The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio this past weekend was an incredible race, with story lines around every corner. The Verizon IndyCar Series championship got extremely interesting, with Graham Rahal trailing Juan Montoya by just nine points after his spectacular win in his home state on Sunday. The problem is, we now have three weeks off until the next race. This comes after just having another two weeks off prior to Sunday’s race at Mid-Ohio.
Luckily, this may not be a problem we'll have with next year’s schedule.
Most of the venues on this year’s schedule will be back in 2016, although it’s possible a few of them will have different dates. The circuits you can expect to be back next year are St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Barber Motorsports Park, Indianapolis, Belle Isle (doubleheader), Texas, Toronto, Fontana, Iowa, Mid-Ohio, and Sonoma.
There are a few races on this year's schedule that will not be back next season. The common theme between two of them is the fact that the Andretti Sports Marketing group is reportedly closing its doors. The race they promoted at NOLA Motorsports Park wasn't good, for various reasons - most of which were out of their control. It has been determined that NOLA will not be back next year.
The bigger race that ASM promoted was Milwaukee. The future of this historic event has been in doubt for the past few months, but it’s currently still up in the air.
Mark Miles, President and CEO of Hulman & Company that oversees INDYCAR, recently spoke about the schedule. He said there are three different versions of next year's calendar floating around, and that there will be more races than there are this season. Miles also stated that there will be two-four new races in 2016.
The proposed schedules were shown to teams last weekend at Mid-Ohio. One of the new venues on there was Homestead-Miami Speedway, where IndyCar raced from 1996 to 2010. Many of the teams have done testing at the 1.5-mile oval, which could prove to be beneficial if it’s added to the 2016 calendar.
There are three circuits (all in California) that are vying for the last stop on the 2016 schedule, which appear to be Sonoma, Fontana, and Laguna Seca. CART raced at the famous track in Monterey from 1983 to 2004. The season ends this year at Sonoma, and Fontana has served as the season-ending race in previous years.
The most likely addition to next year’s schedule is believed to be Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
Derrick Walker, the soon-to-be former Director of Competition and Operations, has been instrumental in bringing Road America back to the series. The open-wheel cars danced around the four-mile scenic road course from 1982 to 2007. It's very likely we will see Road America on the schedule in late June, with Pirelli World Challenge serving as a support event.
Three ovals keep coming up in conversations, where the racing has been phenomenal in the past. Richmond is one of them, but odds are it won’t be included on the 2016 schedule. Kentucky is another, but Track General Manager Mark Simendinger said that IndyCar won't return until after the track gets repaved, as it is simply "too rough for them" as it currently sits. The series ran at Richmond from 2001 to 2009, and at Kentucky from 2000 to 2011.
The third and most likely short oval to be added next year is Phoenix International Raceway. The open-wheels dazzled at PIR, putting on 61 races from 1964 to 2005. Many people have suggested returning to Phoenix for years, which could serve as an early season opening race. That may already be in the works though.
Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez is a road circuit located in Mexico City, where Formula One is slated to return for the Mexican Grand Prix on November 1. The circuit has been updated since CART last raced there in 2007. It’s a unique track, with one of the turns actually going through a baseball stadium. CART ran eight races there (1980, 1981, 2002-2007) with Sebastien Bourdais (3) and Justin Wilson (1) winning the last four races there. It’s been talked about as hosting the season-opening race next season, possibly in February.
News broke on Monday from the Tampa Bay Times that the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be a couple weeks earlier next year. City spokesman Ben Kirby said the race will take place the weekend of March 11-13. By comparison, this year's race was held on March 29.
One of the confirmed new locations that IndyCar will race in 2016, is Boston. Towards the end of May this year, the Grand Prix of Boston was announced, which will feature a street circuit race based in the Boston Seaport District. The event in Boston is tentatively scheduled for September 4 of next year, which is Labor Day weekend.
Before the season started earlier this year, Miles promised that the 2016 schedule would be longer and less congested. His goal was to have 20 races, but we know that a return to Cleveland will have to wait at least another year. While many have been clamoring for a return to the Burke Lakefront Airport in Ohio, The Plain Dealer reported last month that the earliest it could come back would be 2017.
When it’s all said and done, the finalized 2016 schedule is going to look a hundred times better than this year’s. While the 2015 schedule may not be incredible, the racing absolutely has been. The championship race is as tight as it’s ever been, and it’s anybody’s guess as to who will hoist the Astor Cup later this month at Sonoma.
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Chad Smith is a writer for the VAVEL USA Racing section. Follow him on Twitter at @Chad200.