Where Does the Schedule Rank?

In the past decade, the Indycar Series has seen a whole host of schedules; from the all-oval, traditional IRL-like schedule in 2004, to a doubleheader, road course filled schedule in 2014. With the new schedule being released, I compare it to my five favorite schedules from the last decade and how this schedule ranks compared to them (top 3 tracks are purely my opinion):

5. 2012 IZOD Indycar Series Season
Strengths: Good selection of road courses
Weaknesses: Only five ovals
Top 3 tracks: 1) IMS 2) Baltimore 3) Auto Club Spedway
Grade: B-

The first season in the DW12 era had a lot of critics, but I wasn't one the biggest. My two problems with it was only 15 races long and it only had five ovals. Some of the highlights of the schedule was returning to Fontana for the first time since 2012, hosting a race in Baltimore (which I adamantly loved), and a return to Belle Isle. This was also the only DW12 season without doubleheaders (so far), which I'm not the biggest fan of. Saddest and maybe the best part of the schedule was the race at Edmonton, which once again used the 2011 layout which was fantastic. Not having two races in Canada to reward a loyal fan base is a joke, and it's something I think Indycar needs to fix. Overall, some things needed to be fixed but I liked it.

Rubens Barrichello of Brazil, drives the #8 BMC/Embrase KV Racing Technology Dallara Chevrolet during warm up for the IZOD IndyCar Series Edmonton Indy at Edmonton City Centre Airport on July 22, 2012 in Edmonton, Canada.
Rubens Barrichello with Edmonton in the backdrop (Photo: Chris Trotman / Getty Images North America)

4. 2010 Indycar Series Season
Strengths: Four different countries represented (Brazil, Canada, Japan, and USA), including the inaugural street race in Sao Paulo, a track I loved
Weaknesses: Streaks of road courses and ovals
Top 3 tracks: 1) IMS 2) Chicagoland 3) Watkins Glen
Grade: B

What started out as a rocky season turned into a pretty cool year. A slippery straight at the new Sao Paulo race was refined into a great race that would last for several more seasons. Although Indycar no longer races there, it did get American Open Wheel back in Brazil. Barber Motorsports Park was also added for its Indycar debut, which has turned into a crown jewel for Indycar. The highlight of this season was it was the last year that Indycar ran at the thrilling Chicagoland Speedway, one of my all-time favorite tracks. Miss that track. The schedule was also famous for a 4-4-5-4 stretch of road courses, oval, road courses, ovals This came under attack by many fans, but I enjoyed it. It also made life easier for crews who didn't have constantly shift between road courses and ovals each week. Overall, a fairly nice schedule.

Ryan Briscoe of Australia in his #6 Team Penske Dallara Honda leads the field during  the Indy Car Series PEAK Antifreeze and Motor Oil Indy 300 on August 28, 2010 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.
Ryan Briscoe leads the field at Chicagoland in 2010 (Photo: Jonathan Ferrey / Getty Images North American)

3. 2005 IRL Indycar Series Season
Strengths: Integrating road courses into a traditional oval schedule
Weaknesses: No Canadian races
Top 3 tracks: 1) IMS 2) Michigan 3) Watkins Glen
Grade: B

The 2005 Indycar schedule was a very innovative one. Indycar was looking to broaden their horizons, so they added St. Petersburg, Watkins Glen, and Sonoma to disrupt a traditional all oval schedule that the IRL was accustomed to. Other than putting three great road courses in the schedule, the schedule was highlighted by Indianapolis, Michigan, Chicagoland, and Auto Club Speedway. It was also the sad ending of two venues in Indycar in Pikes Peak and Phoenix. Thoroughly enjoyed the oval diversity as well as the first races with the IRL chassis on road courses.

