- John Oreovicz, Autos, Open-Wheel
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INDIANAPOLIS -- As promised, INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard delivered a 19-race schedule for the 2013 season.
With a couple of asterisks.
The IZOD IndyCar Series will indeed contest 19 full-length races on 19 different days. But three markets -- Detroit, Toronto and Houston, back on the slate after a five-year absence -- will host doubleheaders, running a full race on Saturday and another on Sunday.
The expanded schedule still leaves a lengthy offseason (the first 2013 event is the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, set for March 24) but does run a month deeper into the year, wrapping up Oct. 19 with a 500-miler at Auto Club Speedway in California.
"We've selected 16 great markets with 19 races, and all of them will be strong," Bernard told reporters on a conference call. "We're really excited. The biggest thing for us is going from 15 to 19 races to give us more opportunity to showcase the fastest and most versatile race cars and drivers in the world."
The biggest news is the return of a "Triple Crown" of oval races, including a $1 million bonus to be awarded if any driver wins the Indianapolis 500, the California 500 and a July 7 400-miler at Pocono Raceway -- the first IndyCar race at Pocono since 1989.
"Everyone knows tradition is so important to the sport of IndyCar, so if you're going to bring Pocono back, it makes sense to bring back the Triple Crown as well," Bernard said. "It's the two biggest things fans have been asking for in my time in the sport. We know we're going to have great racing and it's important that we give our drivers versatility. It's a track you want to have in your series."
Bernard had hoped to move the IndyCar Series into 19 or 20 separate markets but was unable to conclude deals with several potential venues, including a street course in Providence, R.I.
He said it was unlikely that a five-week gap in the 2013 schedule between races in Baltimore (Sept. 1) and Houston (Oct. 5 and 6) will be filled.
"I don't think it would be in our best interest to rush another race for 2013," Bernard said "We had several promoters that wanted races but couldn't pull it off before our deadlines. We have to stick to a formal plan and I think we did that this year.
"We don't want to expand our schedule too much," he added. "There's not room for everybody. The big key here is which ones get onto our schedule early enough for 2014."
The stop-gap solution to deliver additional quantity is the doubleheaders, which offer a lot of potential benefits.
For the participants, the opportunity to run additional races with less travel in between is cost-effective, and it's a win for Saturday spectators who are trading a day of practice and qualifying for a real race.
The IndyCar Series also intends to implement standing starts for the first race of the doubleheader weekends. The second race will feature a rolling start.
"Houston gives us exposure in the No 4 market in America, so we thought it was imperative to have a doubleheader there," Bernard said.
"We also wanted to have two races for our fans in Canada, and Roger Penske has invested millions of dollars to give the track more passing zones at Belle Isle, so that was a natural."
Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix president Bud Denker was one of the promoters who lobbied for doubleheaders, reasoning that a second IndyCar race was the most effective way to grow his Saturday crowd.
"Our problem for attendance was never Friday and was never Sunday," Denker said. "I'm all in favor of it."
The IndyCar Series' downtown street course events are ideal for the doubleheader format because many fans fly in for the full weekend.
"With the event expanded to two marquee races Saturday and Sunday, visitors have even more reason to plan a weekend stay," said Tourism Toronto president David Whitaker. "Toronto also benefits from the expanded broadcast and international exposure."
Many were left disappointed by the seeming lack of a working relationship between INDYCAR and Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. The scenic road course is at the top of almost everyone's wish list as a destination for the IndyCar Series, yet remains off the schedule for at least another year.
Milwaukee promoter Michael Andretti denied that he stood in the way of scheduling a race at Road America, stating via Twitter: "I support it, contrary to what was said."
Six races, including the Indianapolis 500, Milwaukee and both of the Detroit races, will be broadcast on ABC with the remainder on NBC Sports Network. This will mark the 49th consecutive year ABC has carried the Indy 500.
Indianapolis is the first of the six ABC races, which have been strategically clustered together at midseason. They include the IndyCar Series' first Saturday night primetime broadcast on network TV, from Texas Motor Speedway.
"We thought it was really important to keep all our ABC races as close together as we could to continue to generate momentum for the series, and I'm very pleased and thankful ABC was in agreement with some of the things we wanted to do with our television strategy," Bernard said.
"We think big things are going to happen at Texas in primetime, and Eddie Gossage is elated," he added. "We also believe you can build your viewership with double races on a weekend. We think this will increase our viewership and ratings substantially, and we need to push that progress forward."
Edmonton is the only market that dropped off the 2013 IndyCar Series schedule. Race promoter Octane announced the termination of the event on Sept. 21.
The Grand Prix of Houston, sponsored by Shell/Pennzoil, will be run on a temporary course through Reliant Park last used in 2006 and '07. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing co-owner Mike Lanigan is the promoter of the event.
Pocono was an IndyCar mainstay in the 1970s and '80s, serving as the middle leg of a 500-mile Triple Crown that also featured Indianapolis and Ontario. The unique tri-oval features corners modeled on traditional IndyCar tracks Indianapolis, Milwaukee and the now-defunct Trenton.
The 2013 IndyCar Series race at Pocono will be run to 400 miles to fit a three-hour ABC television window.
"We think with what Randy is doing, there's a bright future for IndyCar and we're excited to be part of it," said Pocono Raceway president Brandon Igdalsky.