Looking Into the Crystal Ball

Posted by Iannucci | 8/03/2006 | 0 comments »
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On Tuesday officials from the Indy Racing League journeyed from Michigan to the middle of nowhere, or at least the middle of Iowa. (I apologize, as I have been to Iowa and there IS more that corn fields). Along with The Kiwi and IRL Pro driver Wade Cunningham and their respective cars, they set out to determine if the brand spankin’ new track known as Iowa Speedway would be ready for IRL racing next year.

Iowa Speedway is located about 45 minutes from Des Moines and is a rather unique 7/8ths of a mile in length. The track has 12-14 degree banking in the turns, is a tri-oval and is about 60 feet wide. It was actually designed by Old No. 2, and truth be told it looks like it's going to be a really cool track. Despite being less than a mile in length, speeds for IRL cars should approach 185 MPH and reportedly cars could comfortably go three-wide for much of the track. That's very nice!

After a few laps around the track by each racer, it was deemed worthy, and IRL officials were so excited they have already announced June 24 of next year as the date for the IRL premier at the track. Check out the report including testing footage from KCCI.

What makes this announcement a bit odd is the rest of the 2007 IRL schedule for next season HAS NOT been announced, so the only thing left is speculation. So if there is speculation to be made, who is better for the job then Indy Star writer Curt Cavin? Here is what he had to say about guesses for the upcoming schedule:

• I expect Michigan International Speedway to return to the IRL schedule in 2007. The Belle Isle circuit, if it comes to be, will be an extra for the series. The MIS race will be July 22; Belle Isle will be Labor Day weekend.

• The street circuit race in LA is looking more and more probable, and if it happens it will open the season in mid-March.

• The new race at Iowa Speedway will be June 24 and the race at Kentucky Speedway will move to Saturday night.

• Kansas Speedway is moving to the end of April and Watkins Glen is taking its place. Milwaukee will be the race after Indy.

• I hear two of the IRL's former tracks, Phoenix and Las Vegas, are back in the mix of possibilities. One thing's for sure: It's going to be a very crowded schedule from mid-April to mid-September.

I know this is all speculation, but since Cavin covers these things for a living I will presume most – if not all – of what he says will come to fruition next season. Let me just say as a resident of a suburb of Phoenix I’m am very excited about a possible return, although I am also aware of the less-than-capacity crowds that existed during the Pre-Danica! era.

Having two tracks in Michigan is a very strategic move on the part of the league, because it puts two races in the back yard of the major American motor manufacturers. This is important since the Honda contract expires in two years if another competitor cannot be found.

Racing at Milwaukee right after Indy makes a lot of sense. This year the IRL got it half right by carrying viewer momentum from Indy by having the next race the following week. Unfortunately, that race was the road course in Watkins Glen, which involves much less passing and racing excitement.

As for continued speculation of the Dodger Grand Prix, well, I don’t know what to make of that. Clearly it’s a shot across the bow at Champ Car since the Long Beach Grand Prix in Southern California is the most popular event for that series. At the same time I have no idea how exciting another street course race would be for the league. I’m not too thrilled about making viewers first impressions of the league on a non-oval.

Iowa sounds like it should be an excellent track, and one in which the IRL can be the main draw for a few years since NASCAR is waiting to see what kind of response it gets. And night racing in Kentucky is a great idea since most fans seem to love that more than sitting in the hot and blinding summer sun.

Most of this sounds good, but my greatest concern is that by increasing the number of races the league has increased the overall cost of fielding a team. With the dwindling car counts plaguing both IRL and Champ Car, it would seem sensible to keep expansion to a minimum for the time being. More races do no good if you only have 16 cars running in them.

We will most likely have to wait a few more weeks, but this should all be set in stone by the end of August. Let’s hope for the most part Cavin is right, as this should be a really fun season next year.