The series created in 1996 allegedly to preserve the sanctity of open-wheel oval track racing now features more road and street courses than it does ovals -- much to the pleasure, it must be said, of the many drivers who come from a road-racing background.
Ten of the 17 venues on the 2010 calendar are former CART or Champ Car races, including stalwarts like Long Beach, Toronto, Mid-Ohio and Motegi. Add Brazil to that list, though a specific venue in the South American nation for the March 14 season opener has not been identified.
The Brazilian event is probably the hardest one to swallow for original IRL hard-liners, who used to complain vociferously about the Latin flavor that the CART series brought to the Indianapolis 500 in the 1980s and early '90s. But the IRL is heavily vested in Brazil these days, and those malcontents from decades past may finally be waking up to the fact that racing is a global sport whose boundaries extend far beyond the Indiana state line.
For the Champ Car faithful that the IRL needs to attract to expand its fan base, the biggest disappointment with next year's IndyCar schedule is the omission of such popular CART venues as Road America and Cleveland, though IRL commercial division president Terry Angstadt stressed that the series is maintaining an open dialogue with those tracks for potential future inclusion.
Almost everyone who loves American open-wheel racing will be saddened by the omission of key short oval races at the Milwaukee Mile and Richmond International Raceway, a point reiterated by Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti.
"It's obviously disappointing that Richmond and Milwaukee aren't on the schedule," said Franchitti. "But that was out of the control of the series, with the promoter problems at Milwaukee, and the Richmond guys didn't want us back. It takes away the short oval element, because Iowa races a bit more like a superspeedway.
"But I like the inclusion of the two new races," he added. "Brazil will be a street course, and the fan support we saw in Alabama [at the Barber Motorsports Park road course] for the test was unbelievable. Before the split in 1996, Indy car racing was all about balance, and you had to be good on all kinds of disciplines. That's what we have back with this schedule. With the unified series and the schedule we've got now, Indy car racing is in a good position to move forward."
The other key element of the new schedule is that road races and oval races are grouped together, which should be easier on the teams than it has been for the past couple of years when they have had to change the cars over from road racing to oval racing specification on an almost weekly basis.
In 2010, the season begins with four road/street races, followed by four ovals, then five more road races before concluding with a quartet of ovals.
"That could be good or bad," observed Dixon. "If you're in a slump on ovals, there's going to be another one right around the corner. And from a logistical standpoint, it might be tougher for teams to keep up on the maintenance instead of changing the cars over on a frequent basis.
"It's definitely a long ways from where we started when I first joined the series [in 2003]," Dixon said. "I remember a 16-race season that was all ovals, and that was a tough decision for me at the time, as a kid from New Zealand who had only raced on road courses. I think we need to keep the mix fairly healthy, and it's a shame we lost a couple of short ovals. Richmond and Milwaukee were some of my favorite tracks since I've been in series. They are very demanding. Some of the road courses and street courses are very challenging for passing, which is not a good thing. It's going to be a very challenging championship to win, for sure."
In general, the 2010 schedule does a good job of creating the balance of track types that the IndyCar Series was hoping for, though, as mentioned, it is lacking in the short oval department. When the series makes the seemingly inevitable decision to adopt the Panoz DP-01/ Cosworth turbo package for 2011 and beyond, the IRL's transition into the new CART will be complete.