Q: Does the failed negotiations with Sonoma make continued negotiations with Texas difficult and tenuous? On one hand it sounded like there wasn’t the best communication between IndyCar and Sonoma; wouldn’t bad business dealings with one SMI track cause difficulty with other SMI tracks? Sonoma said the word from Charlotte was they could not continue to lose money on the IndyCar race, and I’m guessing Texas got the same word. What are the odds that another oval appears on 2019 schedule – or another is lost?
Cradler, Brownsburg, IN
RM: I think “difficult” is the proper term, but there are a lot of things that may or may not come out that would paint a clearer picture of what happened or what might happen. I think Texas hangs in balance right now – could go either way. IndyCar is trying to find a replacement for Phoenix, but right now there aren’t a lot of options for 2019.
Q: Have the IndyCar powers that be even checked out downtown St. Louis for a great dinner and event? The Cardinals owners have a great venue in Ballpark Village where I am sure they could have knocked it out of the park (so to speak) for an end-of-the-IndyCar-year event! As you said, they must only be interested in good wine and I hope not a snoozer of a race! When I go to a venue like Gateway, I don’t think about what is around me, I am interested in the track and racing.
RM: Wish I could have printed all of A.J.’s comments about rating restaurants over racing, but to me the atmosphere at Gateway last year was electric and Laguna will be just like Sonoma – a glorified tire test. St. Louis has plenty of fine dining, just no ocean and mountains, but in all fairness, the owners did not make the final decision on the 2019 finale. They simply didn’t want it to be Gateway. But it should be about the crowd, the chance of some drama, the speed and the fact something special is taking place in the heartland of your fan base.
Q: Very excited to see Laguna Seca added to the schedule next year, and for the season to end later in September. Part of the story that worries me is whether IndyCar has upset a track that was willing to host a race (Sonoma). There are not many of those around anymore, and the list is getting shorter with Phoenix leaving the schedule after this year as well. How do you see this affecting IndyCar long-term, especially with Laguna Seca being a venue that has a very unstable management group?
Chris Ellis, New Berlin, WI
RM: I guess the best answer is that Sonoma did a good job in a tough environment, but never drew much of a crowd and it had to be tenuous financially, so I understand wanting to reduce the sanction fee. I was amazed Sonoma continued to be on the schedule, but Laguna Seca has new management and believes it can sell IndyCar, so it’s supply and demand – although not nearly as much demand as the old CART days. Hosting any major racing series is a tough sell these days, so IndyCar is just trying to hold on to its good tracks and cultivate a couple new ones (or old ones).
Q: While I’m happy to see IndyCar retuning to the venerable venue of Laguna Seca – especially given that the facility was superior to Sonoma in terms of its character, its raceability, and its history with the sport (about the only thing Sonoma has on it was sightlines) – I can’t help but wonder if IndyCar is making the same mistake it made with Sonoma. Yes, Laguna Seca has history, and yes, it’s hosted season-finales in the past, but even with these cars, I’m hard-pressed to deny that it’s just as narrow and difficult to overtake as Sonoma was. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to put a racier venue like Gateway at the close of the calendar instead? Or does IndyCar know something I don’t?
Garrett from San Diego
RM: Of course it would have made more sense, but evidently there were some contributing factors that swung things in Laguna’s favor. But it should be pointed out that Laguna only has the finale for 2019, and I think there’s still hope for Gateway in 2020. Sonoma and Laguna are both fun road courses for drivers but neither is conducive to good racing, whereas Road America and The Glen are both old, fast tracks with places to pass and great history.
Q: While reading your Mailbag last week you mention that trading Sonoma for Laguna Seca is like “swapping sisters because neither track is good for racing” and also that “the bottom line is that all our favorite road courses were built 60 years ago for smaller cars, and only Road America and Watkins Glen offers inviting passing zones.” It seems Barber was a pleasant surprise since it seems it was build for motorcycle racing, and COTA will never happen as long as Texas is on the schedule, even though I’m not sure COTA would be all that great of a race. That being said, are there any recently-built road courses in North America that would be good for IndyCars to race on?
Jay in Chicago
RM: Good call, Barber was built for motorcycles and has been a very pleasant surprise in attendance as well as good racing. I think we’d all like to see Road Atlanta and Mosport get the nod some day, but they need major work according to IndyCar, and obviously COTA looks inviting. Never been to Utah Motorsports Campus (formerly Miller Motorsports Park that was built in 2006) or VIR, but it seems like both would be a stretch to afford IndyCar and/or draw a crowd.