After losing Fontana, NOLA and Milwaukee, the Verizon IndyCar Series is doubling down on traditional tracks and a widespread schedule to entice fans in 2016.
IndyCar released the 16-race 2016 schedule in a teleconference Tuesday morning. The tour includes a near-even blend of the series’ three different track styles, with six street races, five ovals and five natural road courses. The events have also been spread out, causing the season to span six months despite having the same amount of events as the highly criticized five-month 2015 schedule.
“Overall, the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule is another key step forward in INDYCAR’s strategic vision,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, the parent of INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “We’re confident that the momentum that INDYCAR has experienced in fan engagement over the past two seasons will continue as a result of the tireless efforts of our event promoters and our improved scheduling on ABC and NBCSN.”
The schedule, opening in St. Petersburg, Fla. on March 13, will include fan-favorite venues from the past in Phoenix International Raceway and Road America.
Both tracks contain a rich history of IndyCar racing. Phoenix, a 1-mile oval, hosted 61 Indy car events from 1964-2005. Road America, a 4-mile permanent road course in the hills of central Wisconsin, hosted 25 events for the single-seater series from 1982-2007.
“Road America and Phoenix are great venues and two of the best choices that we could have to add to the schedule,” said Scott Dixon, the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champion. “I’m looking forward to both race events. Road America is an old-school American track that I always look forward to. Phoenix was a fun track for me in the past. I tested there (earlier this year) and the changes that they’ve made has maybe opened up quite a few different grooves. The racing will be very exciting; we’ll put on a great show.”
Also confirmed in the teleconference were the TV partnerships for the 2016 season. Both ABC and NBCSN will take advantage of the 38% growth in TV ratings and viewership seen for IndyCar in the last two years.
ABC will broadcast five races in 2016, beginning with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and running through the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix doubleheader, with races on June 4 and 5. Current staple races at Long Beach, California and Barber Motorsports Park will also be televised.
Included in the five-race deal for ABC will be the entire Month of May, beginning with the Grand Prix on Indianapolis on May 14, and continuing until the May 29 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, the most highly-anticipated event on the 2016 tour.
“The 2016 season is defined by the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500,” said Miles. “The historic significance of our season is marked by this legendary event and the return of several storied venues such as Road America and Phoenix. Half the venues on our schedule have hosted 25 or more INDYCAR races and further our rich heritage as the premier form of open-wheel racing in the United States.”
Following the doubleheader in Detroit, NBCSN will retain rights as INDYCAR’s television partner for the eighth-straight season, telecasting 11 races from the return to Phoenix on April 2 to the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 18.
Also included in NBCSN’s package will be oval races at Texas Motor Speedway, Iowa Speedway and Pocono Raceway, street-course events at Toronto, Canada and Boston, Massachusetts, and traditional road-course events at Road America and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
“Coming off the most-watched IndyCar season ever on NBCSN, we are excited to once again contribute to the growth of this great sport and to showcase its speed and exciting brand of racing,” said Jon Miller, President, Programming, NBC Sports & NBCSN. “We take pride that INDYCAR entrusts our talented production team to televise the series’ final eight races, including being able to award the IndyCar championship on NBCSN each year.”
With the schedule finalized, fans and teams can begin to prepare for IndyCar’s return in the coming months. However, eager fans on the east coast may want to proceed cautiously with plans to attend the debut event at Boston.
Central to the original announcement of the event in May was the fact that it was to be the season finale, a fact that has since been proven false with Sonoma’s placement on the 2016 schedule.
Furthermore, The Boston Herald recently confirmed that the event still has many hurdles to pass before its approval, including approval from the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority and state Department of Transportation.
“We’re not anywhere close to a deal right now,” said Massachusetts Convention Center Authority head Fred Peterson in the article. “We’ve been trying to talk to them for a substantial amount of time.”
Should Boston be stricken from the schedule, nearly a month would separate the penultimate at Pocono (Aug. 21) event from the season-finale at Sonoma (Sept. 18).
Regardless of issues in Boston, returns to Phoenix and Road America will add nostalgic appeal as the stars of the series battle for the Astor Cup, the trophy awarded to the series champion.
2016 Verizon IndyCar Schedule With Television Networks and Times (All ET)
March 13 Streets of St. Petersburg ABC 12:30 p.m.
April 2 Phoenix International Raceway NBCSN 8 p.m.
April 17 Streets of Long Beach NBCSN 4 p.m.
April 24 Barber Motorsports Park NBCSN 3 p.m.
May 14 Grand Prix of Indianapolis ABC 3:30 p.m.
May 29 Indianapolis 500 ABC 11 a.m.
June 4 Raceway at Belle Isle Park ABC 3:30 p.m.
June 5 Raceway at Belle Isle Park ABC 3:30 p.m.
June 11 Texas Motor Speedway NBCSN 8 p.m.
June 26 Road America NBCSN 12:30 p.m.
July 10 Iowa Speedway NBCSN 5 p.m.
July 17 Streets of Toronto NBCSN 3 p.m.
July 31 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course NBCSN 2 p.m.
Aug. 21 Pocono Raceway NBCSN 3 p.m.
Sept. 4 Streets of Boston NBCSN 2 p.m.
Sept. 18 Sonoma Raceway NBCSN 7 p.m.