WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca CEO Tim McGrane says response to IndyCar’s upcoming return to Monterey has been met with positive results at the box office. The September 20-22 season finale for the NTT IndyCar Series is an important one for both organizations as the legendary road course looks to rekindle the local interest shown for open-wheel in the 1980s and 1990s. For IndyCar, the needs are similar.
After it recently ended a long run in the region at Sonoma Raceway where fan turnout was modest, the series has pinned its hopes on moving a few hours south to Monterey where, at its peak during the CART era, the hills were filled with enthusiastic supporters. According to McGrane, the internal tracking numbers have given rise to optimism nearly six months out from the IndyCar event.
“Soon as they went on sale, there was this immediate rush,” he told RACER. “Individual ticket sales are good. Obviously, there’s a lot of the passion about for as long as it was there, you’d think for some of these people it was two years ago and not 15 years ago. Even today, I’ve had people say ‘I went to every event before and I’m so glad it’s coming back.’ We noticed that even during [the February IndyCar] test when the weather was suspect, it eventually rained, and people just came. There’s something about IndyCar and Laguna Seca that’s just in people’s desire.”
As a Monterey County-owned park, Laguna Seca has played host to campers for decades, and during race weekend, those sites have become popular spots for fans and teams alike. A modernization initiative to tear down old, unused buildings and, in some cases, replace other buildings with brand-new versions, should also help the property to accommodate IndyCar and other racing series later this year.
“Our camping space quickly sold out,” McGrane said. “We’re very fortunate that we have the camping locations that have close proximity to the track, and in a lot of cases a front row view. Our hospitality requests are off the charts, and we’re creating new hospitality locations haven’t existed in the past.
“Couple of examples… you know the ‘octagon building’ as it was called on the start and the finish straight. That is long past its sell-by date. It’s a structure that is currently in the process of being demolished, and that space between timing and scoring building, and the start and finish grandstand is actually going to be reconfigured, made flat, and that will be a hospitality build-out platform for a team or partner that wants big start/finish line exposure.”
In the name of increased hospitality space, the circuit is also moving the TV compound from its perch overlooking the infield from Turn 4 to a new location.
“That’s really, I mean, ‘beachfront property’ is the best description,” McGrane said. “It’s got a fabulous view of the track, which should be for our fans and guests, and as much as the TV production guys are a little bit miffed, they really understand.”
If there’s a significant challenge that’s going arise ahead of IndyCar’s return, it’s the back-to-back timing of following IMSA’s WeatherTech Sports Car championship, which visits Monterey September 13-15. Could racing fans on a budget choose IMSA over IndyCar, or vice versa, and potentially impact attendance at one race more than the other? McGrane is hoping to sell the concept of attending two marquee road racing events in a span of 10 days.
“We’ve wrapped it up as what we call Monterey Speed Week,” he said. “So we have IMSA the first weekend and Indy the second weekend, and there are some people, given they’re fortunate, that would come for the entire 10 days. We’ve also created ticket packages to make it beneficial for somebody where they can come IMSA weekend, and depending where they’re coming to and from, they can come back for Indy weekend.
“We’ve also done that for partners. So if we’ve got a company that touches both of these series, we’re making it advantageous for them to start one weekend and be up here all the way through. We are very fortunate being five minutes from Carmel, downtown Monterey, and Pebble Beach. It’s not a touch location for some of these companies to entertain some key clients or guests.
“For IndyCar, it’s the season-ending event. I attended CART’s season-ending events and saw firsthand how big it was. We hope to bring back some of that spark with what we’re working on for fans.”