By: Tanner Watkins
October 22, 2018 | 2:59 PM
With the IndyCar Series season coming to a close just over a month ago, it allows fans and writers alike to look ahead at what could be in 2019 as preparations for a new 17-race championship are already underway.
Yesterday the traveling circus of Formula One made their annual trip to the United States with the 48th iteration of the U.S. Grand Prix. Held each October at the sprawling Circuit of the Americas, yesterday’s race was arguably the most exciting in the track’s seven-year history. Finland’s own Kimi Raikkonen won while Lewis Hamilton’s championship celebration was delayed at least one more round.
More importantly for the IndyCar faithful, though, is that COTA showed what great excitement is on the horizon for America’s premier open-wheel racing series next March.
If the often dull racing of Formula One can have a good day on-track with dazzling passes and edge-of-your-seat drama, just imagine what could be in store for us when IndyCar visits the 3.427-mile road course in 2019.
Considering the circuit’s unique layout and design, created by renowned track architect Hermann Tilke, it is hard to imagine IndyCar putting on a yawner of a show after receiving rave reviews regarding the 2018 universal aero kit.
In fact, the best displays of driving with the UAK-18 this past season were actually found on the road and street courses. While it was visually pleasing to watch drivers try and contain the universal aero kit’s dancing rear end in 2018, some of the late-race duels were even better (see: Long Beach, Detroit, and Portland).
Taking COTA’s long straightaways and flowing high-speed corners into account, bringing a modern-day Indy car to Texas’ premier road course could be a match made in heaven.
Thankfully the wait to see Indy cars roaming COTA won’t last all the way to race weekend in late March. With ISM Raceway’s departure from the schedule, Circuit of the Americas will take its place in hosting IndyCar’s official spring training event on February 12 & 13.
One thing to watch for are announcements from the track that show how the facility chooses to supplement IndyCar’s main event with supporting interests to draw fans to Austin.
COTA has done well to add intriguing entertainment options to the Formula One weekend both on and off the track, and while we wouldn’t expect Bruno Mars or Britney Spears to perform like they did this past weekend, it would be nice to see a recognized musical act paired with IndyCar, Indy Lights and hopefully one additional series competing on-track in March.
It’s also unreasonable to expect that IndyCar will draw 250,000 fans over the course of a three-day weekend like F1 – though 80,000 of those numbers come solely for the concerts, like Taylor Swift back in 2016.
The point of the matter is that we shouldn’t compare the two weekends – F1 vs. IndyCar – to judge success. IndyCar can turn this race into an annual crown jewel event on the calendar with the right planning, promotion and a little help from on exciting on-track duels.
Does it have to bring in 100,000 spectators on race day to stay alive? No, and it shouldn’t have to. A crowd of 50,000 spread around the circuit may look somewhat sparse, but at this point it would still be a great haul for IndyCar and the circuit.
The series certainly wasn’t getting that at Phoenix, though any attendance figure north of 15,000 would be an improvement over what we saw the last few years in the desert.
Understanding that it took quite a bit of persuading by Mark Miles to eliminate Texas Motor Speedway’s exclusivity clause within that state, this is a big deal and a win for American open-wheel racing.
There is no way around it that Circuit of the Americas is one of the premier racing facilities in North America, and the stars of IndyCar get to put it through its paces in March. Take the weekend for what it is and enjoy it – this is a win all around for IndyCar, its fans, and its drivers.