NorCal Racing

Can Laguna Seca and Sonoma co-exist on the IndyCar schedule?

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There is room on the 2019 IndyCar Series schedule for both WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca and Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California, IndyCar CEO Mark Miles told Autoweek Sunday morning at Toronto. Miles is hopeful Sonoma decides to remain on the schedule even though Laguna Seca is considered to be fairly close to market area of Sonoma Raceway in Northern California.

Sonoma Raceway is about one hour north of San Francisco. Laguna Seca is located in Monterey, California – about 2-1/2 hours south of San Francisco. It is actually more in the San Jose, California market area than San Francisco, so conceivably both venues could co-exist as long as the dates are spread out, according to Miles.

Laguna Seca Raceway announced on Friday it had reached an agreement with IndyCar to host a race beginning next season and the next step will be a vote of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

When asked if Laguna Seca means an addition to or a replacement to a current IndyCar Series race, Miles told Autoweek, “I don’t know yet. We have a place on the calendar for Sonoma and we’ll have that discussion in the context of a decision on Tuesday. It’s all subject to what happens Tuesday.

“Assuming, if in fact the authorities in Monterey decide to approve our deal, then they will be on the deal and we will have a definitive conversation with Sonoma.”

Opinions within the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock at Toronto have ranged from very positive to very negative. Many team owners love bringing many of its sponsors and guests to Sonoma because it is part of California’s Wine Country. Andretti Autosport brings over 700 guests to the final race of the season at Sonoma and hosts an annual party at nearby Andretti Wineries.

Laguna Seca is also in a picturesque part of California’s Central Coast and offers appealing diversions such as Monterey, nearby Carmel, California, Pebble Beach and Big Sur.

From a competitive standpoint, both natural terrain road courses are considered narrow with little opportunity to pass, although IndyCar officials are hopeful the current aerodynamic package will help improve the quality of racing at both venues.

IndyCar will not return to ISM Raceway near Phoenix, so the addition of Laguna Seca keeps the series at 17 races. But that doesn’t mean it will be held in ISM’s date of early April, according to Miles.

“We’re not confirming what their date would be now,” Miles told Autoweek. “We’re not going to make the date announcement until Tuesday.”

Sonoma Raceway is owned by Speedway Motorsports, Incorporated (SMI) and has hosted IndyCar since 2005. Texas Motor Speedway is another SMI track that has been a mainstay on the schedule since it opened in 1997.

Texas Motor Speedway president and general manager Eddie Gossage said earlier this year that he wants to be the first race after the Indianapolis 500 but would not be willing to run the weekend after the big race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. IndyCar officials and NBC hold firm to the decision to race the very next weekend after Indy to help create momentum and a bigger television number.

Now that IndyCar has reached agreement with Laguna Seca, Sonoma Raceway president Steve Page voiced displeasure over that move and believes two races in the same geographic region won’t work. Page said he would need a reduction in sanctioning fees paid to the series in order to make IndyCar economically feasible.

If Sonoma leaves the schedule, Gossage could decide end TMS’s long run with IndyCar, depending on what his sanctioning fee is.


IndyCar began racing at Sonoma in 2005. Photo by Motorsport Images-LAT

Public documents released by Monterey County confirmed IndyCar will receive $1.2 million the first year and $1.5 million in sanctioning fees for the second and third year of the contract. Autoweek has been told that Sonoma and Texas Motor Speedway pay less than that.

“I don’t see us having a price,” Miles said. “Everything matters. One of the dynamics or elements is a sanction fee. It’s also date, trying to keep a healthy mix of tracks and regions of the country.

“We have a variety of levels of sanctioning fees today. We have demonstrated a willingness to work with tracks to make deals that make economic sense. We have been very flexible. We take in all the elements to make the best possible schedule. Without a doubt, we will continue to work with Sonoma on the sanctioning fee.”

Gossage has held firm to a long-standing concern that if IndyCar ever competes at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas that he would end TMS’s relationship with IndyCar.

One IndyCar Series executive told Autoweek, “We have many great partners in this series, but true partners don’t make ultimatums.”

Miles prefers Texas Motor Speedway remains on the schedule, which is lacking in oval tracks compared to street and road courses.

“We have an ongoing discussion with Eddie Gossage to stay on the calendar,” Miles told Autoweek. “Whether we can agree to terms to do that, we will re-visit that conversation as soon as we have something definitive on Tuesday so that he knows the whole environment. Then, I hope we can make a decision quickly.

“For us, again, we hope we can reach an agreement with Eddie and keep Texas Motor Speedway on the calendar. We hope to be back there and if we aren’t back there, it isn’t because we all gave it our best efforts. We’ll go back to Eddie after next Tuesday and see if it all works out.”

Miles is optimistic the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix will remain at Belle Isle pending further governmental approval in Detroit. Miles indicated Homestead-Miami Speedway remains a consideration for IndyCar to return for the first time since 2010. He also said a return to Richmond International Raceway for the first time since 2009 remains a “possibility.”

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