IndyCar Series and Motorsports and Auto Racing and Sports Business

IndyCar may return open-wheel racing to Pocono

September 25, 2012

Despite the IndyCar Series' decision not to return to Edmonton in 2013, circuit CEO Randy Bernard is still promising a minimum 19-race schedule.

That would mark a significant increase from this season’s 15-race slate, and it could mean a race at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., a traditional NASCAR stronghold that hasn’t hosted an open-wheel race in 23 years.

“An expanded schedule is essential to build more exposure for our drivers,” Bernard said.

Bernard is set to announce the 2013 IndyCar Series schedule live on cable TV network Speed's "WindTunnel," a program that airs at 9 p.m. Sundays.

In addition to Pocono, he has indicated the series will return to an oval race in Milwaukee and a street race in Baltimore. It also will add a road race in Houston outside Reliant Stadium.

The series this year has again struggled with television ratings and attendance at several of its events. Outside of the Indianapolis 500, IndyCar Series races rarely achieved its goal of a 1.0 TV rating, which according to New York-based Nielsen Media Research, would mean 1.1 million TV households watching.

Many open-wheel fans and sponsors in recent years have been calling for a return to Pocono, which hosted IndyCar-style racing during the circuit's heyday from 1971 to 1989.

The combination of improvements recently made at the 2.5-mile track and IndyCar’s desire to expand its schedule and add more oval tracks have sparked great interest in the series returning to Long Pond.

During the summer, Pocono sent out a survey to its ticket holders in an attempt to gauge the interest in a possible IndyCar return. Pocono officials said the response to that survey was positive.

Pocono again will host two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race weekends in 2013. The Pocono 400 is set for June 7-9 and the Pennsylvania 400 is scheduled for Aug. 2-4.

The new open-wheel race in Houston likely will run the first weekend in October and serve as the season finale next season, IndyCar officials said, adding that sponsorship deals with Shell and Pennzoil already have been secured for that event.

IndyCar officials have black flagged several discussed Midwest events in 2013, including races at Road America in Wisconsin, Michigan International Speedway and a street circuit race in Chicago.

In the wake of this year’s late cancellation by promoters of a race in Qingdao, China, Bernard said IndyCar will have a “deposit as well as a signed contract” before putting a race on the schedule.

The 19 races in 2013 could come from 17 race weekends and include two same-day doubleheaders, Bernard said. Series officials have indicated one of those double-headers will be at Texas Motor Speedway.

“I’m a huge supporter of doubleheaders,” Bernard said. “It increases your viewership and possibly doubles it. It can give more face time to our drivers who desperately need it.”

Earlier this month, Bernard said he was in discussions with 22 venues for the likely 17 spots on IndyCar’s 2013 calendar. The IndyCar Series’ board of directors met Sept. 20 and gave final approval to the 2013 schedule, sources in the series said.

Outside of select events in South America and Canada, Bernard indicated the series would remain primarily focused on holding races in the United States.

While Bernard is optimistic about the series’ growth in 2013, recent developments in Edmonton, which has hosted an open-wheel race the past eight years, can’t be viewed positively.

City of Edmonton chief financial officer Lorna Rosen told the Edmonton Journal that Octane Motorsports, the Edmonton race promoter, felt the race could not be financially viable.

“We tried everything we can think of to make it a success, and the races were good, but the profitability as a business venture just wasn't there [for the promoter],” Rosen said.

“This year’s attendance was good, but we were also convinced that the event, especially with the quality of the spectacle offered, should have attracted many more spectators over its three days,” Octane said in a prepared statement.

A race in Toronto will likely be the series’ only 2013 foray into Canada, which traditionally has been a strong open-wheel market.

“We remain optimistic that we will return to having two races in Canada as early as 2014,” Bernard said.

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