By Steve Wittich..Trackside Online
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES recently updated the 2021 schedule to include the start time for each race and confirmed the television (TV) information.
Earlier start before the schedule shuffling due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, only three races in 2020 would have had start times before 3 pm (ET). This year a dozen races start at 3 pm (ET) or sooner.
Converting the start times to local times, and you get the following:
Barber Motorsports Park —> 2 pm Streets Of St. Petersburg —> noon Texas Motor Speedway Race #1 —> 6 pm Texas Motor Speedway Race #2 —> 4 pm Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course #1 —> 2:30 pm Indianapolis Motor Speedway Oval —> 11 amRaceway at Belle Isle Park Race #1 —> 2 pmRaceway at Belle Isle Park Race #2 —> noon Road America —> noon Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course —> noon Streets Of Toronto —> noon Streets of Nashville – 4:30 pm Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course #2 —> 12:30 pm World Wide Technology Raceway At Gateway —> 7 pm Portland International Raceway —> noon WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca —> noon Streets Of Long Beach —> noon
Opinion… Starting so many races early is much more attractive to fans who want to travel to the races but are unwilling to miss a day of work. It can also help teams with budgeting by allowing travel home on Sunday instead of Monday, thereby saving a hotel night (more on that below).
What impact the starting times will have on the TV ratings is unknown.
Network race resurgence Seven of the first ten NTT INDYCAR SERIES will air on over-the-air NBC, and nine races will be available to non-cable viewers. Those nine races on network television are the most over-the-air races to air on ‘free’ television since the 2005 INDYCAR season.
Opinion…Having more races on over-the-air is a huge positive for the series, teams and promoters. Why?
Because a lot more people watch the races when they are on over-the-air TV. Over the last two years, the average number of viewers that watched a race on NBC (not including the Indianapolis 500) was 911,071. The average number of viewers that watched a race on NBCSN was 407,723.
That equates to over half-of-a-million more viewers when the NTT INDYCAR SERIES appear on ‘free’ TV. As recently as 2018, only five races were broadcast on network TV. If my math is correct, that’s four million more eyeballs (two million more people) on the series, team and promoter’s sponsors and partners.
Shorter events..IndyCar has learned that after successfully running condensed events in 2020, several race weekends will be shorter in 2021.
Of course, this might change, but at the time of publication, the breakdown of event lengths are as follows:
single-day shows —> Texas Motor Speedway Race #1, Texas Motor Speedway Race #2, Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race #1, Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race #2, and World Wide Technology Raceway At Gateway. two-day shows —> Barber Motorsports Park, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course #1, Road America, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course #2, Portland International Raceway, and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. three-day shows —> Streets Of St. Petersburg, Streets Of Toronto, Streets Of Nashville, and Streets of Long Beach. As you can see, the street course races are still scheduled for three days. However, we expect the on-track activity to start in the later afternoon on Friday.
Opinion…The condensed race weekends, combined with the earlier start times, will save the teams, series, and partners quite a bit of money on lodging, crew meals at the track, and per diems.
On the promoter side of things, losing an extra day of NTT INDYCAR SERIES activity might have a small impact on overall attendance. Honestly, the Friday crowds at permanent facilities are often small.
Testing 1,2,3Only a few scheduled team tests remain before the start of the season in 43 days at Barber Motorsports Park.
March 9 – Chip Ganassi Racing will be testing at Barber Motorsports Park. March 25 – four cars will be validating the package for the Indianapolis 500 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. March 29 – Dale Coyne Racing and Carlin will be at Sebring International Raceway. March 31 – A.J. Foyt Racing, Andretti Autosport, Arrow McLaren SP, Ed Carpenter Racing, Meyer-Shank Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and Team Penske are scheduled for testing at Texas Motor Speedway. April 8-9 – open test on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval The NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers have been taking part in content days in Indianapolis, Ind. the past few days. We’ll have more from that over the next few days.