Why Does IndyCar Race On Road Tracks More Than Oval Tracks?


Why Does IndyCar Race On Road Courses More Than Oval Tracks

With only four / five of the seventeen races in the 2022 Indycar Season taking place on an Oval Track and only three the previous year it looks like IndyCar is making a move to road and street racing. Is this to differentiate itself from NASCAR, move closer to a North American F1 or just to make things safer for drivers. We look at why IndyCar races on more road and street courses than ovals below.

IndyCar is currently attracting more spectators to its road tracks, with some oval races seeing attendances of just 10% of their 1990’s highs. (The Indy 500 a notable exception) Car speed has increased dramatically since many Oval tracks construction and the slower, technical road courses increase driver safety.

So just how many Oval races are there in the 2022 season, and what does it mean for the future of IndyCar?

How Many Oval Races Does IndyCar Have?

The 2021 IndyCar schedule featured just three races on oval circuits, representing a big change to the direction of the IndyCar series, which has its most famous and flagship event, the Indy 500, on an oval circuit.

The 2022 IndyCar schedule will see an additional oval race to the previous year, but there will still only be four oval races out of the 17-race calendar. The table below highlights how on what type of track the 2022 IndyCar season will race on.

Table 1: Date, race and type of track for the IndyCar 2022 Series.

DateRace and TrackRoad, Street or Oval Race Course
February 27th 2022Firestone Grand Prix of St.PetersburgStreet Course
March 20th, 2022Xpel 375 at Texas Motor SpeedwayOval Course
April 10th, 2022Acura Grand Prix of Long BeachStreet Course
May 1st, 2022Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama -Barber Motorsports ParkRoad Course
May 14thGMR Grand Prix -Indiana Motor SpeedwayRoad Course
May 29th, 2022Indianapolis 500 – Indianapolis Motor SpeedwayOval Course
June 5th, 2022Chevrolet Detroit Grand PrixStreet Course
June 12th, 2022Sonsio Grand Prix – Road AmericaRoad Course
July 3rd, 2022Honda Indy 200 – Mid-Ohio Sports Car CourseRoad Course
July 17th, 2022Honda Indy TorontoStreet Course
July 23rd, 2022Hy-VeeDeals.com – Iowa SpeedwayOval Course
July 24th, 2022Hy-Vee salute to Farmers 300 – Iowa SpeedwayOval Course
July 30thIndianapolis road CourseRoad Course
August 7th, 2022Big Machine Music City Grand prix – NashvilleStreet Course
August 20th, 2022Bommarito Automotive Group 500 – Worldwide Technology SpeedwayOval course
September 4th, 2022Grand Prix of PortlandRoad Course
September 1th, 2022Firestone Grand prix of Monterey – Laguna SecRoad Course

So though there are 5 oval races on the calender one of them is a double header at the Iowa Speedway, so the breakdown is as follows.

  • 4 Oval Speedways will be used in IndyCar 2022
  • 5 Street Circuits will be used in IndyCar 2022
  • 7 Road Courses will be used in IndyCar 2022

Since the modern IndyCar era came into effect, the 2010 season has had the highest oval makeup, with eight races out of the 17, a 47.06% oval circuit rate.

The Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, Twin Ring Motegi, Homestead-Miami Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway are all oval tracks that have previously hosted an IndyCar race in the 2010s, but have not hosted a race in the last decade.

The 20 years prior to 2021 saw 19 oval circuits come and go from the IndyCar schedule. The 2003 IRL season, which was an IndyCar predecessor, had a schedule that featured 16 races in total, and every single one was on an oval.

What is the Attendance at IndyCar Oval Races?

The Michigan oval race drew 78,000 fans in its peak, but it was more than half-empty by 2007. The Phoenix oval race had 60,000 fans in 1995, but just 6,000 in 2005. The Fontana oval race had 50,000 in 1997, but barely 5,000 for its final race in 2015.

However, the past few years have seen a decline in these oval races, due to a variety of factors including falling attendance figures.

Although the Superbowl of the IndyCar Season, the Indy 500 Race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway still draws in crowds to its 300,000 capacity venue, other races have become less well attended.

Are IndyCar Road Courses Safer?

Another reason for the decline in the use of oval circuits is the fact that they are seen as far more dangerous than road courses. This is due to a variety of factors, including the higher average top speed, higher number of vehicles in close proximity and the less strict safety regulations.

However, both road and oval courses have seen a fair number of fatalities in the past. The past five deaths in IndyCar events, each of which occurred within the last 20 years, all occurred on oval circuits.

