IndyCar: Phoenix Track President Satisfied With Series' Return
Racing in twilight at Phoenix | Photo: Chris Owens / INDYCAR

IndyCar: Phoenix Track President Satisfied With Series' Return

Verizon IndyCar Series’ return to Phoenix International Raceway exceeded the audience expectations and 2017 return seems likely. However the difficulty of overtaking on the one-mile oval is forcing INDYCAR to find ways of improving racing.

kalle-tyynela
Kalle Tyynelä

The Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix was one of the most anticipated events of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series, marking the series’ return after 11 years to the one-mile oval of Phoenix International Raceway.

According to the track president Bryan Sperber, 20,000 people were in the grandstands witnessing Scott Dixon winning the race for Chip Ganassi Racing. Sperber told the Indianapolis Star that the attendance exceeded the expectations as he would have been expecting a typical NBA crowd of 13,000 to 15,000 people.

As the race was announced only in October, the venue had to deal with a short time for promoting the race. Despite that, the organizers were able to sign a title sponsorship agreement with the new Desert Diamond West Valley Casino and Resort. Besides the hospitality suite sales were strong for the event.

Phoenix International Raceway is willing to welcome the Verizon IndyCar Series again next year; however, INDYCAR is facing the need to look at the grip level of the cars. Although the high level of downforce from the aerodynamic package helped Helio Castroneves set a new track record in the qualifying, it made overtaking extremely difficult during the race apart from restarts.

J.R. Hildebrand, partial-schedule driver for Ed Carpenter Racing, explained the effect of aerodynamics on racing at Phoenix in a tweet during the race:

“If cars were slower through corners (less df), larger radius of 2nd lane outweighs longer distance (Fontana), but in this trim it doesn’t.”

However, driver-owner Ed Carpenter told azcentral.com that the downforce level isn’t the problem but the smooth racing surface which makes one racing line preferred as opposed to tracks like Iowa Speedway that have got bumpy and lost grip.

Difficult TV Slot in NCAA Final Four Weekend

Ganassi teammates Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan at Phoenix | Photo: Chris Owens / IndyCar

The season’s first cable broadcast on NBC Sports Network from Phoenix Saturday night scored 363,000 viewers. (Source: Sports Media Watch) Facing competition from the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four, the TV audience was considerably smaller than in last season’s final three races which all reached over 600,000 viewers on NBCSN.

However, the audience for the Phoenix broadcast outnumbered by seven percent last year’s first Verizon IndyCar Series on NBCSN broadcast from New Orleans which scored 341,000 viewers. Yet it was down one percent from the first NBCSN broadcast of 2014 from Long Beach which achieved 368,000 viewers.

The men’s NCAA Final Four weekend was a difficult calendar slot for the Verizon IndyCar Series and Phoenix International Raceway seems unlikely to retain the same slot for 2017, especially as the Final Four will take place at University of Phoenix Stadium. According to azcentral.com, the most likely date for the 2017 race would be Saturday, April 29. Though at least one senior INDYCAR executive would like the race to take place Sunday night, April 2, attracting the people in the area for baseball. However, the track or its parent company International Speedway Corporation seems unlikely to accept a date where the race would get overshadowed by the Final Four.

In any case, the positive comments of the track president Sperber mean that the Verizon IndyCar Series is welcomed to race at Phoenix International Raceway again in 2017.

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