experiment for 2013 with doubleheader weekends that will feature more bang for the fan’s buck thanks to full-distance races on Saturday and Sunday, as well as the introduction of standing starts.
But he clearly wants to ensure he has optimal conditions to help this experiment become a success. Just look at the three venues that the series has picked to stage the doubleheaders next season.
Last year’s race at Belle Isle Park in Detroit was marred by a crumbling track surface, but Roger Penske’s group in the Motor City is currently hard at work on a massive re-paving project around the island.
When it’s all said and done, about 80,000 square feet of concrete and 3,000 square feet of asphalt will be installed as part of the initiative. Whether passing will increase as a result is yet to be determined, but nonetheless, it’s a big commitment that’s being made by Penske to keep racing on Belle Isle for years to come.
And with Chevrolet’s own commitment on multiple levels to the race – both as an event sponsor and engine manufacturer for the series – it was a relatively easy decision for the series to bestow a doubleheader upon Belle Isle.
The second doubleheader of 2013 will be set in the streets of Toronto and takes care of several issues. With the recent demise of the Edmonton Indy, INDYCAR’s move to put a two-race weekend in Toronto ensures that the series will still have a pair of events north of the border.
Multiple races in Canada are obviously important to maintain due to the country’s strong fan base and the two Canadian racers in the series, James Hinchcliffe and Alex Tagliani. But in 2013, there’s another reason why it’s critical.
Sportsnet will be replacing TSN as Canada’s television home for the IZOD IndyCar Series next season. The channel, whose brand has recently expanded to radio and a biweekly sports magazine north of the border, is slated to broadcast all 19 races live in 2013. No doubt INDYCAR will have ample promotion in Canada through all of those avenues. Consider that element in particular, and putting a doubleheader in Toronto is just good business.
Finally, we have Houston, which will return to open-wheel racing for the first time since 2007. Prior to that point, the city had staged events at Reliant Park (2006, 2007) and on its downtown streets (1998-2001) for CART/Champ Car. This time around, Houston’s going back to Reliant Park for a multi-year run with IndyCar and its race boasts the major backing of Shell Oil, whose U.S. operations are based in the city.
For INDYCAR, Houston represents major potential in cultivating new fans -- especially in the city’s giant Hispanic population, which is the third-biggest of its kind in the country. A sizable college crowd is also there for the taking, as more than 40 institutions of higher learning can be found in the city.
Last but not least, Houston is home to a number of big companies that INDYCAR and race organizer Mi-Jack Promotions can draw support from; only New York has more headquarters for Fortune 500 companies.
All of these venues have plenty of things going for it from a business perspective, and that’s obviously important. But what will the on-track product look like multiplied by two?
The narrow, technical course at Belle Isle has always been a difficult place for on-track passing, so those hoping for more of that will have to see if the current re-paving will unlock some more excitement. As for Toronto, the drama – and the mayhem – is always high and adding a second race to the weekend there will only make drivers and teams even more on edge. Then there’s Houston, whose Reliant Park circuit was known for its roughness back in the Champ Car days; will another bumpy ride await the IndyCars when they visit next October?