Greg Moore, Tony Renna, Paul Dana, Dan Wheldon and Justin Wilson all died due to incidents on oval circuits, and drivers such as Robert Wickens have sustained life-changing injuries. Before these five deaths, Gonzalo RodriquezOpens in a new tab. and Jeff Krosnoff both died in road circuit incidents.

Why is Racing at IndyCar Oval Tracks Dangerous?

Modern oval racing is very dangerous, as they now have speeds that have surpassed the speeds that were possible when the circuits were built over 100 years ago. For example the first qualifying speed for the Indy500 was 75 miles an hour! that’s about 3 times slower than todays modern cars reach.

However, even back then it was very dangerous, with the first race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway causing 5 deaths in the opening weekend! In fact 58 of the the currently 74 fatalities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway have occurred during the Indy 500 race, practice or qualifying.

IndyCar may be choosing to ditch more oval courses to increase safety, much like what Formula One did by stopping racing at the Nürburgring. The risks are great on oval circuits, with ‘The Big One’ always possible, but all forms of motorsport carry risk.

Are Road Courses More Exciting than Ovals?

Oval racing is often criticised for being boring, and the tracks only have left turns which are often identical. The circuits are also fairly short and have quick lap times allowing the drivers to get to grips with the circuit quickly.

On road courses, it is possible to learn every corner, but it is harder to nail them due to the rhythm and grip that is required to navigate through the circuit quickly. The term road course in IndyCar can be used to describe two types of circuits: permanent road courses and temporary street tracks that are built on public roads.

The pure permanent road courses are designed with a blank slate and can be thrilling. The 2022 IndyCar calendar features exciting types of these circuits, such as Road America and Laguna Seca.

However, the street tracks can also be very exciting, less so due to their layout, which is often constrained by the shape and size of the public road, and more due to the locations.

The 2022 IndyCar season will start with a street race on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. There are also street races in Long Beach, Detroit, Toronto and Nashville. These locations are very exciting and are easy for fans to reach.

They also present a different challenge to the drivers, with slightly slower speeds, but with tight turns, which often have no run-off. Caution periods are also very frequent at street circuits, and the 2021 Music City Grand Prix in Nashville saw 33 laps run under caution.

What are the Differences in the IndyCar cars at Road and Street Courses?

There are two types of oval circuits: speedways and short ovals. On speedways, both the front and rear wings are single elements. On short ovals, the wings are both multi-elements. On both short ovals and speedways, the cars have cockpit padding to protect the drivers’ heads on their right, as all the turns are left.

The padding is used to counter the constant force on the drivers. On both of these oval types, minimal brake ducting is used, and the tire camber has both tires leaning to the driver’s right. The races on oval tracks are also run to distance regardless of the time.

For road and street course races, both the front wing and rear wing are multi-elements, which gives the car extra downforce. The cockpit padding is also equal on both sides, as there are both left turns and right turns.

The brake ducts are also larger on both the front and the rear to allow for extra cooling. In addition, the tire camber is different. Each tire is pointed inwards, which helps the cars to travel at speed and maintain a good contact patch with the road surface.

The races also have a pre-determined distance and time limit. Whichever one comes first will mark the end of the race. IndyCar also uses rolling starts at all races, regardless of the circuit type.

Final Lap

Many Oval tracks across America were built at a time when the speeds of cars were considerably less. it wasn’t envisaged at that time that cars would be travelling at over 225 miles an hour around their bends, and some just can’t cope with that safely.

Although all fans want more, more speed, more acceleration, more excitement, there has to be a line at making IndyCar safe for all concerned as well. The move to slower but equally exciting road and street races is the current attempt.

it also has come with an increase in viewers, and spectators at these events which increases both profits and revenue.

Although, arguably, perhaps the greatest oval race arguably, sorry NASCAR fans, is home to IndyCar with the Indianapolis 500, it is unlikely in the near future that IndyCar will be revisiting some of its earlier Oval Track salwarts of the series.

The best advice we can give if you like your IndyCar on speedways is to go to the 4 or 5 oval races that IndyCar runs in the current series. This is one time you can really vote with your feet! by increasing attendance at these ovals. (and your dollars of course)

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_IndyCar_Series_racetracks

http://indymotorspeedway.com/memorial_1909.html

https://beyondtheflag.com/2019/02/04/why-doesnt-indycar-race-on-more-ovals/

https://www.indystar.com/story/sports/motor/2021/09/15/nascar-cup-run-ims-road-course-2022-but-eyeing-oval-return/8346491002/

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