INDIANAPOLIS — A lot of people were giving the NTT IndyCar Series some backlash with how the 2021 schedule was put together. They didn’t like the gap between Toronto and Nashville. They didn’t like that it ended so early again. They didn’t like that there were only three oval venues on the schedule.
But, with how things sit today, I think it was a brilliant plan that the series officials put together and with today’s announcement, it worked out even better.
Long Beach unfortunately was moved from April to September. It’s never good to lose a marquee date for a marquee race that’s held that spot on the calendar for decades, but with the uncertainty of a global pandemic still, it to me actually works out for the better and allows the 2021 schedule to flow nicely and be pandemic proof.
Here’s what I mean by that.
First, lets address the Long Beach situation. That race needs to have fans at it. After no race in 2020, they can’t afford to run behind closed doors in 2021. If this race is going to be able to survive this pandemic, it needs fans back ASAP. So, a move back to September gives the series and state time to get a plan figured out to be able to safely host fans by then, if allowed.
It also sets up a west coast swing. You get Portland (Sept. 12), Laguna Seca (Sept. 19 )then Long Beach (Sept. 26) to wrap it up. You save costs by keeping the teams out west for an entire month and can also create your own type of bubble with three tracks in the same area back-to-back-back. It has to help those governments on the local and state levels to know that the competitors and officials can stay in that area and quarantine between races for three straight weeks.
Plus, there’s a two week build up before to where they can quarantine and even have to do testing for individuals if needed.
On top of that, a season finale in Long Beach is the pop that the finale has been needing lately. A finale in Long Beach will be huge so long that the race can be allowed to have the fans and atmosphere that it’s used to having.
I see this move as a win-win for all three reasons.
Now, let’s address the rest. I get that we have a rather large gap early in the season. Over a 54 day span to start the year, we have just two races. They open the year at St. Pete on March 7 then have a full month off before the second race at Barber on April 11. Those are the only races in either month.
That I can see look aesthetically bad to not have any momentum at the start of the season. While I agree it’s less than ideal on a normal circumstance, it’s highly efficient for the way the world is going right now.
First off, last I checked there’s still a pandemic going around. While a vaccine is starting to roll out, there’s no timetable to realistically know when everyone is going to have one available. It’s pretty safe to say that large roll outs aren’t going to really happen between now and the start of 2021.
I mean next week is Christmas then the follow week New Years. No one is going to want to just go to their local doctor and receive one over the next two weeks.
So, we’re into January. How many people is this vaccine going to reach at the start of the year? How effective will it honestly be? Will it be circulated enough to open things back up to normal as it was prior to March of 2020?
So, by having just two races between now and May, INDYCAR has flexibility and doesn’t have to constantly alter their schedule in creating fluid situations. By doing it this way, they can control the situation on their own.
St. Pete hosted 20k in late October. Florida has been more open than other states. I can see St. Pete hosting a good amount of fans next spring to allow this race to continue on and kick off the 2021 slate.
Then, you have a full month before a race in Alabama.
After that, it’s to Texas, another state that’s shown willingness to open up. But, starting at Texas, that’s when this schedule gets really kicked into gear.
Texas starts a trend of eight weekends of action over the course of an 11 week span. You have a doubleheader in Texas to start the month, a week off, the Indy road course week, Indy 500 Time Trials and the Indy 500 over the three weeks after. Then, June has the other two off weekends at the front and end of the month with a doubleheader at Belle Isle followed by a race at Road America a week after sandwiched between them. From then, the first two weekend’s of July being Mid-Ohio and Toronto close the busy 11 week span that sees INDYCAR in action for eight of those weeks.
While on the surface some may balk at the idea of a month between Toronto and Nashville, the Olympics are scheduled to take place then and they and INDYCAR share a TV network. Unless you want INDYCAR races on USA or even lower networks for the month of July, it’s good to have a break. It’s also good to reset and reevaluate where the world sits at that point.
Then, you get three straight weeks in August of Nashville, Indy road course and World Wide Technology Raceway back-to-back-to-back before that west coast swing in September to close out the year.
How is that necessarily bad for what hopefully will be the dust settling on a pandemic?
Plus, if the pandemic is still around and the west coast is affected then like it is now, then INDYCAR knows that from Labor Day weekend on, they have the flexibility to reshape the end of the year. They don’t have to be in limbo. It’s either all or nothing for the west coast swing.
It’s not like they’re spread out over the course of the schedule and you’re constantly having to be in limbo and adjusting.
So, would I add a race in April if I were INDYCAR? Absolutely not. I don’t think they need one. If they need to add any races, it would be to replace the west coast races if they need to be replaced. For now, this is a good solid plan that will work during a pandemic.