As expected, the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule added three different tracks to the calendar and extended the season by five weeks, so that it now concludes in mid-September.
The previously announced Road America and Boston, as well as Phoenix – which was indirectly revealed by Mark Miles during his speech at August’s 2015 Championship Celebration – replace the departing Fontana (attendance issues), New Orleans (inclement weather), and Milwaukee Mile (sponsorship problems).
The season opens March 13, up from March 31, with the return of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. For the second year in a row, it will conclude at Sonoma Raceway with the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, but that will take place on Sept. 18, pushed back from Aug. 30.
The Honda Indy Toronto will stay as a single-race event after it was downsized in 2015, leaving the Dual in Detroit as IndyCar’s only doubleheader, and the landmark 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 is set for May 29.
The schedule announcement was made Tuesday morning by IndyCar boss Miles, who was joined on a media conference call by reigning IndyCar champion Scott Dixon. Dixon was on hand to offer a driver’s perspective on the season ahead, and told reporters that he was “very excited” about the returns of Phoenix and Road America.
“I think Phoenix has always been a staple for me,” he said. “The track has changed a little bit since we were last there in ’05. It’s very smooth. Lots of options I think for winds and side-by-side racing, which a one-mile track can sometimes be difficult to pull off. I think with the changes they made there, it’s going to be one hell of a race for us. It definitely was in the past.
“Definitely looking forward to that. It’s going to be a nice one. Nice to see an oval come up early on the schedule, too. Typically we’ve had to wait for the Indianapolis 500 for the first one. Great to see it back on the schedule and excited to hopefully see a lot of dedicated fans that we typically have in that area.
“Road America is a no-brainer,” Dixon continued, echoing the league-wide enthusiasm after the earlier team test. “Just one of those legendary old-school American tracks which we don’t get to see too often on the road course side of venues. It’s very reminiscent for me of Watkins Glen. Hopefully we can get Watkins Glen back on our schedule sometime in the near future.
“It was so cool to be back there. There must have been 3,000 plus fans that came out for the test day, which you typically never see that. So you can see obviously the rich fan base that we have in that part of America, and looking forward to getting back to the race. That’s going to be a fantastic weekend. Excited definitely for those two, and obviously Boston as well.”
It’s noteworthy to see IndyCar follow through on its repeatedly stated intentions to both expand the schedule and expand the reach of this top-notch league. There hasn’t been better motor racing than what we’ve seen out of IndyCar over the last several years. As Dixon pointed out, having an early-season oval will be a plus (particularly if you’re Ed Carpenter, who didn’t get into a car until May this year).
However, it is disappointing to see Fontana and particularly Milwaukee fall off the schedule, especially with the history that the Milwaukee Mile has in motorsports. And with keeping Toronto as a single-race weekend, it will be interesting to see if IndyCar continues to stick with the Detroit doubleheader or perhaps eventually reduces that as well; doubleheaders are notoriously tough on race teams, but are another one of the things that makes the IndyCar season unique.
Overall, the addition of two returning tracks should give IndyCar fans something to be excited about heading into what will be another ultra-competitive season. If Boston proves to be the great race the league is hoping for – or at least better than the last new addition, New Orleans – this year could be a big step forward for an already strong product.
To view the entire 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, use the media player included with this article.
For more on the Verizon IndyCar Series, visit the league’s website.