Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles has a lot on his mind as the MotoGP caravan rolls into Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week.
First, Miles has to decide if the motorcycle event is profitable enough to bring back for another year. Though IMS has a deal to host the race through 2014, Speedway officials have a short window after this year’s race concludes Sunday to back out of the final year of that deal.
Including a seven-figure sanctioning fee and the cost of bringing in all the racing motorcycles and other gear (much from overseas), the Speedway pays about $5 million to put on the race. It’s no longer clear if IMS makes enough money to cover those expenses let alone generate enough profit to make the venture worthwhile.
Miles also must decide what to do with the sports car race that this year ran the Friday before the Brickyard 400. And that actually may be the more critical decision Miles has to make—for several reasons.
Last year, NASCAR acquired the American Le Mans Series and is merging it with its own sports car circuit, the Grand Am Series.
NASCAR executive Jim France is lobbying Miles to make a race for the newly merged United Sport Car circuit a stand-alone event at the Speedway during its inaugural season in 2014. Sources familiar with the discussions say France has suggested the sports car race be held in place of the MotoGP during late summer or early fall.
But there’s another—maybe even more intriguing—possibility.
France, sources said, is also willing to consider holding a United Sports Car race at IMS in May. France and Speedway officials have discussed holding a sports car race on the Speedway’s road course in early May as a way to kick-off a racing-filled month.
Both sides want a true endurance race (six hours or more) and think it could be an ideal way to launch the run up to the Indy 500 the way the Rolex 24 at Daytona kicks off festivities leading up to the Daytona 500 NASCAR race. If Miles adds lights to IMS as he’s indicated he will, the sports car race would have greater scheduling and format flexibility.
Sports car racing features cars made by the likes of Porshe, BMW, Ferrari and Mazda. The cars have features such as fendered chassis like a NASCAR and the wings more commonly seen on an IndyCar.
Since NASCAR and the IMS/IndyCar Series would be heavily invested in the event in May, there would likely be a number of NASCAR and IndyCar Series drivers racing head-to-head at the sports car race, along with a bevy of sports car racing veterans.
The idea is intriguing for Speedway officials looking to bolster activities during a month that once made Indy the epicenter of racing, but has faded in recent years with a pared down practice schedule and ho-hum bump day activities for the 500.
NASCAR officials love the idea because demographics of sports car racing and the IndyCar Series are a close match. Not only would the move lift the sports car race out of its unenviable afternoon time slot the Friday before Sunday’s Brickyard 400 and add some star power to the event, but it also would place it in front of an audience much more eager to see it.
Speedway officials like the idea because sports marketers believe such a star-studded sports car race could draw as many or more fans than the MotoGP race. And since the sanctioning fee and logistical costs to bring in the U.S.-based sports car series would be much lower than for the European-based MotoGP, the Speedway could hold a stand-alone sports car race for a fraction of the cost as the motorcycle event.
But who knows? If the sports car race is scheduled in early May, who’s to say the Speedway couldn’t also hold the MotoGP race in August?