After featuring on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar for the last three years, ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona is set to be dropped from the schedule for the 2019 season. Officials from ISM Raceway as well as IndyCar themselves confirmed the news last night, with unexciting races and small crowds over the last few events there being cited as possible reasons for the decision.
IndyCar returned to Phoenix in 2016 after a ten-year hiatus, with many fans initially delighted that the once-classic event was making its comeback. However, the 2016 and 2017 races were not exactly thrillers, with Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud dominating the event in both years en-route to their victories.
The 2018 running of the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix was much more exciting than the previous two years, with Josef Newgarden pulling off a late overtake on rookie Robert Wickens to take the win; with no driver having had a sizable advantage over anybody else. The increase in competitiveness was largely put down to the new aerodynamic package.
Despite the race being more exciting in 2018, the size of the crowd in the grandstands was, for the third year in succession, disappointing. Many were discussing in the days immediately following the race that there was the potential for the track to fall off of the IndyCar calendar. Last night, that potential was realised.
IndyCar officials released a statement confirming that ISM Raceway would not feature on the 2019 IndyCar Series championship, with the statement praising track officials for their hard work over the last few years. The statement went on to say that a return to the schedule could be possible in the future, perhaps when the ongoing circuit renovations have concluded:
“IndyCar has enjoyed its time racing at ISM Raceway,” the IndyCar statement read, “But attendance in the past three years has been disappointing despite considerable investment from both sides.
“Track president Bryan Sperber and his team have been terrific partners and are developing a beautiful facility, and IndyCar will reconnect with them when conditions are right for both parties.
“Meanwhile, IndyCar is moving forward with building a terrific schedule for the 2019 season.”
The circuit’s aforementioned president, Bryan Sperber, also commented on the news, stating that IndyCar officials were now in discussions to add a replacement venue to the calendar, due to the now limited number of oval races on the schedule. Only five oval dates are left following ISM Raceway’s departure.
“We have enjoyed having IndyCar at our venue for the full three years of our agreement,” Sperber told The Arizona Republic‘s Michael Knight, “The series officials and teams have been tremendous partners, (but) IndyCar will not be on our schedule in 2019. We’re currently taking a pause to review schedule options for the future.
“IndyCar is currently discussing with International Speedway Corporation (ISC) other potential venues and opportunities. We’d like IndyCar to be on our calendar in the coming years, and we will work with IndyCar to find a date that will help deliver a successful event.”
For now, speculation will undoubtedly begin as to which venues will be added to the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar. After falling off the schedule for this year, many are hoping for Watkins Glen to return. A potential race date could also be awarded to Mexico City’s Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez after a 2018 deal fell through at the last hurdle earlier this year.
As for potential oval races to replace ISM Raceway, it is too early to accurately guess, but the series could end up returning to former venues such as the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana or Michigan International Speedway.
The series will be in action later today in qualifying for tomorrow’s tenth round of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series, the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America.