Looking to the future, NTT IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske says he would like to see modest growth in the series’ schedule and add more ovals to the calendar.
With the upcoming return of Iowa’s bullring to its schedule, IndyCar has increased its oval track count from three to four, and thanks to Iowa being turned into a doubleheader event, ovals account for five of IndyCar’s 17 races in 2022.
“If we can get the right event in the right location, I would lean more towards adding ovals than I would road courses or street courses, because that’s the differentiation for us from any other form of racing,” Penske told RACER. “The diversity in our schedule with street courses and road courses and ovals, I want to maintain that mix for the future.”
Asked if he held ambitions to expand IndyCar’s calendar in a significant manner, Penske said there are a number of considerations at play, including the possible replacement of a few events that could fall off the schedule.
“I don’t see us gaining four or five races; I think 15 to 18 to 19 is a good place,” he added. “You’ll lose some because some might want to not continue, because of the city or wherever you’re running it inside the city. Now, on the other hand, the costs of the promoters have gone up, the costs have gone up with the teams, so I don’t have a crystal ball on how many races we’ll have next year, but we’re trying to work with the promoters to see what’s possible.
“With Nashville coming on, that’s been a wonderful addition. Iowa is a great venue we have — we’re gonna have entertainment there that you’ve got to go to Las Vegas to see, and you don’t see it for $80 a ticket; it’s gonna be terrific. So those are things that are enhancing the schedule we have now, and we’ve got to see where it leads us.”
Penske is firm on wanting to keep the Texas Motor Speedway oval on the calendar after a great race was produced in March. A new contract is required to continue in 2023 and beyond.
“The great thing about it is that I’ve told our people that we’ve got to stay there because we now know we can race there,” he said. “The fact that the drivers pushed to have that 30-minute session where we could run up high, that paid off, so let’s get more teams to do that. The racing there was as good as we’ve seen in a long time, and we used to have a big crowd there. Well, we’ve got to do it again. IndyCar, our sponsors, and the track owner all need to promote this event and get incrementally more people building it up. It’s one of the greatest markets in the world and we need to be there.”
Counter to TMS, ticket sales at IMS have been strong as IndyCar prepares to hold the Indy 500 with no restrictions following two COVID-affected years at the Speedway.
“At Indianapolis, we should have well in excess of 200,000 people and probably go up to 260,000 to 270,000 when all the ticket sales are in, which will be a tremendous day for us,” Penske said. “We’re using 2019 as a benchmark, because that’s the closest to where we are with a full house. 2016 was the biggest turnout they had on the 100th running, and I don’t think we’ll get there this year, but we’re running today as we sit here 10 percent ahead of 2019 right now. Those are real ticket sales, real seats.”