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IndyCar Unveils 2018 Schedule: Historic Watkins Glen Dropped

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 12 2017

The “Birthplace of American Road-Racing” has been killed off by IndyCar.
(File photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Return of a favored track in the Pacific Northwest _ and the exit of an historic venue in the Northeast _ highlight INDYCAR’s announcement of a 17-race Verizon IndyCar Series schedule for 2018.

Sixteen of 17 races from this year’s season return in 2018, with most falling in the same spot on the calendar to further capitalize upon their date equity. The new/old addition to next year’s schedule is Portland International Raceway in Oregon. The venue hosted Indy car races under CART and Champ Car sanction from 1984-2007, including what still is the closest race finish in Indy car history on either a road or street course.

The Portland event is set for Labor Day weekend in 2018, replacing Watkins Glen International in Upstate New York after a two-year run.

Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, which owns INDYCAR and the IndyCar Series, said the decision to drop WGI from the schedule was reached after several attempts to relocate the date. WGI President Michael Printup was interested in moving off the Labor Day date, a time when many corporate sponsors and fans are closing-out their summer vacations.

“It would be completely unfair to characterize this as them (WGI) bailing-out,” Miles said during a teleconference Thursday with series regular Graham Rahal. “It was very mutual, great respect. We appreciated the discussions and the process. There were discussions with them where we kind of looked week-by-week from early September, earlier into the summer. There just wasn’t a week that worked on our calendars and theirs.

We considered all kinds of possibilities, maybe even kind of partnering with other events they already had on their schedule, on weekends, which would have been interesting. But in the end just none of them really were feasible at this time. We have the utmost respect for them. We will continue to keep a dialogue with them. If there is a time when we can revisit it, we’ll be eager to do so.”

Watkins Glen _ billed as the “Birthplace of American Road-Racing” dating to its first street race in 1948_ was a late addition to the 2016 schedule. The Glen came to the rescue of INDYCAR officials after a proposed street race in downtown Boston failed to materialize around the harbor area due to public and political opposition.

The Glen’s repaved, 3.45-mile, 11-turn layout was universally praised as being “made for Indy car racing” by any number of series regulars, including 2016 event-winner Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing and 2017 winner Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport. While the 2016 event drew well on short notice, a chilly and rain-plagued weekend clearly affected attendance last month.

“Well, obviously it’s tough,” said Rahal, of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “At the same time we, as a series, have to continue to go to places that we see great crowd support. I think if you look at the IndyCar Series across the board, we’ve seen great increases in fans and audience at the track. We have to keep that going.

As much as I _ there’s tons of places I’d love to go race at. Selling, I don’t know how many tickets, but the place needs to be packed. A lot of venues that we go to are successful at that. Look at St. Louis (Gateway Motorsports Park), 40,000-whatever people there. But we haven’t seen that at Watkins Glen. It’s a shame because it is a great track. But we’ve replaced it with Portland, where I think we can have a lot of success. I’m already getting a heck of a lot of buzz on social media about it.”

Printup reiterated the decision was based purely on an inability to find a date that works for the fans, the series and the track.

Simultaneously, Watkins Glen announced a seven-event slate in 2018 headlined by traditional returns from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship on June 28-July 1; the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Xfinity series on Aug. 2-5 and the U.S. Vintage Grand Prix on Sept. 7-9. The latter will be paired with the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Festival in the nearby village of Watkins Glen. On-track action will be highlighted by the Collier Cup MG race and Governor’s Cup and races contested by the Trans-Am Championship and IGT series.

The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season will feature introduction of universal aero kits to be used by all teams powered by either Chevrolet or Honda twin-turbocharged V6 engines. The new kits offer a car look more sleek, bold and reminiscent of favorite Indy cars of the past. The aerodynamics involved are expected to make the competition tighter by allowing cars to run closer together and provide more passing opportunities.

“The strength and consistency of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ 2018 schedule is something all of us should be proud of,” Miles said. “We’re also looking forward to continuing the upward trend of the series through the introduction of the universal aero kits, which testing has shown to be an exciting product.”

Indicative of its diverse status, the 2018 schedule features an even mix of road courses, street courses and ovals. Five temporary street-course races will be held, starting with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 11. Six races will be conducted on permanent road courses, including iconic tracks Road America and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and the Sept. 16 season-finale at Sonoma Raceway.

