Two road courses court IRL for '05

The Indy Racing League is close to finalizing its 2005 schedule, which has been a source of intense fan speculation given the league's stated desire to add road courses to its all-oval series.

It now appears very likely that the IRL will take a page from NASCAR's book and start its foray into road racing with events on the only two road courses utilized by NASCAR: California's Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen International in upstate New York.

The IRL hopes to release its '05 race lineup in mid-July; but league and track sources at Infineon and Watkins Glen have told ESPN.com that serious discussions have occurred.

"We've certainly had discussions with both tracks but I don't think there are any totally done deals," said Indianapolis Motor Speedway Vice-President of Communications Fred Nation. "It's hard to confirm certain venues until the whole chess game of the schedule is completed."

With more than a dozen road racing venues in America capable of hosting open-wheel races, the IRL's targeting of a pair of NASCAR tracks could be seen as lacking imagination. But it comes down to business: Nazareth Speedway is ceasing operations after the 2004 season and its date will be shifted to Watkins Glen, which is managed by the same staff as well as owned by International Speedway Corporation. Similarly, Texas Motor Speedway will cede one of its two IndyCar Series dates to Infineon, another Speedway Motorsports Inc. track.

After playing host to the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix from 1961 to 1980, 'The Glen' hasn't staged a major open-wheel race since the track fell into bankruptcy in 1981. The track re-opened under ISC management in 1984 and the highly-successful NASCAR race was added in 1986.

Watkins Glen spokesperson Julie Giese said track general manager Craig Rust has been working hard to nail down an IndyCar Series race.

"We've had serious discussions with the IRL and Tony George, Ken Ungar and Brian Barnhart have been to the track," Giese said. "Craig has really made it a priority since the IRL made the decision to go road racing. From a track perspective it makes sense and the community is 100 percent behind it."

Watkins Glen and Infineon would both need safety modifications to handle the higher speeds generated by the IndyCars and Infineon Raceway spokesman John Cardinale said the track is just waiting for the green flag from the IRL.

"We've had some very serious discussions with the IRL about 2005 but nothing is confirmed or set in stone," Cardinale said. "We hope to know fairly soon about some capital improvements that would have to be made. We haven't solved a few outstanding issues, but I don't know if they are huge hurdles."

The 2005 IRL calendar is likely to feature only two road races, but it has not been a huge secret that the IRL is interested in Long Beach and Champ Car's contract for its most prestigious race ends after the 2005 race, meaning the IRL could make a play for at least one other road race by 2006.

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.