June’s thrilling MAVTV 500 is now the last Verizon IndyCar Series race to happen at Fontana’s Auto Club Speedway, as the track has been crossed off the roster for the second time. The league announced on Friday that the Southern California venue will not be part of the 2016 race schedule, citing TV scheduling concerns.
According to a statement issued by the league, the league and ACS officials were “unable to identify a start time and broadcast window that would not adversely impact television viewership on the East Coast.”
The Southern California race was run at 1:30 PM local time on June 27, which would have been 4:30 PM for East Coast viewers.
Racer’s Robin Miller suggested Friday another potential reason for the axing: not the clock, but the calendar. According to Miller’s report Friday, ACS president Dave Allen was not happy with the low in-person turnout for this year’s race, which was moved up to June from its usual season-ending August date so that Sonoma could serve as the 2015 finale. That put the afternoon race in the summer heat, and only a few thousand fans turned out.
Miller says Allen wanted to shift the race back to late September or October; IndyCar wasn’t interested, though it’s worth noting that the first two races back at Fontana were run on September 15, 2012 and October 19, 2013.
It marks the second time that the league has said goodbye to Fontana; it previously dropped the track in 2005, after another instance of poor attendance. No replacement has been named, though Miller’s article suggests that Phoenix International Raceway – which is also owned by International Speedway Corporation, Auto Club Speedway’s parent company – is a likely substitute.
Whichever reason is right (and nothing says it can’t be both), the end result is disappointing all around. Fans and critics alike considered this year’s Fontana race to be one of the most exciting of the IndyCar season, despite the low turnout; Graham Rahal won the hotly contested race for his first victory in several years, and started a run to becoming a championship contender.
It also narrows the options for Southern California IndyCar fans back down to just one event – the historic Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, which is already penciled in for April 14-17, 2016. But Long Beach is a street course whereas Fontana is an oval, and Long Beach is 60 miles away from Fontana, which can be up to an hour and forty-five minutes away with traffic. Some fans may not want to travel that far, especially if they already live south of Auto Club Speedway.
In addition, Long Beach and Fontana had proven themselves good at cross-promoting the two events. Long Beach ticket holders had the option again this year of purchasing discounted Fontana ticket packages, so there was a system in place to support Southern California interest in IndyCar. If low attendance was the problem, the fault lies with the date change that led to the event being staged in tough weather for fans.
If you take the IndyCar explanation of being unable to support the East Coast broadcast audience, that unintentionally gives off the impression that the league is prioritizing the East Coast fans over the West Coast ones, especially since this is the first big announcement since the league revealed it was returning to Wisconsin in 2016. A new race in Boston was also recently added. There’s always going to be somebody left out when it comes to TV times, so should decisions be based on any region’s broadcast schedule?
However you slice the situation, the end result is still the same: even after putting on the best race of the 2015 season, IndyCar racing at Fontana is no more, again.
For more on the Verizon IndyCar Series, visit the league’s website.