I can't remember the first IndyCar race I ever watched, but I do remember that giddiness I felt as a kid when the ESPN Speedworld intro music played and the scene was set for an exciting spectacle of open-wheel racing.
Truthfully, the oval races initially sent me into a state of boredom. It wasn't until my knowledge of the adaptable cars, intricate setups, and precise techniques of the drivers grew that I was able to fully appreciate the wide spectrum of the championship. You couldn't just be proficient on one type of track, if you wanted to have your name engraved on what was then called the PPG Cup (now Astor Cup). I learned that the greats of the sport could scrub off as little speed as possible through Turn 4 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as well as maneuver within centimeters of the concrete barriers in Long Beach.
If you've watched the CART/Indy Car World Series/Champcar races since the early nineties like I have, this season's refreshed look has probably tugged on your nostalgic heartstrings several times. The cars are so beautiful to look at, from any angle, and are reminiscent of the machines from the heyday of American based open-wheel racing. The Dallara-designed IR18 chassis has produced far more entertaining races than its high-downforce predecessor. It's safe to say that no one misses the "Kardashian" rear ends.
It's because of this nostalgic newness that longtime fans and relatively knowledgeable newbies are anxious for a return to some of the classic circuits of yesteryear. Thankfully, the series' leaders are listening to the fans and/or feel similarly. There is a danger in doing that, however. What was great then may not necessarily fit into our current time. Great expectations can lead to great disappointments. There are some exceptions.
After a ten-year absence, IndyCar is returning to Portland International Raceway for the last stop on its late summer triple-header (Sept. 2nd). The track layout looks rather simple on paper, but the tight chicane at Turns 1 & 2 and technical infield section are very demanding. Eight of the regular season drivers have driven there before, either in the main or support series, but Sebastien Bourdais' two previous wins should make him an early favorite. The course has that old-school feel to it that would be hard to replicate today, and should put on a exciting race in the Pacific Northwest.
I couldn't believe that the series, even in its previous incarnation, had not been back to Laguna Seca since 2004! The sight of so many memorable moments in IndyCar history, you need only stare at an iconic turn of the winding track in Monterey, California for the mental snapshots to fall deliberately into place. New memories will be made when it hosts the season finale, in place of Sonoma Raceway, for the next three years.
While those two tracks are confirmed, it's the speculation over potential revisits that is running rampant on social media.
Many fans would love to see IndyCar return to Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport. It was the sight of some fantastic battles throughout its 26 year history. However, our desire to see this is mostly rooted in the past. Just because we would like to see this happen doesn't mean that it's logistically or financially feasible. The facilities and usage of the airport have grown since the last race in 2007, causing a great deal more disruption if it had to temporarily close down for an entire race weekend.
The Surfers Paradise Street Circuit, in Queensland, Australia, is one of the most popular and challenging temporary circuits in the world. Ask every driver in the field if they would want to return in these magnificent present-day machines, and the response would most likely be a unanimous "yes."
With no current races outside of the U.S., and the Supercars Championship having a firm grasp on the traditional October date, is seems that the traveling expense and scheduling complications will continue to prevent a return to the calendar (even as a non-championship event).
On the flipside, the nostalgia of Watkins Glen International wasn't enough to keep it on the IndyCar calendar for this year. What we want and what's financially sustainable do not always walk hand-in-hand.
How does the series maintain the balance between exploring new horizons without digging up most of the sentimental roots of its past?
Marco Andretti showed off a retro livery on his #98 Andretti Autosport Honda at the Phoenix GP back in April (thanks to Oberto). For the loyal fan, it reminded us of the days when his father Michael and grandfather Mario were battling with the other greats of the series in their Havoline/Kmart sponsored Newman/Haas race cars.
Phoenix is also off the calendar, but this opens the door for new opportunities in new markets that could prove to be more successful in the long term. More retro liveries would be great to see, but fans would rather have a shorter gap between the opener at St. Petersburg and round two. We would also like to see the championship go a bit further into the Autumn season. Rather than just going backward, with our feet happily trudging through nostalgia like freshly fallen snow, we must look forward to new venues. Where is the next street circuit, road course or oval track located, which will help create new memories that the current generation of fans will fondly look back on decades from now?
We need to voice our support of these prospective destinations because, unlike some other professional racing series, they're actually listening.