Giorgio Pantano at Watkins Glen in 2005 (Photo: Steve Swope, Steve Swope Photography)

2. 2008 Indycar Series Season
Strengths: The successful merging of IRL's schedule and Champ Car's schedule
Weaknesses: Ended early in September (excluding October exhibition race)
Top 3 tracks: 1) IMS 2) Chicago 3) Surfers Paradise
Grade: B+

The 2008 Indycar season is famous for the merging of Champ Car and IRL into one united Indycar series. The schedule, like the teams and drivers, were meshed together. Long Beach, Edmonton, Belle Isle, and Surfers Paradise. Speaking of Surfers Paradise, it was a part of the unification agreement that Indycar would travel to Australia to race an exhibition race at the famed Surfers Paradise, Ever since then, Indycar has not raced at Surfers Paradise. Loved the race and love that track. Wish they would go back there. Overall, I enjoyed the schedule in 2008.

Ryan Briscoe drives the #6 Team Penske Dallara Honda as he turns through the hairpin during the IRL Indy Car Series Nikon Indy 300 on October 26, 2008 on the Gold Coast, Australia.
Ryan Briscoe leads Scott Dixon at Surfers Paradise (Photo: Bradley Kanaris / Getty Images AsiaPic)

1. 2011 IZOD Indycar Season
Strengths: Bold schedule featuring new venues and ideas
Weaknesses: Untested markets, risky venues
Top 3 tracks: 1) IMS 2) Baltimore 3) Edmonton (new layout)
Grade: A

Obviously (and for good reason), the 2011 Indycar season was overshadowed by a tragic ending to the season with the death of Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Having said that, the schedule put together by Randy Bernard was brilliant (excluding Las Vegas for obvious reasons). New Hampshire was added which proved to be one entertaining oval. An alteration was made at Motegi, after earthquake damage forced Indycar to use the road course instead of the oval. A new layout to Edmonton turned a dull affair into a great race. A new format at Texas was tested, which would be a glimpse into the doubleheaders we are accustomed to nowadays. The best decision though was the race at Baltimore, which drew huge crowds and provided great racing. Although every race mentioned in this paragraph is no longer on the current Indycar schedule, I enjoyed the bravery and willingness to try new things and see how it would pan out.

General view of the track during the IZOD IndyCar Series Baltimore Grand Prix on September 4, 2011 on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland.
Indycar's roaring through downtown Baltimore (Photo: Robert Laberge / Getty Images North America)

Now, some preliminary thoughts:

2015 Verizon Indycar Season
Strengths: Equitable mix of ovals and road/street courses
Weaknesses: Length of schedule and the finale
Top 3 tracks: 1) Indianapolis 2) Iowa 3) Long Beach
Grade: B-

I like this schedule in many ways. The series has made a lot of strides since 2012 with a short 15 race schedule. The biggest difference between 2014 and 2015 is that there will only be one doubleheader instead of three, with the doubleheader being at Detroit. Toronto, which was speculated to be in trouble of securing a date, returns to the schedule as a single race rather than a doubleheader. Fontana moves from its normal finale spot to round 12 on the schedule in June. Taking its place as the finale is Sonoma, which is a bit of a head-scratcher. Not a flashy venue, nor does it produce the greatest of racing. It is, however, in a nice area of the country and is a nice facility, so corporate sponsors could flock to see the last race of the season. The major plus to the schedule is the adding of two new venues at Brasilia, Brazil and NOLA Motorsports Park in Lousiana. In addition to this, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the thrilling venue that held its first race last season, is back again for 2015. Overall, the six natural terrain road course races, five street races, and six ovals is a great split. In a perfect world, there would be one additional race per category, but on the whole, it was a very good effort by Mark Miles and company.

Ryan Hunter-Reay drives the #28 Andretti Autosport Dallara Honda ahead of the field after a restart during the Grand Prix of Indianapolis at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 10, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Cars roll around the Grand Prix circuit at Indianapolis in 2014 (Photo: Nick Laham / Getty Images North America)

Let me know what you think!

-Matthew Hickey