INDIANAPOLIS -- I know it was a case of too little, too late. But I can't help but think that INDYCAR, Road America and even the American Le Mans Series missed out on a great opportunity by not coming to terms to add an Izod IndyCar Series race to the Aug. 16-18 ALMS weekend at America's fastest road course.
I'm sure that the sanctioning fee that INDYCAR was seeking was optimistic, given the circumstances: asking to piggyback, admittedly while bringing added value, to a schedule long ago established. You could even argue that INDYCAR should have been paying Road America (and/or the ALMS) to get on the bill.
INDYCAR tried to sugarcoat the disappointment of not adding a 16th race at Road America (or anywhere else) to replace the canceled round in China by announcing that the now-confirmed season finale at Auto Club Speedway in California will be extended to 500 miles. But buried at the end of a press release bearing other news, the creation of the first 500-mile IndyCar race outside of Indianapolis in 10 years had little impact.
INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard said he wanted to add a 16th event to the IndyCar Series schedule to replace China only if it had long-term value. So why not get a head start on 2013 and the future by immediately going back to Road America, the circuit that is hands-down the most beloved by IndyCar racing's entire road-racing constituency? On a weekend when a knowledgeable and enthusiastic audience would already be there?
For the vast majority of the IndyCar drivers, the opportunity to compete at Elkhart Lake would be a reward for their professionalism and hard work developing the Dallara DW12 into a car that has raced well on every type of circuit this year. Wouldn't it have been great to grant them the pure joy of driving the track that most drivers would call their favorite road course in America, if not the world?
I suspect the majority of ALMS fans who had already bought tickets for the sports car race would have been happy to modify their plans to include a bonus IndyCar race. And I'm guessing that tacking IndyCar onto the existing ALMS slate would have sold another 10-15,000 tickets.
Road America is also a favorite venue for the teams that participate. The laid-back vibe of Elkhart Lake, a classic Wisconsin small town anchored by the popular Siebkens Tavern, makes for a weekend that everyone involved in the sport looks forward to.
Road America president George Bruggenthies is a notoriously tough negotiator, and we must conclude that the numbers and the logistics simply didn't work for the August weekend for either the track or INDYCAR.
But I certainly hope the dialogue that Bruggenthies and Bernard have engaged in over the past couple of weeks is a good head start toward putting Road America back on the IndyCar Series schedule for 2013 and beyond. The support for racing there in August that was recently expressed by drivers, teams, fans and even Milwaukee race promoter Michael Andretti should send both of them a strong message that the sport of IndyCar racing wants to be at Elkhart Lake.
For the long term, and the sooner the better.