Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Thoughts about IndyCar schedule

The IndyCar season ended over two weeks ago, which is very early given that e.g. NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup started only last weekend and will finish in mid-November. IndyCar wanted to have the season finale in late August to get the season finished before the American football season begins.

The early season finish has been criticized a lot but I can understand the reasons behind it. One can say the IndyCar fans would watch IndyCar also after the football season has started but that argument doesn't take casual fans into account. Once the football season has started, it is harder to make casual fans watch IndyCar as well as it is harder to get attention for IndyCar. The season ending in late August can help to get more attention for the season finish.

But the early season finish has also its disadvantages. Even if it enabled to get more attention for the season finish, it means the offseason will be longer than the race season if the next season begins in March.

I think the season should be seven to eight months long. Usually that means a season from March to October or November. But I think the season could also begin earlier to shorten the offseason after an August finish. In that case, even a February start would be too early but the season could begin in January or December. A longer season would allow more time between races. I think two weeks is ideal for the gap between races. A race every week feels too often; a race doesn't feel so special when there was one in the previous week and another in the following one. A race every two weeks feels right; it would feel more special yet the races would be often enough to keep the interest up. Yet, a winter start wouldn't completely be without problems. There are IndyCar drivers participating the 24 Hours of Daytona so a January start would be problematic. Besides weather would rule out many tracks for races in winter.

Weather leads to another topic. Should IndyCar expand overseas? There could be races e.g. in South America during winter.

I think IndyCar should concentrate on the USA, their key market is there. But there could be some overseas races to increase the series' international recognition. I think Latin America would be a good option for international races. The races would be in the same time zones as the USA so it wouldn't make much difference for an American TV viewer. Brazil had a race in Sao Paulo until last year and next year there will probably be a race in the city of Brasilia. Another Latin American country where I would like to see a race is Colombia as they have three drivers in the series. Mexico as the USA's neighboring country would also be quite a natural option for an abroad race. Yet, the former Champ Car venue Autodromo Hermanos Rodrigues in Mexico City will be hosting F1 starting from the next year, so that track obviously isn't an option for IndyCar.

As for overseas races, I think Australia and Japan could also be good additions to the calendar. Surfers Paradise and Motegi have already previously hosted IndyCar and CART races. Those races' time zones might be somewhat problematic for the American TV audience but I am pretty sure late Saturday night is better than early Sunday morning. Because of the difficult time zone, I don't think IndyCar should consider expansion to Europe. Another reason is that IndyCar isn't very popular in Europe and I doubt the races would draw enough audience to be worth flying the cars to Europe.

All in all, I think the season ending in late August may have some advantages but the long offseason has its disadvantages. Starting the season earlier could be a solution to avoid the long offseason of the August finish. Yet finding tracks for a winter start might be more difficult than extending the season until October or November with a March start. My opinion is that the offseason must not exceed five months. If you cannot do it with an August finish, then extend the season into October or November.

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