It looked like a bad idea from the outset. Hosting IndyCar’s return to Monterey, just days after IMSA’s mid-September visit, had all the markings of a box office failure for at least one series, if not both premiere championships.
With IMSA’s sports car show set for Sept. 13-15 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and IndyCar’s open-wheel season finale ready for its Sept. 20-22 showdown, expectations were for IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship to suffer as budget-minded fans put their money behind IndyCar’s grand re-appearance after a 15-year hiatus.
According to circuit CEO Tim McGrane, who runs the facility on behalf of Monterey County through the non-profit SCRAMP organization, a pleasant surprise has been found among ticket buyers. Sales are up by a considerable margin over IMSA’s 2018 race at Laguna Seca, and positive numbers are being seen for IndyCar’s long-awaited homecoming.
“IMSA’s been here for a number of years, so when IndyCar was re-introduced, there was some trepidation about back-to-back events with IndyCar’s season-ending event coming right after IMSA’s event, and in time, IMSA embraced the idea, while reinforcing the need to increase sales for their event,” McGrane told RACER.
“We have the Monterey Car Week, a template we use for the Rolex Reunion and the Pre-Reunion vintage racing events, so we put the Monterey Speed Week format together where fans can buy tickets for both races at a discount. And for the sponsors and partners, there are packages where they can come and be part of the IMSA weekend, enjoy off-track entertainment with golfing and dining and wine tasting after, and return for more racing with IndyCar. We’re just over a 30-percent increase year-to-year specifically for IMSA, and have seen as high as 45-percent a few weeks ago.”
Stacking IMSA and IndyCar on consecutive weekends and creating the Monterey Speed Week promotion appears to be a game changer for the famous Californian road course. With the recent release of their schedules, the Speed Week trend will continue as IMSA and IndyCar return to race within a span of seven days in September of 2020.
In recent years, IMSA’s annual appearance has produced some great racing, yet lacked a compelling audience size to witness its prototypes and GTs fight during the 2h40m contest.
Provided the 30-percent increase holds leading into the IMSA weekend, a rise in foot traffic should be visible, but McGrane knows it will take a few years of similar gains to fill the turns and grandstands with fans as IMSA did decades ago. IndyCar, which saw its audience dwindle in the early 2000s under the Champ Car banner, will also need to see a healthy bump in attendance to solidify Laguna Seca as a must-have venue.
So far, McGrane is pleased with the ticket sales for the open-wheel series.
“It’s the season finale for IndyCar, and it’s their return to Monterey — what we consider a spiritual home for the series — and its sales are trending higher than IMSA, but that’s to be expected because of the return,” he said.
“It’s both very exciting race series, and it’s a big plus for us and the Monterey Peninsula. And for those that can’t be here, both races are broadcast on NBC, available to all. We’ll be working harder than ever to welcome IMSA and turn the facility around for IndyCar in record time. There’s a real buzz around what’s coming.”