Much to the chagrin and delight of many fans, the 2009 IndyCar series schedule has been released, marking the first look at a combined IRL/Champ Car schedule. Here's a breakdown of the new (and old) tracks featured on the schedule, track by track.
Streets of St. Petersburg
A 1.8-mile road course set in St. Petersburg, FL, the streets of St. Petersburg consists of a series of roads with the start/finish line on a landing strip at Albert Whitted airport (The proposed Devil Rays stadium sits on the course, so future course changes could occur).
This track is the first of eight non-oval races over the course of the season, and combines a full weekend of racing, with the IndyCar series joining the IndyPro series and American LeMans (ALMS) series. Previous winners include Helio Castroneves in 2007 and Graham Rahal in 2008.
Streets of Long Beach
A 2-mile street course set on the streets of Long Beach, CA, this scenic course consists of a waterfront track surrounding the Convention Center of Long Beach and a straightaway down Shoreline Drive.
This track is the second of the non-oval races, and is a track brought over from the Champ Car series. Long Beach is also the source of the lone, split race of the 2008 season, with IRL drivers racing at Twin Ring Motegi and ex-Champ Car drivers racing at Long Beach due to manufacturer commitments. Previous winners include Helio Castroneves (2001), Paul Tracy (2002,2003), and Will Power (2008).
A 1.5-mile course that marks the return to ovals for the 2009 season, and is the final race before the "month of May" at Indianapolis. The race at Kansas was moved to April in 2007, at the request of fans and drivers, and that same race marked the first time three women competed at the same time in a major American race.
Racing fans will note both NASCAR and IndyCars compete here, and previous winners include Tony Kanaan (2005) and Dan Wheldon (2007, 2008).
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
A 2.5-mile oval that is noted for holding the Indianapolis 500, the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing." If anyone needs an explanation on Indy, please climb out of the hole in the ground you've been living in for the past, oh, say, 50 years.
The Milwaukee Mile
A 1.0-mile oval, unfortunately known for being the race after Indianapolis. Milwaukee holds a long history among all major-American racing series, and all but the NASCAR Sprint Cup series still race on its track. A quick and short track, history causes many to fight for Milwaukee to remain on the schedule. Previous Winners include Tony Kanaan (2007) and Ryan Briscoe (2008)
Texas Motor Speedway
A 1.5-mile oval that marks the first night race on the 2009 schedule, and is known as the second most popular race behind Indianapolis. Texas is home to some of the most competitive, fast, and exciting racing in the series, with almost all races having close finishes.
Texas is also home to the infamous Arie Luyendyk/Billy Boat finish and subsequent trophy fiasco that is forever etched in IndyCar legends. Previous winners include Tomas Scheckter (2005) and Scott Dixon (2008)
A 0.8-mile oval in the middle of corn country (and literally, a cornfield), this track opened in 2006 and was patterned after Richmond Raceway, with help from Rusty Wallace. Dan Wheldon won the 2008 Iowa race.
Richmond International Raceway
A 0.75-mile oval in Richmond, Virginia, this night race is the most successful race in what is commonly known as "NASCAR country." This track always draws the fans, regardless as to if they are traditional IndyCar spectators or not. Previous winners include Dario Franchitti (2007) and Tony Kanaan (2008).
Watkins Glen International
After six straight oval courses, this 3.4-mile road course is the third road course on the schedule. Open-wheel racing returned to the track in 2005, causing major changes to be made to the track. Although this is not the most exciting road course on the schedule, sponsorships have been secured through the 2010 season. Previous winners include Ryan Hunter-Reay (2008).
Streets of Toronto
A 1.7-mile road course, new to the schedule in 2009, Toronto replaces the race previously held at Nashville Speedway. Failed negotiations, coupled with a second race in Canada, made Toronto a very viable course.
Edmonton City Centre Airport
A 2-mile airport course held at, obviously, the Edmonton airport, this marks the second Canadian race on the 2009 schedule. Also, this track is one of the most easily viewed, with over eighty percent of the track visible from any given seat. This year's winner was Scott Dixon.
A 1.5-mile oval in Kentucky, this track hopes to be the site of a NASCAR Sprint Cup series race in a few years. Previous winners include San Hornish Jr. (2003, 2006) and Tony Kanaan (2008).
Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
A 2.3-mile road course, it was brought back in 2007 to follow the British Open in June, but has been moved to a former date in mid-August. Previous winners include Scott Dixon (2007) and Ryan Briscoe (2008).
A 2.2-mile road course in Sonoma, California and the heart of wine country, this course has been criticized for not being good enough for IndyCar racers and should be switched out for Laguna Seca (which is partially justified). This course saw Marco Andretti get his first win in 2006.
A 1.5-mile oval that is the final race of the 2008 season, but was switched with Belle Isle for 2009. This course has been the location where the series champion is decided, often making for competitive racing. Scott Dixon lost the 2007 championship to Dario Franchitti on the last lap of this race.
The Raceway at Belle Isle Park
A temporary 2.1-mile road course in Michigan, this track was brought back in 2007 for both the IndyCar and ALMS series races. The course was previously criticized for being too narrow, hard to access, and just plain uncompetitive, but the 2007 race featured new paddocks and improved parking, and was considered a success. Previous winners include Tony Kanaan (2007).
Twin Ring Motegi
A 1.5-mile oval in Motegi, Japan, this course is noted for having both an oval and a road course in the same boundaries. Built by Honda in 1997 to bring more notoriety for American open-wheel racing to Japan, this track was the site of the first win by Danica Patrick in 2008.
In addition, this track was the third race of the 2008 season, but was moved to end of the 2009 season because travel times caused too much of a gap between the race and the Indianapolis 500. Previous winners include Dan Wheldon (2004, 2005), Tony Kanaan (2007), and Danica Patrick (2008).
This 1.5-mile oval is the last race of the 2009 season, and was the opener of the 2008 IndyCar season. Racing fans will note that the NASCAR series also finishes at Homestead-Miami, although not in the same time frame.
The course was originally designed after Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but was reconfigured in 1996, 1997, and 2003 after poor racing and severe crashes marred multiple races.
The 2003 reconfiguration added banking to the turns, helping to improve racing. Although it does not feature exceptionally high speeds, a crash in 2006 caused the death of driver Paul Dana after he was involved in a pre-race crash with Ed Carpenter. Previous winners include Dan Wheldon (2005-2007) and Scott Dixon (2008).
Overall, although not optimal, the 2009 IndyCar series schedule is improved. The large gap between Motegi and Indianapolis can be slightly eliminated, and the switch to Miami as a finale in October is, well, different.
Many will complain that the schedule should start earlier (this writer included), but a later finish was much needed. The addition of road courses will shake up the schedule a bit, but the core races on ovals are still present.
Infineon, although appropriate for stock cars, should be switched out for Laguna Seca, if anything. Hopefully, racing can be brought back to a few other ovals, for that has always been the core of IndyCar series racing.