How to crowbar more popular street circuits and fan favourites onto the calendar is always a hot topic in IndyCar, but a shift that just wasn’t possible before but is now might mean the series is able to venture further afield after 2023.
Penske Entertainment president Mark Miles told The Race he’s “not sure there’ll be any existing races that drop off, or new tracks that are added for 2023”. But a willingness to promote races itself could pave the way for an exciting future.
“That doesn’t mean we’re not thinking further out,” Miles said at the Indianapolis 500 when addressing next year’s lack of exploration.
“We are. One of the interesting, in my mind, innovations in a sense that Formula 1 announced was that they’re going to be the promoter for Last Vegas.
“That makes all kinds of sense to me. It’s hard enough to get everything lined up for street race in an urban setting and then to find a promoter that will take the financial risk and bring all the right attributes to bear. It’s very tough.
“So, we are the promoter of our race in Iowa this year and our corporate family is the promoter in the race in Detroit.
“And for the first time this year, I think the first time, our ticket office is handling all the ticketing for here [Indy 500]. Everything here, plus those two events [Iowa and Detroit], or three if you count Iowa as two, and our legal department’s doing a lot more.
“So we’re beginning to really develop shared competencies.
“As we think about other markets we’d like to be in, I think we’re willing to think about being the promoter in the right circumstances. And so that’s exciting, because I think it gives us more options for getting into places we’d like to be.”
Promoting races has pros and cons. It gives you the power to present your own brand in a certain way or at least have more control over that than if an outside promoter is handling the race. It gives you more autonomy over decision-making generally. On the downside however is you shoulder the financial burden of the event. So it’s a balance.
Moving on from street courses, the age-old question for IndyCar is how to make ovals successful from a business standpoint.
There are four on the calendar this year and fans are always desperate for more, but how does IndyCar get butts into seats and make the events commercially viable?
The Texas race has been flailing in recent years with low attendance in 2022 and a poor spectacle in the years prior to that due to a compound being added to the race track itself which hindered cars running side-by-side.
It’s particularly frustrating for fans as it had produced some of the best IndyCar oval races in decades even as recently as the 2010s. So IndyCar taking this new promoting model to Texas may well be a solution.
“I expect Iowa to be successful, this place [Indianapolis] is successful, St Louis is a vibrant event,” Miles told The Race.
“Texas is the event that they and we would say is- great racing this year, but [the event is] not what we want. Not [to] our expectations. So we’re still talking with them.
“We’d like to be able to stay there. That may be a situation where we’re involved in promoting it in some way. We were thinking, if we want to be the promoter largely about going into other cities, more for streets circuits, it could equally apply to ovals. It’s complicated, right?
“And we particularly value ovals. We’d like to have ovals before the Indy 500.
“So then Texas fills that role. If you’re going to do that you’ve got to be warm. You’ve got to go to an oval where NASCAR isn’t yet scheduled, basically in the same timeframe. So we’ll see.
“I think probably the likelihood is we’ll be back to Texas next year, we’ll see how we can improve it.”
Outside of Texas, Iowa, Gateway and of course Indianapolis, the series has raced at Phoenix as recently as 2018 and was due to head to Richmond in 2020 before the pandemic caused series issues there.
But there is another venue in play.
The Race can confirm that meetings were held between IndyCar and Milwaukee at the Pagoda during the Indy 500, and that is always a venue that crops up when ovals are discussed. It can hold approximately 35,000 people and is affectionately known as the Milwaukee Mile due to its length, and last appeared in 2015.
“We have current discussions about what would have to be done to improve the track at the fairgrounds. And do we all agree [whether] it would or wouldn’t be during the [annual July/August Wisconsin State] fair? [It] wouldn’t.”
“I think that’s one of those places where really, we would probably step in as the promoter. That’s not on the cards for next year. But it’s an active conversation.”
Speaking of the wider future, Milwaukee representatives weren’t the only such group having meetings at the Indy 500. A delegation from Argentina’s Termas de Rio Hondo circuit was also in attendance.
IndyCar hasn’t raced outside of North America since Sao Paulo in 2013, and most of the sponsors in the series are US-based. But the series’ growing international reputation has brought racing outside of the US and Canada into the spotlight again, at least in terms of fans discussing it and drivers being asked about it.
The most obvious place to venture further afield than its current circuits would be Mexico because events in that country are historically very well-attended and the combination of home driver Pato O’Ward and Arrow McLaren SP would likely create a huge story for fans.
In terms of South America though, Argentina also seems a possibility with the recent talks and native Ricardo Juncos’s return to the series full-time as a team owner with Juncos Hollinger Racing.
“Obviously, as an Argentinian I would love to see IndyCar in Argentina,” Juncos told The Race at Road America last weekend.
“The particular governor [Gerardo Zamora] came from Santiago del Estero, they built the Termas de Rio Hondo, it’s where the MotoGP race is. So we have the capability on the race track itself and as an Argentinian I would love to have a race there.
“But that’s wishes, right? The reality is we don’t know what the intention for him was, he’s a racing fanatic. We know each other and it was the first time for him at the Indy 500 so it was more of that than anything else.
“But obviously [it had a] big, big impact on [him] and since we were trying to get the race there four years ago, three years ago, that didn’t happen but still, I think IndyCar, sooner or later, we should go.”
So it’s probably fair to characterise this as the circuit delegates heading to the Indy 500 with some meetings thrown in, and not the other way around, but there does appear to be considerable appetite from the venue to race in IndyCar.
Juncos points out that fans from the likes of Brazil, Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia and Peru could attend a race in Argentina more easily than those in the States, opening up the series to a continent with a strong fanbase.
Asked if funding the event was the biggest problem, Juncos replied: “No, I think the difficulty now is to see if IndyCar wants to go or not.
“We can make it happen, it’s just the fact that IndyCar needs to decide.”
He added: “It’s more the press talking about it, obviously I would love for that be the case but reality is reality and maybe it will happen in the future, we don’t know.”
It’s clear a huge offer would be needed to tempt IndyCar to the province of Santiago del Estero. Certainly the cost of transporting the cars and teams would need to be factored in and covered.
What’s clear is, despite the schedule staying the same in terms of venues in 2023 – with work ongoing to avoid similar clashes with other series, and especially IMSA, like in 2022 – the willingness to promote its own races on its own shores provides some massive opportunities for IndyCar to do something different in 2024 and beyond.
Waiting for the right deal to race abroad is also key, because a half-hearted attempt to take IndyCar south might do more harm than good if it didn’t go to plan.
The next few years are going to be crucial for the series and its calendar. It already has the unique diversity in single-seaters in that it races on road courses, street circuits, short, intermediate and superspeedway ovals. But it’s exciting that it still has further options to improve in the future.