Befitting the 100-year history and tradition of Indy car racing, six oval tracks are on the schedule. Three are short ovals, including the last race using the original start/finish line at Phoenix Raceway on April 7. Three will be contested on superspeedways, including the centerpiece of the schedule, the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 27.

For the eighth consecutive year, the 2018 season kicks off in St. Petersburg on the 1.8-mile temporary circuit set up on city streets and a runway of Albert Whitted Airport. The Gulf Coast city has hosted Indy cars continuously since 2005.

Phoenix Raceway _ which will be rebranded ISM Raceway in 2018 _ is the second stop on the schedule, returning to the first weekend in April after vacating that date this year to avoid conflict with the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four taking place in nearby Glendale, Ariz. The 1.022-mile oval that has hosted 63 Indy car races dating to 1964 is undergoing a $178-million renovation that will see the start/finish line moved to the Turn 2 dogleg area following the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series race.

“We’re thrilled that the Verizon IndyCar Series Phoenix Grand Prix will return to April 6 and 7 under the lights,” said Bryan Sperber, Phoenix Raceway president. “Our race fans will be treated to the stars of the IndyCar Series racing at record speed at Phoenix at a time of year that delivers chamber of commerce weather.”

The Portland International Raceway event is set for Aug. 31-Sept. 2 on the 1.967-mile permanent road course and will be operated by Green Savoree Racing Promotions, which also promotes the Verizon IndyCar Series events at St. Petersburg, Toronto and Mid-Ohio. The return to Portland takes INDYCAR to an important market and sets up a “West Coast Swing” to finish the season, with the Portland event followed by the Sonoma finale in Northern California.

“INDYCAR couldn’t be more excited to again race in front of one of our strongest fan-bases,” Miles said. “Portland International Raceway has produced thrilling road racing throughout Indy car history _ the 1997 finish still stands as the record for the closest finish on a road or street course _ and the timing of our return couldn’t be better given the bold new look our cars will have in 2018. We expect this will be a show fans won’t want to miss.”

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said he attended the Indianapolis 500 as a young man and is excited to see the sport return to his city. “INDYCAR racing brings excitement and thrills to a city and to race spectators,” Wheeler said. “The return of INDYCAR racing to Portland will give us terrific international exposure, a great deal of revenue, new jobs and an exciting experience for race fans.”

Other schedule highlights include:

_ Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach: The race on April 15 will mark the 35th consecutive year for Indy cars on the iconic 1.968-mile Southern California street course, the longest-running relationship for any event on the schedule outside the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

_ Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear: The event around 2.35-mile Raceway at Belle Isle Park returns as the only doubleheader weekend on the schedule, June 2-3.

_ KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America: An immediately popular event with fans since rejoining the schedule last year, the 2018 race on the 4.048-mile natural terrain layout is set for June 24.

_ Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park: INDYCAR returned to the 1.25-mile oval in Madison, Ill., in August after more than a decade’s absence for a night race.  The St. Louis market again will play host to the series on Aug. 25.

Official track activities for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season begin with two days of open testing at Phoenix Raceway on Feb. 9-10.

All races on the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule will be broadcast by longstanding television partners ABC and NBC Sports Network, as well as the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. The final broadcast schedule will be announced at a later date. 

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2018 VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES SCHEDULE

March 11 _ Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

April 7 _ Phoenix Raceway, Avondale, Ariz.

April 15 _ Streets of Long Beach, Calif.

April 22 _Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala.

May 12 _Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course

May 27 _Indianapolis 500-Mile Race

June 2 _The Raceway at Belle Isle Park, Detroit

June 3 _The Raceway at Belle Isle Park, Detroit

June 9 _Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth

June 24 _Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis.

July 8 _Iowa Speedway, Newton

July 15 _Streets of Toronto, Ontario, Canada

July 29 _Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio

Aug. 19 _Pocono (Pa.) Raceway

Aug. 25 _Gateway Motorsports Park, Madison, Ill.

Sept. 2 _Portland (Ore.) International Raceway

Sept. 16 _ Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway

Note _ Schedule subject to change

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 12 2017
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